Sherlock Holmes on Copywriting

by Megan Slick January 6th, 2010 

In honor of the newly released Sherlock Holmes movie, let's deduce what Sherlock Holmes would say concerning copywriting. It's elementary.

Holmes has an absolute obsession for details. Copywriters need the same voracious appetite for them. The details of your product, service, or company are their most interesting aspects. Holmes said, The little things are infinitely the most important.1

The details are what set you apart from your competition. They paint a picture, allowing potential clients to get to know your company. Once copywriters obtain the details, they can deduce the facts.

Sherlock Holmes exclaims, Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay.2, 3

Without the facts, copywriters are ineffective. Your first point of attack2 as Holmes would say is to ask, What are the facts?2 Holmes said a great deal about facts. We can thus deduce that he felt very strongly about them, as should all copywriters. He said the following:

The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.4

This temptation is also the bane of the copywriting profession. Too many copywriters write from their own perspective instead of gathering the facts. Armed with facts, the next step is to recognize which are incidental and which are vital.

It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated.5

Once the incidental facts are removed, you have the vital facts. From the vital facts, you must deduce the most important fact " the lead. Any good sleuth knows not to bury the lead. But how would Sherlock Holmes discover the lead?

After Holmes collected the facts from the police, he then asked, What is the major concern?2

To discover the lead, copywriters need to ask themselves, what is the major concern of my target market? Without a clear understanding of what motivates, copywriters can get off track. Devoting attention and energy to facts that are unimportant to the target market is an easy mistake. The art of copywriting is recognizing what is vital to your target market.

What would Sherlock do without Watson? The 2009 movie showed us Sherlock's reluctance to let Watson go. Copywriters should feel the same way about their editors. If you have a good editor, never let them go.

Having another person to bounce ideas off of is indispensable. Sherlock said, Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.6 Through their years of partnership, Holmes and Watson develop an understanding of one another that allows them to speak candidly. They constantly question and provoke the other to better work. This is the relationship that copywriters should aspire to with their editors. Your editor is the tool that sharpens your writing.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, You know my methods. Apply them.7


1. A Case of Identity -
2. 2009 Sherlock Holmes Movie
3. The Adventure of Beryl Coronet -
4. Unknown Source -
5. The Reigate Puzzle -
6. Silver Blaze -
7. The Sign of the Four -

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6 Responses to “Sherlock Holmes on Copywriting”

  1. […] on copywriting and Sherlock Holmes references, what a great article! I think there are some great tips in here for making better copy. Yes of course it’s […]

  2. Denver SEO says:

    Very Cool! You also hit upon the need to at least present the information in an entertaining or engaging fashion. Good data in table format loses readers.

    Love the Sherlock Holmes theme… Holmes is engaging and challenging. By fitting your information into a story analysis format, the reader relates to the characters and is more likely to retain the information.

    Very Creative!!

  3. Yesterday I saw the film, and I have to say that the players are good, but the plot is so simple and I even can know the end of the film before I finish the film.

  4. Megan Slick says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind words. A special thanks to Heather and Jessica for putting the post on their Favorites!

  5. Wow. Great comparison of a detective thing to a copy-writing prospects. Well, I do agree that as a copywriter we need to know who are our targets before doing what ever article will be doing.

    By the way, the movie is so great! I love it. :)

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