How to write

How to create better briefs for writers

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I have said it before and I'll say it again: better briefs for writers make for better projects. 

Recently, I decided to standardise a briefing template in Microsoft Word so that I could make sure I had captured all the information I needed for each project. More importantly, I wanted to share it with my clients to make sure that they had seen the brief (in my words) and agreed with it.

Here is the brief template:

  • Title. The name of the piece or project.
  • Client. The contact details of the individual who commissioned the piece and (if different) my day-to-day contact and the person who will sign it off as complete.
  • Objectives. What does the client want to happen because this piece has been written? (Are these goals self-consistent and realistic?)
  • Length. How many words? (Or page-equivalents?) It's astonishing how many clients don't even consider this but for a writer it's fundamentally important. Words are our trade and word count is how we measure it.
  • Target Audience. Who is the project aimed at? The more detail I have about this, the better job I can do. Ideally, aim for thumbnail sketches of typical readers. What else do they read? What are the concerns and priorities?
  • Controlled vocabulary. Are there words or phrases that we can assume the audience knows? For example, writing for an audience of programmers requires a different vocabulary than writing for doctors. Are there words we absolutely have to use AND explain? A particular concern here is words and phrases that mean a lot to the client and nothing to a reader.
  • Style. English or American English? Case studies, press releases and, especially, white papers all have different meanings to different people so spell out EXACTLY what is required. Reference other media where appropriate. For example "This piece should read like an article in the Economist or FT". Are there any special client requirements such as tone of voice, trademark or style guides? If so, have they been provided and is there a contact to review and assist with getting them right?

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  • Synopsis. A paragraph long or bulleted summary of the piece setting out the main points and the running order.
  • Delivery format. Microsoft Word? HTML? Are pictures required? Footnotes and sourcing? Documents intended for use online must be written differently from print documents, so this distinction is especially important to get clear.
  • Third parties. Are there any other parties who need to be involved, either by providing content or approval? Typically, this can include PR or marcomms agencies.
  • Client resources. What will the client provide to make the piece happen: interview contracts, access to spokespeople, samples, reports, data etc. etc. Ideally, this lists everything so that the client has a clear understanding of what their tasks are.
  • Fees, rights, schedule. What mediums and territories are involved? Whose name will be on the piece? Is copyright assigned or licensed? Moral rights? What is the schedule and final deadline? What is the fee and when is it due? What is the approval process? What rights are reserved, for example the right to use the piece for my marketing? Confidentiality.
  • Small print. Articulate Marketing's standard terms and conditions.

What do you think? Do you have a template you use to brief writers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.