Posted Under: interviewing customers,managing writing project,publishing content
You’re evaluating a marketing communications writer to do a white paper or a case study for you. “So, how do you do this?” you ask her. “What’s your writing process? What steps do you follow in writing a piece like this?”
You should get an answer that makes sense to you, and that doesn’t sound like a rambling, off-the-top-of-the-head proposal.
Here are 5 steps a professional may enumerate for your writing project. If the writer includes these, so much the better; if not, at least you’ll know what to ask for.
- Review existing materials. A good writer is willing to perform some research on your industry and specialty. To save her time and ensure that she avoids material that will muddy the waters, you should point her to the basic information – Web sites, analysis, published reports – she’ll need to know to conduct a fruitful interview.
- Interview – Assuming the task is to take what’s in somebody’s head and get it into print, the writer will need to conduct an interview with those somebodies. This is not a grilling, broadcast journalist-caliber interview, but one designed to get the subject matter expert talking. Perfect interviews are rare, and few experts are adept at imparting their information flawlessly, but a professional marketing communications writer can always get something writable out of an interview.
- Outline – For a paper or a report, it’s important that the writer lay out the piece and let you verify that it makes sense to you. While it’s not so important in short pieces like brochures and case studies, long pieces need to guide readers down a path to explain and convince. You need to see the path the writer envisions and ensure that it’s where you want to guide those readers, and the outline is the best way to do that. Extra credit goes to the writer who fleshes out the outline, say, by writing the introduction or conclusion, so that you can see whether she has picked up your messaging correctly.
- Drafts – Once you’ve approved the outline, the writer hangs text on it and produces a draft. Most of the battle should be in the first draft, which should result in something close to what you had in mind. Circulate this, get comments, reconcile them and get them back to the writer for a second draft. The writer gets extra credit if she introduces ideas and angles you hadn’t seen before. This is one of the big advantages of hiring an outside writer: you breathe your own exhaust day in and day out; a good writer who sinks her teeth into your business provides outside perspective.
- Final review – After the final draft, there’s not much for the writer to do, but her job isn’t yet over, either. Most content requires layout (Web, print, InDesign, Quark), and that effort begins after the final draft. You should have your writer review the piece once it has emerged from layout to find and resolve any discrepancies between her final draft and the pre-publication piece. (Hint: There will almost always be some, intentional or otherwise.) This is a good chance for the writer to clean up final typo’s and tell you what looks right and wrong before you go live with it. (BTW, as I’ve posted before, most companies omit this step.)
Don’t go into the writing process blind. Good writers have a method and they can explain it in ways that will make sense to you.
John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it.