Gary Halbert’s Copywriting Toolkit

As promised, I’m going to share some of my copywriting checklists and since I always like to start at the very beginning… let’s first go over what’s inside the copywriter’s toolkit.

You can in fact do all of your work using just a smart phone but for me that would be a giant pain in the ass so I’m going to share with you what was in Gary Halbert’s copywriting tool kit along with what I need and… even if you do all your writing on a smart phone, I know you will get some great tips as I explain each item.

For the record, my father often said he could do all of his work from anywhere in the world with just a pad of paper, a pen and a telephone which is only sort of true.

For example, he used to work in libraries for several reasons which brings us to the first item on the checklist.

1. A Good Place To Work. My pop liked libraries because they often had large tables and before the internet, libraries were THE place to do research but working in libraries also had a huge benefit which is… it put him in to mood to work. You see we humans are very social creatures and it’s hard for us not to feel sad around sad people and it’s hard to work when everyone around you is relaxing or having a party. This also means if you need to be in the mood to work, it really helps to be around others who are working too.

Many writers choose to work in coffee shops and don’t even know this is the reason they get better work done in such places. Of course for many writers, fresh coffee also helps a lot.

Ideally, your writing space should be clean, have plenty of room and it should be free of distractions.

2. A Fresh Pad of Paper
. My dad always used a manila legal pad because it gave him more room to write but… he also had a secret reason for this. A legal size page of his handwriting came out to be about a regular 11” long piece of copy when typed which gave him an advantage. When he was approaching the end of the legal-size page, he knew the typed version was getting to the point where a prospect would have to turn the page.

This is one of the places people often choose to stop reading so he would amp up the excitement or end that page with a cliffhanger to make sure the prospect was highly motivated to turn the page and continue reading.

This technique was super handy when writing direct mail letters.

He preferred a fresh pad because it felt like a clean start.

I myself type on a computer but all my nugget notes, research notes and outlines are done on paper and I too prefer a fresh pad of paper.

3. Two Good Pens-
You won’t usually run out of ink writing even a super long piece of sales copy but, once you are flowing, you don’t want to stop just to get a new pen because the first one ran out of ink.

In the early days, my dad liked black felt tip pens and later he switched to cheap Bic ballpoint pens. I use a roller gel pen by Pilot called the G2 which many consider to be the most comfortable pen in the world. Any good office supply store should have disposable versions as well as a $20 version which takes refill cartridges. I also use a fountain pen which I’ll explain later in this checklist.

4. Highlighter- Obviously a useful tool for research.

5. Index Cards- Pop always kept lots of index cards for writing down headlines and bullets. To go a step further, you can put the different pieces of a promotion on index cards and play around with rearranging features and benefits, proof elements and other pieces of the copy to find the best order to put them in.

6. Scotch Tape- This is really helpful when creating space ads. I recently wrote a tearsheet mailing and like my father I used clear scotch tape to piece together a mockup of a full page newspaper ad out of the 8.5” x 11” paper from my printer. This allows me to get a better grasp of how much space I have to work with and how readable the font is.

7. Phone/Skype- There are times when you just have to ask a client or colleague a question so a phone is handy but keep the ringer off when working.

8. Fodder Box- This is where you should keep clippings, notes or basically anything which may be useful to your project. You can just use a shoebox. I inherited my father’s big red wooden fodder box which is one of my favorite possessions. Yeah I’m bragging but that’s what proud people do.

9. The Internet- It’s hard nowadays to do great research without the Internet and it’s so fast it makes little to no sense to go back to the old ways of looking up things in a the library.

10. Swipe File- My father popularized the term and may have even invented it but… I see many wordsmiths have misunderstood how he used it.

This has always been a file of ads and pieces of copy which give inspiration. Basically the term came about because whenever he saw a great headline or a well formatted order coupon, he would swipe it out of a newspaper or magazine and put it in his file. He NEVER meant for people to basically just steal copy and use it by merely replacing or adapting the copy to a different product.

Using templated copy can work but as far as I know, no record breaking copy was ever written this way because such work looks too typical and doesn’t have that fresh angle which really grabs attention and generates excitement like the original.

Instead, you should take parts of ads and keep a file of great headlines, hooks, openings, offers, bullets, closing copy and post scripts. Sometimes an entire ad has great examples of each component but it’s still helpful to have the pieces separated because often you are only stuck for a good close or bullet. You may also want to separate newspaper ads, web copy and direct mail pieces.

11. Thumb Drive- A thumb drive is great for keeping a copy of your work in case something happens to your computer and they are also a handy place to keep a file of the useful dozen or so websites for research.

12. Lucky Charms- This could be your lucky writer’s hat, favorite coffee mug or in my case a fountain pen for writing bullets, basically anything which helps your working mood

13. Reference Library- Some courses and books  are very helpful to have around for inspiration. For a list of my recommendations visit the courses section at

I also like to keep a copy of The Boron Letters and Scientific Advertising handy because they are short books which can remind me to personalize the copy or something I may have not thought about and both books are easy to quickly thumb through for such reminders. Of course some of the best reference materials can also be found online like a good thesaurus which I use to find simple words to replace higher level vocabulary words.

14. Research Checklist- All the power in your marketing is in good research. Knowing what your prospects really care about, where to reach them and what makes them eager to buy is far more important than wording or any other factor.

There are so many questions to be answered when doing great research it is simply too hard to remember them all.

I keep a checklist of such questions and while it is nearly impossible to answer all of them, getting as many answers as you can will open your eyes to such an extent you should never have writer’s block or wonder what to say.

15. Editing Checklist- Once you have written an attention gripping headline, a killer hook, a great story, super exciting bullets, an effective close and a killer PS, the only thing left to do is smooth everything over so the reader effortlessly falls through the copy getting more and more excited until they just can’t wait to buy.

This is known as the greased slide and it comes from great editing. There is no magic or talent involved. All you have to do is follow the formula. My dad had about 4 or 5 steps in his editing process but I have over 27 in mine. Basically I took a lot of what my father did naturally and put it into my editing checklist to make sure the copy flows and it really works.

I have taught these tricks to some of the most seasoned copywriters on the planet and they have never failed to help improve the flow.

My dad never used checklists but I’m convinced he should have. In his ad with the headline “The Amazing Secret of The Marketing Genius Who Is Afraid To Fly” he never put in a sense of urgency and I’m 100% certain that ad would have pulled even more clients if he had.

16. A Printer- Do all your editing on paper. It will save you eye strain and I promise you will catch more errors than just reading your copy on the computer screen.

Feel free to add anything else you find helpful in the comments below. I use a black and white laser printer which in the long run is dirt cheap compared to color or inkjet printers.

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