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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

How to Brief a Content Writer
Do you tell them specifically what to do or give them the theme?

 7:04 am on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I've come to a point where I can't do the writing anymore (too time consuming) so I'm going to hire a journalist (she's written for lots of magazines) but I'm not quite sure how to go about it.

Do I just give her the general topic of a website (say a product) and say, right, you research it and write everything about it and then tweak the content with pre-selling messages? Do you do the research first and tell them exactly what topical pages to write? She's a journalist, not an ad copywriter.

Any suggestions are appreciated



 7:55 am on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)


If she is so talented you can ask her to write articles for you along with web content. As we all aware how articles are profitable to our website and business.

Ask her to write to articles related to your website and publish it at article directories and websites. This will give you good profits.


 10:27 am on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

In general terms...

What you need to do is provide your writer with an editorial brief. Basically, you need to decide what it is you want the article to be about, discuss this with them - and get them to stick to the parameters agreed.

For example, just saying to a writer that you want an article on 'cameras' is incredibly vague. What about cameras - new ones, old ones, collecting them, buying, selling - even, taking pictures with them..?

Just saying "I want an article about taking pictures with a camera" is still way too vague. Be more specific based on your own needs as defined by your market sector, reader/visitor interest and any specific angles you wish to explore.

You are in complete control. You decide exactly what it is your freelancer should write about. You decide what level of detail is involved and any specific elements that should be explored...



 11:46 am on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

To check further, ask the author for a synopsis of what they will cover. That will tell you if they understand your brief, and it will show what topics you will get when completed. If you need to add or remove, that would be the time to do it.


 3:13 pm on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I would try to be specific about your site's intended audience, and the tone that you want to convey to those people. For example, introductory articles on widgets for readers aged 20 to 40, conveyed in simple, non-technical language.

A good copywriter with some expertise should be able to come up with article ideas, so you shouldn't have to do in-depth research about suitable topics to cover.


 5:14 pm on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I give an outline of what I want -

Title: Ecommerce, is it worth the effort?

Subject: 500 word article discussing the pros and cons of ecommerce for the small business, give two examples of UK firms that have benefited from going online.

Thats how I try and do it any way.


 5:46 pm on Nov 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

Excellent ideas, thank you everyone. A brief is definitely the way to go.


 12:03 am on Nov 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

It's also a good idea to put together a standards document. Use this to explain how to deal with things like your site name, links, keyword variations, minimizing useless adjectives, etc...


 1:37 pm on Nov 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

hairycoo, the better briefed the writer is in advance, the better targeted material you get out of it. But when you've received some articles and you sense that the writer has gotten the point, then there is no point in insisting on a brief for every new article, unless the paradigm changes of course.


 4:44 pm on Nov 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

The best way to communicate is to use an example.

If your widgets are to the x industry like Nikon cameras are to the photo industry, then say so.

Or your widgets are like Oreo cookies are in the food industry. Or Gerber baby food.

Or Maytag washing machines in the appliance industry, or in the washing machine market.

Are you a Lexus or a Ford? Are you the US Postal Service or FedEx or UPS?

Are you MS or Apple?

Are you Gateway or Dell or HP?

Are you Snickers or Hershery kisses?


 8:15 pm on Nov 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

I employ a re-writer who takes four or five news articles about a single topic and writes a synopsis of the main points of these 5 news articles in one cohesive 300-400 word articles. Here are the guidelines I give him-

Re-Writing Guidelines

1. GOAL: The goal of your re-write is to make the content of each article UNIQUE on the internet. I will measure its uniqueness after I publish your revisions to our web site by running the URL through the www.copyscape.com service. If required, you agree to re-write any sentences or sections which Copyscape identifies as being DUPLICATE CONTENT. The “tolerance level” we use for this metric is no two consecutive sentences may appear in any other page on the internet. Of course, there is no way to avoid having a string of three or four words from your finished product match the same three or four words on another site. I am not that strict about this. However, no two consecutive sentences can be left unchanged. Ideally, you should rewrite as much as is feasible, even if it is every sentence.

2. I will own the final product you create. You agree to never publish or post any of these articles on your own or any other website. You agree to not rent, sell, or give away copies of these articles in any format to anyone. You agree not to take any action that will cause this material to lose its UNIQUENESS on the internet.

3. You will be rewriting the WORDING, while retaining the original MEANING of these articles. You are not required to do any basic research on the topic.

4. Your final product should be returned in a notepad (.txt) file without any formatting. The title of each file should be the same as the title of the original file you are rewriting.

5. Your finished product should be grammatically correct and not have any typos (spelling) mistakes.

6. SUMMARY – At the top of each finished article in a section headed “SUMMARY1” and again “SUMMARY2” please write a concise 2-3 sentences overview of the article which follows on that page. This will tell the reader what they will find in the accompanying article. The two summaries should be unique (different wording/phraseology).

7. You should add staggered paragraph headings in each article perhaps before every second or third paragraph. These headlines should be comprised of the main keywords or key phrases covered in that story/article.

8. Wherever you find third-person usage change it to second-person (i.e., change
the word “he” or “she” or “him” or “her” to “you”). Each article should address the reader directly.

