How to Set Out a Successful Brief for a Writer

By Conrad Egusa Published: 8 October, 2015 Last updated: February 18th, 2022 at 11:46 am

person writing on paper

So you’ve hired that rockstar writer to produce all your marketing materials. That’s an impressive start – but there are still a few things you’re going to have to do to make sure everything goes to plan.

A writer without a project brief is like an Uber driver without a GPS; unless you provide them with a clear objective, the right information, and straightforward instructions, there’s no telling what their results might be.

First of all, what is a brief exactly?

A brief sets out your aims and provides all the instructions your writer needs to successfully complete the project.

Briefs are given to writers of all kinds of ongoing projects – if you need copy and content for your website or blog, a series of articles on a particular topic, or content for a particular product or ebook, etc. – you’ll definitely need a brief.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that you have never worked with this particular writer before. Of course, you can skip a few steps if you are working with an incorporated team member or you are outsourcing to a familiar service provider, because they’ll already know all about your company and how you work.

Before you start, there’s one thing you should keep in mind at all times: writing a brief requires you to take a step back and look at your project from an outsider’s perspective. You don’t want to miss any important details, assume prior knowledge, or under explain your goals; otherwise, the content creator will be left with more questions than answers.

1. Company information

Give your writer all the background information they need to understand your company and whom they are working for, but don’t send them away with a literary tome. In other words, don’t worry so much about your company history – you’re seeking a content creator, not an investor. Remember their time is your money!

You should give them access to your brand deck and content and style guides if you have them. These will help the writer understand and establish the right tone of voice, and it will help keep your new materials consistent with what you have produced before.

2. Project overview

Although it might sound obvious, it’s amazing how many briefs fail to include a simple overview. This is the go-to reference for your writer. They should be able to see all the key facts about your project there and then. The overview will tell a prospective writer whether this is the right job for them, and it’s also a handy reference point throughout the project.

Your aim is to provide the writer with all the relevant information at a glance. For example, you could include:

Aim: What is the overall project aim?
Audience: Who the product is for – is it for customers? Other businesses? Internal use?
Voice: friendly/formal/business-like
Style: The medium in which the product will be presented (online/printed/paid for/free, etc)
Volume: Although this might vary from project to project, it’s usually best to specify word count rather than page numbers
Scope: Project start and end date. Key contact names and emails (editor, project manager, etc.)

Example overview:

Aim: To create a series of info booklets outlining all the benefits of cabbage in a healthy diet.
Audience: Aimed at existing Cabbage Corp. clients. Men and women aged 35-50.
Voice: Casual and friendly.
Style: 15 Printed booklets, of 10 pages including front and back covers.
Volume: 1000 words per booklet. Descriptions of images excluded.
Scope: Project runs from 01/01/16 – 03/03/16.

3. Project scope and segmentation

The writer needs to know how much they will be producing in what time frame – and if they are required to do extra research, or image-sourcing, because that all takes up time. At the end of the day, your writer will need to know how many hours they are dedicating to your project per week. This section should help them calculate that.

Much of this information will be set out in your temporary labor contracts, but it should also be outlined in your brief.

– Outline start and end dates
– Set clear and strict deadlines (although allow your company room for flexibility where possible). Most projects are broken up into manageable. chunks. Tip: ask for your writer for deliverables every week, that way you can be sure they are on track and making good progress.
– Explain the editorial cycle: When will the writer get feedback for each submission?
– How many reviews or rewrites will be expected of the writer?
– How long will they have to do any rewrites and edits?
– Are there connected projects the writer may also become involved with? (Note that further work opportunities will often attract freelance writers)

4. Finalization

In this section you explain what determines the success of a project. Without this, your writer will be unclear when the job is finished (and when they get paid). Include:

– Why a deliverable might be rejected
– What constitutes an acceptable submission
– Number of revisions
– Deadlines*
– End date

*Remember to be kind to your writer though. Many projects go over over weeks and months, so you should include a clause to say that a writer may take a break or miss a deadline or two with permission, so long as the project is completed at your end date.

The last word
Producing a good brief for your content creator is key to the success of your project. You need to ask yourself whether someone without any prior knowledge of your company or this product to produce excellent materials with the information you are providing.

If your brief covers all of the above and you can answer yes to that question, you’re all set – and your project is ready to roll.

Before you go, perhaps you’d like some more tips on giving feedback to your writers?

This post was written by George Chilton of the Publicize Newsroom.