Good content requires good writing, and when you’re working with freelance writers, clear communication is paramount. You need to tell your writers exactly what you want from them, so they can produce content that works for you with minimal revisions and edits. The system we use at Content Runner lets you to send an article back for revisions, allowing writers to correct mistakes they may have made. This is very useful, but ideally, everyone wants the first version of an article to be the last version of an article. Writers get paid faster, Users get content faster, and everybody wins. I’ve written before about following instructions and writing the best possible article for submission, but now I want to talk about making sure that Writers have a clear idea of what you want from them. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you create the best instructions, and therefore get the best content.
When you’re brainstorming articles, think carefully not just about what you need for marketing purposes, but how you can express those needs to Writers. In a sense, the Writer is your first contact with your audience, as they’re the first people who see what you’re trying to communicate. Just because they’re helping you to do that doesn’t mean that they can read your mind. If you don’t have a particular Writer in mind for a piece, it may be safest to assume that they don’t know much about your topic. To this end, consider including at least one link to help them research that topic. Choose an authoritative source, the kind of source that you would want them to cite in the article itself, and include the URL in the instructions. Additionally, if you have a specific format or model that you need a writer to follow, include some information on that formatting, or a link to that model. If you have a specific way you like your company blog posts to look or read, give them a link to another article so they can see how to write this one. It’s kind of a “picture is worth a thousand words” thing; sometimes its easier to look at a model than to make sense of instructions.
Do you have a style guide for your Orders? In the Order Form you can select a style guide to be posted with the article, which allows you to create a pre-made guide to how you want your Writer to format the piece. Give this some thought, and create your own if the pre-loaded options won’t cut it for you. You can create a style guide by going to the Settings menu and choosing Style Guides. Creating a style guide allows you to reduce the amount of actual instructions you need to write, and keep them focused on the individual article. The guide can cover formatting, spelling conventions (like American versus Canadian English), and the like.
Clarity of Purpose
You don’t need to tell your Writer exactly what your goal is with the article, but you need to give them an idea of what kind of role the piece will serve. Should it be informative? Persuasive? Instructive? This is a good time to think about the tone you want to set as well. Is the piece casual? Is it a lighthearted or serious piece? Once you decide on these factors—and they’re worth considering at the start, in order to maintain a uniform voice for your product or company—be sure to include them in the instructions. Writers aren’t psychics, and they can’t know for sure what function or tone you have in mind for an article.
If there is a certain tone or role that you will be using for a lot of pieces, consider including this info in a style guide. Create specific guides for different kinds of pieces, like “casual informative” or “lighthearted instructive.” Some extra organization when you’re planning your content can go a long way toward making that content easier to generate.
Keep in Touch
If a Writer accepts an article that you’ve placed, they may have questions. If they message you with them, be sure to answer them as quickly and clearly as possible. This probably goes without saying, but what may not be so obvious is that you should encourage questions in the first place. My experience as a teaching assistant has taught me that people don’t ask questions about writing assignments in one of two situations: they either don’t have questions or, more often than not, they do have questions and they just won’t ask them. The former situation is great, and depending on the piece you need written, might be the case. But the latter situation is not ideal.
It’s possible that a Writer might have a question, but not be willing to contact you about it. Students often avoid asking questions because they don’t want to look foolish, either in front of their teacher or, more often, their peers. If a Writer sends you a message, it’s not like the system tells every other writer they did so, which means if they have a question and aren’t asking you, they might be afraid that you’ll think they aren’t capable of the assignment. Assure them this isn’t the case! Put a line in the instructions to contact you with questions. If you’re feeling particularly proactive, or if the article in question is especially complicated, you can also message the writer after they accept it and see if they have any questions. If you do go this route, be careful of how you phrase this communication. You don’t want the Writer to think you lack confidence in them. You also don’t want to micromanage the process. You’ve hired a freelancer to make your own job easier, not to make more work for yourself.
Dealing With Revisions
So you’ve written clear instructions, kept in touch with the Writer, and you still need to send the article back for revisions. Look at this as an opportunity to clarify your instructions and improve the piece. If there was a communications problem, some way you could have been clearer in your instructions, take note of it and avoid the mistake the next time around. If the writer missed part of the instructions, restate them and explain what you need fixed. Above all, be polite and have patience. Being respectful to your Writer will get you a lot better reaction than being abusive.
When it comes to sending back revision notes, it’s better to overlook a spelling or grammatical error here or there. It’s easier and faster to just fix these yourself. If such an error is so glaring that you can’t make sense of what the writer meant, or if there are numerous errors of this sort, then send it back and make note of them. In general though, the revision process exists to improve the piece and to fix glaring errors of structure and content.
Keep in mind that the same box that allows you to enter comments for revisions also allows you to give them notes when you accept a piece. If there is something that you really want a writer to know, such as how good a job they’ve done, or if you have some constructive criticism to offer, you can still tell them even if you accept the piece.
Do you have experiences with instructions, good or bad, that you’d like to share? Are you a User who has some tips on communicating with Writers? A Writer who’s particularly adept at working with Users? Leave a comment and tell us, and each other, about it!