9. Wherever you find an outbound link or reference to another web site or source remove it.

10. Wherever you find a direct quote attributed to a particular source, remove the quotation marks and paraphrase the content of the quote. No proper names should appear in any of the articles.

11. Edit out all examples and calculations, etc. Make the copy generic without specific examples.

Christopher C

 3:43 pm on Nov 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks Girsh, that's a nice step-by-step break down. It is quite similar to what we do and to answer the topic title, I give very little for an article beyond the title.

I have a team together that has a lead writer/editor who I have worked with now for about 1 year. All of the research is handled by the writers and we do it in a staged process.

1) Research and provide a synopsis. For example, I would request article(s) on "Internet Widgets" and the deliverable from this stage would a breif overview of the internet widget field. What's important, what's discussed, what are the main points talked about and most importantly which articles and key points need to be written about.
2) Rough draft. Same as Girsh mentioned, the writers then research in greater depth on what is available on the web in terms of related information and write a rough article.
3) My editor cleans & checks for any copyright violations and adds the basic SEO. If there's any inadequacies or new info to add then it's redone.
4) Any appropriate advertising/design for the article is added and it is published.

There have been times when this system has worked wonderfully (a few emails from me and a website is built a few weeks later). Other times it's been a complete disaster when a knowledgable author could not be found. I've found the more technically difficult an article gets, the more I need to get involved to make sure it is written properly.

Not sure if this helps but good luck :)


 6:03 pm on Nov 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thasnk for the copyscape detials, I didnt know this sort of thing existed.

I used to prove the innocence of one of my copywriters who I was sure was cheating me.


 1:30 pm on Nov 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

Briefing a professional journalist is different than briefing a copywriter, or at least it CAN be in many cases. Your expectations should be somewhat different, too. An experienced magazine writer (you'll have to gauge the level of experience from the writing samples) will be able to produce a well-researched, very readable article on your topic. You'll need to specify the length, the audience, any editorial considerations, etc.

If you are looking for optimized web copy, you may end up with some conflicts. Skilled writers like to use cleverly worded headlines and avoid using the same phrase twice in the copy. Here's the dilemma - if you try to get the author to write to some kind of optimization specs, it's likely to be a frustrating and unpleasant experience (unless the author is interested in developing a new skill set). On the other hand, if you take well-written copy and replace clever wordplay with keyword repetition, the author may be unhappy that you butchered the copy.

My advice is to have a clear understanding of your expectations and what will happen with the copy after the author is done. As long as everyone knows what's expected up front, problems later in the process will be minimized.


 6:16 pm on Nov 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

This is a really good thread.


 6:55 pm on Nov 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

On the other hand, if you take well-written copy and replace clever wordplay with keyword repetition, the author may be unhappy that you butchered the copy.

That should not be a concern if you keep your writer informed of your intentions.



 1:56 pm on Nov 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>That should not be a concern if you keep your writer informed of your intentions

Quite true. In addition, your agreement should spell out the work-for-hire nature of the job, and note your ability to both use and alter the product without restriction.

Normally, if I were hiring an experienced, published magazine writer, I'd include the author's byline when I published the article. However, if you intend to modify the copy significantly, you may want to offer the writer the choice of omitting the byline.


 2:58 pm on Nov 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

How much extra should one offer an author to leave out his/her name (the only reason I'm asking is because she has a weird name)? On the other hand... does including the name (when the author is not famous enough to be recognised) have a benefit of adding credibility to the content?


 3:40 pm on Nov 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

How much extra should one offer an author to leave out his/her name...

Nothing. It is entirely at your discretion whether you give the writer a credit/biog.

...does including the name (when the author is not famous enough to be recognised) have a benefit of adding credibility to the content?

Just because the reader has not heard of the writer does not mean that they are not a respected industry/sector commentator... I have always favoured allowing writers a short biog (20 - 40 words) at the foot of the article.

In my experience readers/visitors are much reassured by the fact a piece has been written by someone with experience, knowledge and understanding of the sector and/or subject matter. Therefore, how you present the writer can make a difference to your audiences' perception of the article, and thus the site as a whole (imo).



 3:52 pm on Nov 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

So do you let them write their own bio? What do you mean by "how you present the writer"? Are there any special aspects I should do as a webmaster in that respect?


 4:16 pm on Nov 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

So do you let them write their own bio?

Yes. Although what gets used is at your discretion.

What do you mean by "how you present the writer"?

You could say that "Fred Smith is a freelance writer", or "Fred Smith is a freelance writer specialising in the subject of widgets."

You can present them as an anonymous freelance writer who no one has ever heard of before... Or, you can present them as being an authority-type figure - as someone who specialises in the particular subject matter and thus knows what they're talking/writing about.

Who would you be more inclined to believe? Fred Smith the 'anonymous' freelancer, or Fred Smith the specialist writer?

Presenting the writer as someone who knows what they're talking about generally increases the credibility factor with the reader/visitor.



 11:52 pm on Dec 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'd not believe either one. I've seen too many glibly-blithering idiots "giving themselves out to be something great", like the "world's leading expert on variegated widgets."


 11:59 pm on Dec 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

I've seen too many glibly-blithering idiots "giving themselves out to be something great", like the "world's leading expert on variegated widgets."

Oh, I agree - I think we all have.

Being the "world's leading" anything is hardly credible - unless you are, of course! ;-)


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