Writing

How to give better writing briefs

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Good writing briefs are the launchpad for good marketing copy. You need to be clear about what you want, when you want it and how you want it. Contacting your writer at the eleventh hour and giving them a muddled, wishy-washy brief will leave you with nothing but tardy, humdrum copy.

Better writing briefs

Here’s an overview of the information you need to cover in your brief:

  • Title. The name of the piece or project.
  • Client. The contact details of the individual who commissioned the piece, the day-to-day contact and the person who will sign it off as complete.
  • Objectives. What do you want this piece to achieve?
  • Length. How many words, or page-equivalents? For the writer this is fundamentally important. Words are our trade and the word count is how we measure it.
  • Target audience. Who is the project for? The more detail we have about this, the better job we can do. Ideally, you want a fleshed out buyer persona. What do they do? What else do they read? What are their concerns and priorities?
  • Controlled vocabulary. Are there words or phrases that we can assume the audience knows? Writing for programmers, for instance, requires a different vocabulary than writing for doctors. Are there words we absolutely have to use and explain? The main 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 you’re looking for. Reference other media to give examples of style. For example: ‘This piece should read like an article in the Economist’. Do you have any special requirements, such as your own tone of voice, trademark or style guides?
  • 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 is an important distinction.
  • Third parties. Are there any other parties who need to be involved, whether providing content or approval? Typically, these include PR or marcomms agencies.
  • Client resources. If you want the copy to talk about particular products or topics, make sure you have to hand the information your writers need. Good copywriters are happy to do their own research, but that will take longer. If you have product brochures, internal sales sheets or earlier white papers then hand them over. Even better, set up an interview with a subject matter expert. The more you feed a copywriter, the faster they can turn copy around, and the better it will be.
  • Fees, rights and 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, such as the right to use the piece for our marketing? What’s your confidentiality policy?


better business writing

Better feedback

If you’ve given a clear, accurate brief but think that the output doesn’t quite hit the mark, you need to give clear, constructive, specific feedback – tell your writer what works and what doesn’t.

  • Remember the brief. Look back at the brief before you give feedback. Remember the audience and what the piece was trying to do. Refer to the brief in your comments.
  • Read like a reader. We’re not writing for your boss, we’re writing for a customer who doesn’t know much or anything about your company or its products. Does it answer their questions? Does it tell a story and flow from one point to the next? Does it include any company jargon that they might not understand? This mindset will help you give the best feedback.
  • Give feedback, don’t rewrite. Use Word’s Track Changes and Comments tools to explain exactly what’s not working for you. Correcting product names and such like is fine, but rewriting the copy without any comments doesn’t help the writer understand how to do it better next time.
  • Don’t edit by committee. If the piece is receiving feedback from multiple people, you need to collate this feedback yourself before sending it to your copywriter. It’s much more efficient for everyone if we get one round of feedback, instead of five or six rounds as each stakeholder sends in their comments.

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Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.