There are good briefs and there are … the other ones.
No client ever sets out to write a lousy brief. Often people are under time pressure, aren’t clear on the details themselves, or simply don’t know what a brief needs to include.
Here’s a handy guide to writing a good brief (your writers will love you for it).
- Word count: You’d be surprised how many people forget to tell you how long they want the story to be. You can specify a word count or a number of pages (with an average of 500 words per page). If it’s for user experience (UX) copy on a website, you need to specify how many characters and remember that you need to say whether that count includes spaces.
- Deadline: You can give a final deadline, or you can give a number of deadlines. ie first draft, corrected draft, final draft. Side note: specify whether you want corrections made in the document with or without track changes turned on.
- Topic outline: Be clear about the main point of the copy. Is it to educate, entertain, drive people to your website or encourage people to click on a link, download or buy something? What is the story about? What are the mandatory inclusions?
- Audience: Who is this piece of writing intended for? Is it for a niche audience, a mass audience, a professional audience or laypeople? How much assumed knowledge does the reader have of this topic? This will heavily influence the style of language used and the way it should be formatted.
- Interviewees: Who needs to be interviewed for this story? Supply names, contact details and notes about their relevancy/expertise with regards to the topic.
- Images: Do you want images? If so, how many and what of? Do they need to be print resolution or is web resolution OK? Are you going to send a photographer and, if so, do you want the writer to help tee that up?
- Style guide: Do you have a house style guide that needs to be adhered to? If so, make sure you send it to the writer at the outset of the project. Things to consider: UK English or US English? Capitalisation on things like professional titles and headings, do you like to use interviewees’ first names or surnames when quoting. ie Saunders says OR Julie says.
- Heads, subheads, intros, boxouts and bylines: Do you want the copy broken up in a particular way? Do you have a copy template? Or examples of previous articles that use the correct format? Please send them over so the writer can see how you want the copy formatted. It’s also polite to tell the writer whether they will receive a byline or not.
- Call-to-action: Does the copy need a call-to-action? If so, specify what needs to be included in that (website, phone number, dates and times, etc).
- Supporting documents: If you have past iterations of the copy, background information, brand documents or bios on file, send them to the writer so they can use them in their research.