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How to write the perfect brief

The work a writer produces is only as good as the brief that you send them.

The very act of writing a brief and delegating work to a content creator can make any control freak nervous. However, writes Mahlab Editor Jo-Anne Hui, if you’re able to master the art of putting together a great brief, it could be the start of a wonderful – and wonderfully productive – work relationship.

“How do I know I’ll get exactly what I want from them? I don’t have time to write a brief! What if the story they write for me turns out to be rubbish? Maybe it’s just easier if I write it myself, thus drowning in a sea of work because I can’t trust anyone enough to commission them.”

The devil is in the detail

The work a content creator produces for you is only as good as the brief that you send them, so it’s imperative that you make it absolutely clear what you want. This is particularly important when you work with a new content creator, who won’t have the experience of having worked with you or creating content for your audience previously.

It’s not their job to read your mind, and the more detailed you are in your brief, the more likely it is that what you get in return is exactly what you want.

What to put in your brief

To kick off your brief, get the basic details out of the way. These include:

  • Deadline
  • Word count
  • Topic
  • Publication, issue and section, for print, or website and section.

Now, it’s time for the meaty part of the brief.

First, describe the general argument of the piece, the tone and who it’s aimed at. Perhaps it’s an easy-to-read beginner’s guide to using Facebook for seniors, or an in-depth look at sewerage systems aimed at public works professionals.

Then, create a breakdown of the main points that you’d like the article to cover. Depending on how prescriptive you want to be, you may want to explain what you’d like from each section of the article.

For example, your beginner’s guide to Facebook may include sections on the benefits of having a Facebook account, how to set up your own account and how to connect with friends.

Now is also the time to make mention of any break-out boxes that you’d like your content creator to provide along with the, such as a list of dos and don’ts for using Facebook.

Next, include any additional information or links to research, reports or sources that could give your content creator a helping hand. Some editors are happy to leave sourcing the evidence to back up the argument to the writer, not wanting to stifle their creativity, but if including particular sources is a requirement, say so. There is no point hoping your writer will stumble across the same research, stats or experts as you did.

Finally, include some basic information about your publication, the target audience and demographic, along with your contact details.

If you’re working with a new content creator, give them style guides or templates for them to work from, as well as copies of your publication. If there are any particular things you’d like them to avoid in the story, like the mention of competitors or particular brands, make sure you make mention of this, too.

How to give constructive feedback

If the first draft of the story from your content creator is not exactly what you had imagined, it’s really important that you clearly discuss the amendments needed for the story. Speak up – you’ve delegated him or her the work and the last thing you should do is rewrite the the story on their behalf.

This is particularly important if you plan to continue working with this same person in the future, as a lack of feedback will be taken as endorsement of the work that’s been submitted.

Here are some tips on offering useful feedback to your content creator:

  • Be specific. Which bit needs to be amended? What details need to be added? Now is not the time to be vague. Go back to the brief and work through the article systematically side-by-side with the brief so that you can clearly show where your writer went right, where they went wrong, and what needs to be done to bring the piece up to standard.
  • Be forthright. It’s not often necessary to rip apart someone’s work, but there’s not much point in tip-toeing around, either. By all means, remain positive, but don’t be afraid to explain what needs to be changed.
  • Offer suggestions. What could be done to fix the problems in the story? If your writer needs to look for other sources to support his or her argument, you may be able to shed some light on where to find them.

The dos and don’ts of writing a brief

  • Do give your content creator as much time as possible to complete the work.
  • Do offer as detailed a brief as possible.
  • Do offer as much background information as possible about your business and this piece of content, to give the writer some context before he or she starts writing.
  • Do get in touch with the content creator again if you’re not happy with the work to discuss the specific changes you’d like him or her to make.
  • Do be open to any suggestions the writer might like to make when you discuss your project with him or her. He or she is, after all, a professional writer.
  • Don’t slap a rushed brief together and then expect your writer to fill in the gaps by reading your mind and give you exactly what you want.
  • Don’t brief your writer at the last minute, with little time to complete the work.

It’s worth putting in the time and effort when writing briefs for your content creators and the good news is that the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Just remember that the key to building a lasting relationship with your content creator is through open communication, honesty and patience.

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