How to brief a writer? Like this.
Here are 12+ important things for you to think about — and to mention — when briefing a writer on a writing project
First things first: You have to tell us stuff.
Ever heard the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out”? If your writer doesn’t have solid, accurate facts to work from, the job’s gonna be a #fail.
I’ve had clients say, “Ag, can’t you just, you know, go off and write the thing? Like, on your own?” Sure I can. With pleasure. Absolutely. But it’ll be shit.
So if you’re using a writer at the moment or planning to use one in future, below is a starter list of some of the things they might need to know.
Disclaimer: Hopefully your writer is enough of a pro to ask you for these things themselves, when taking the brief from you. But remember this: as outsiders, we don’t always know what we don’t know. So there will be specifics that you need to mention.
Important elements for you to include:
1. Who are you? What’s the company about? Where’s its contact info? Introduce yourself, the organisation, and any relevant team members. What sector, business or niche are you in? Include the URL for your website and any related links, as well as who the copywriter’s primary point of contact will be.
2. What’s the project? Explain what kind of copy you need and what it will be used for. What is the problem/challenge that this particular piece of writing needs to solve?
3. What’s the format? Is it print ad copy? A blog post? A webpage? A sales letter? A radio commercial? An audio visual script? Is it regarding a new product or service, or an existing offering? Will it be posted to an existing platform or social media profile?
4. What will it ‘look’ like? Does it need to fit into an existing web or print layout? Will there be graphics or images included? If possible, give the copywriter links or visual references, so they understand where and how the copy will ultimately be used.
5. Structure, heads, word count. Not every copywriting project requires a formal outline, a specific format, heads, subheads, captions, etc. But many do. So if you think you’ll be wanting these, indicate this upfront. Importantly, if there is a fixed word count or word limit, make this clear.
6. What’s the deadline? Is there a concrete milestone or launch date in place?
7. Who’s the audience? Who is your existing audience or your target audience? Provide relevant demographic and psychographic (behavioural) data, and include information like what challenges they face, what their goals or values are, and what they need to know. What do they already know, if anything? Try to be as specific and detailed about your audience as you can.
8. What’s the desired CTA (call to action)? What action do you want the reader to take after reading the piece? What do you want them to do, feel or think? How will you measure success?
9. Key points to be included: Your key messaging can vary widely depending on the type of copy and your objectives. Try to pare your message down to 2–4 crucial points, and state them as simply as possible. Also, are there any phrases, slogans, taglines, or must-mentions to include?
10. What’s the background? Expand on your key messaging. You can also include info on competitors or differentiators, special offers or incentives, and any contextual information.
11. What are the research or info-gathering requirements? Is any web/other research, material review, or interviewing required on the part of the copywriter? Can you ball-park this?
12. What’s the tone of voice? Every piece of writing has a distinct tone of voice, and it’s best to communicate your desired tone (if you have one) to your copywriter and to share any written brand guidelines you may have.
When it comes to tone, you can cover:
• Person. Do you have preferences re: first (‘we’), second (‘you’), or third person (‘it’/’they’) in the writing?
• Formality. Do you prefer informal or formal writing? Longer words or shorter words? Longer paragraphs or more empty space? Contractions (we’re/you’re)? Jargon or no jargon? Humour or no humour?
• Style. What’s your company culture like? Are you serious or playful? How do you want to be seen by customers and your community? Are you a trusted source for high-level insight or a go-to for practical advice? Describe your organisation’s personality.
• Emotion. How should the reader feel? Examples: excited, inspired, enthused, proud, grateful, amused, relieved, at ease, driven to take action, supported/validated, reassured, confident, etc.
That’s it, folks.
Tiffany Markman gives good advice on words and writing. Want some?
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