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How to assign a writing task: stories and other editorial content

How to assign a writing task: stories and other editorial content

Do you have someone lined up to help you write stories for your nonprofit organization? Great! Do you know how to assign a writing task properly? Let’s get you ready to brief your writer so you can get the best stories, as efficiently as possible.

Whether your writer is a member of your team, another employee, a volunteer or a freelance copywriter like me, you need to provide clear and detailed direction. Even the most experienced writers cannot create the stories you need out of thin air.

There are a few key elements you need to think through, and then communicate to your writer to get them oriented. With a good brief, tailored specifically for assigning stories and other editorial content:

  • You’ll provide clear direction and creative inspiration
  • You’ll reduce the number of draft/revisions
  • Your internal clients will be happier, sooner
  • People will want to read these high-quality stories!

How to assign a writing task: stories and other editorial content #NPMC Click To Tweet

Here’s what your writer needs to know in order to write a great story

Goal/purpose

Why does your organization need this content? Where will it be used (e.g. newsletter, website, printed report) and what are the results you are hoping for? When your writer knows what you want the content to achieve, they’ll understand the basic direction and the call-to-action around which to frame the story.

Main message

Here’s a question I love to ask my clients: “If you could sum up this story in one sentence, what would it be?” The answer – essentially the main message – adds another layer of context to my understanding of the goal.

Audience

Who is the intended reader of this story? Give your writer a brief description of your reader (top-level, relevant demographics and psychographics), along with a sense of what this reader will want to get out of reading the story.

Word count

How long should the story be, in the number of words? If you want to leave your writer some flexibility, at least provide a ballpark range (e.g. 300-500 vs.  800-1,000 words).

Relevant background materials

Don’t leave your writer to search for background material if you already have a better sense of the most appropriate sources. Providing the right background information (or a list) up front helps to shape the right story sooner.

Interviews/calls needed

Who will the writer need to interview to understand and shape the story? Which spokespeople will they quote in the story? Will the writer be responsible for contacting each individual to arrange interviews, or does that need to go through you? Be clear about the process.

Who will your writer need to interview? Quote? Be clear about process when assigning stories Click To Tweet

Review/revision process

Even if your writer is internal, it will help them to know who is going to review the story, when and why. For example, who is going to see the content at the rough draft stage vs. almost-final stage? Who will be a fact-checker, who is going to review for house style and who will just need to sign off? The answers will help your writer to understand what is expected of each draft.

Links to include (for web content)

If you’re assigning stories for publication on your website or blog, provide your writer with a list of:

  • Internal links that you want to include. You might be more familiar with your website content and what you need to link back to.
  • External link to content that supports the story. Direct your writer to credible or previously approved sources. You might also have a better idea of partner organizations or others whose websites or content you want to support with links.

Of course, as they research and write the story, your writer can and should add relevant links.


Bonus briefing help

If the story you’re assigning is a case study or profile, you can forward along these resources to guide your writer further:


You’re ready to brief your writer!

Now you know how to assign a writing task –  story writing in particular. Depending on whether your writer is internal or external, you might need to add more to your brief: things like your timeline and final deadline, messaging guidelines, editorial guidelines, key terms to include and jargon to avoid.

Yes, preparing this brief is going to take some thought and a little work on your part (although really, you just need to provide a few short sentences or bullets for each element). But it’s worth the effort because you’ll be setting everyone up for success. Your writer will know what they need to deliver and you will, therefore, save time on revisions later.

Here’s what your writer needs to know in order to write a great story #copywriting #storytelling Click To Tweet

Posted June 27, 2017 / Filed under Nonprofit copywriting how-to / 6 Comments
  • Howard Adam Levy

    Thanks for the post. This is right on. I would add one more thing — examples of the tone or style of the writing (how formal or informal, first person or third, general style, etc.). This can vary greatly, so it helps to set an expectation for what the writer should be aiming for. And for what the client should expect.

  • Victoria Cubbon

    Thank you for this post! I think all the points are spot on.

    Something that I want to ask you and anyone reading this comment, how much responsibility falls on the writer to make sure they know these facts before beginning the process? Is it 50% responsibility of the writer and 50% responsibility of the client?

    As a creative professional, I was taught the importance of briefing a client and asking questions before diving into the project. I’m wondering if this is the same in the writing world.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback!

    • Hi Victoria – thanks for your comment and question! I believe the answer depends on who is doing the writing.

      A professional copywriter should ask questions about these elements (though a client should be prepared to answer them during the first conversation).

      If a nonprofit is working with volunteer or intern, I believe that much more responsibility lies with the person assigning the work. They should be either making the briefing process as easy as possible (for a volunteer) or should be turning it into a learning experience (for an intern).

      Does that make sense?

      • Victoria Cubbon

        Absolutely makes sense. Thanks so much for your input!

        • Great. You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!