I recently posted the information below as a thread on Twitter, and it got a great response – from writers and clients alike. So I’m reproducing it here in case you missed it.
Your brief to a writer is crucial – it will help them to deliver exactly what you need, without excessive to- and fro-ing. Most often, I find that clients who can’t give a good brief don’t actually have a clue what they want. So if you find yourself struggling to brief your writer, it’s worth taking some time to really crystallise your own thoughts on what it is you’re trying to produce.
A good brief will help both parties in this process, so here are my thoughts, to assist you in briefing like a boss!
1. A single-word topic is not a brief. Give them a couple of sentences summarising the scope of what you would like the piece of writing to include.
2. Tell them who the audience is – it helps them to choose the appropriate tone, as well as an angle to take. Good writers start at the end – with what the reader needs to get out of the piece.
3. Tell the writer the purpose of the content – do you want it to inform, persuade, excite the reader? Do you want them to clear up a misunderstanding? If you don’t know the why of the piece, don’t bother sending out the brief.
4. Give them a rough guide as to the length. For your reference, a single-spaced piece on Word is about 500 words. And remember that most readers have ADD these days, so shorter is usually preferable.
5. The most time-consuming part of writing is the research. So even if it’s a short piece, the research may be complex, and it takes a great deal of skill to write complex matters succinctly. Don’t confuse the word count with the scope of the job.
6. Provide them with email and mobile contact details for anyone in-house they need to contact for information. And inform those people that they will be contacted and that they need to respond promptly – ie. in less than 24 hours absolute maximum.
7. Inform the writer of any inhouse particularities – one of my clients doesn’t like their newsletters to talk in the first person – no we/our. It has to be in third person. That makes it quite impersonal, but that’s the way they want it, so I comply.
8. Answer queries promptly – ESPECIALLY if you are asking them to perform a minor miracle on the delivery front.
9. If you are providing source material, please do so in something that is editable. PDFs are the pits – and PowerPoint presentations aren’t much better, although at least you can copy and paste from them.
10. Be specific – and constructive – with feedback. “That’s not the tone we were after,” doesn’t help at all.
11. Finally, be reasonable with your time demands. If the writer in question is independent, you are not their only client, and they have just as much right as you do, to work office hours and take weekends off.