Good writing and successful writing are two different things. In the context of developing a website, brochure, newsletter, press release, or case study, you could thoroughly understand organization, flow, theme, brand, and grammar. Your logic could be flawless. You could compose a stunning document that is a pleasure to read. And you could still miss the mark.
How? Here are some typical ways your beautifully written document could go wrong:
- Expectations aren’t met. Your client or boss wants one thing and you deliver another.
- Audience is misunderstood. Your information is great—just not for the people who will be reading it.
- Purpose is unclear. Informational versus promotional. Educational versus editorial. You get the idea.
- Scope is off. Your document is much larger—or smaller—than it should be.
- Context is ignored. Your piece is inappropriate for the situation.
A successful writing project, on the other hand, delivers not just the necessary content, but also the higher-level factors that ensure your message is heard and your objectives are served.
Getting off track and not understanding the requirements of a writing project is not necessarily your fault. The communication process can be tricky, especially if intentions are not clearly defined. This can be the case whether you are assigned the project by someone else, or you “assign” it to yourself. That’s why you need to build steps into your process that ensure both good and successful writing. This series will present each stage of the process, and steps you can take to ensure success within each one:
Part I: Planning
The first key is careful planning. I put a good deal of effort into this phase because I have learned (the hard way) how important it is in writing project success. In your planning, you should neutralize the potential for the missteps mentioned above by gathering plenty of information before the project even starts. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions—people are usually happy to answer them, since they want to see the project turn out well too:
Find out as much as you can about the expectations of the person assigning you this project (even if it’s you).
- What are the key elements for success in this project? I actually ask this question of my clients, and sometimes get surprising answers, which help me understand what success for a particular project “looks like” to them. For example, “This case study should include some marketing components,” or, “This web site needs to spell out the benefits of the products I use in providing my service.”
- What is the deadline for the project? Be sure to include enough time for each phase to put yourself in a position to deliver the final draft on time.
- What other providers are involved? Will you be working with a web developer, a graphic artist, a marketing consultant? Will they be part of the review process? Will they expect the text in a particular format?
- Who will be available to provide information and answer questions? For this one, I also ask whether or not those people will be around throughout the duration of the project. Believe it or not, some people will start a project, forgetting that they have a vacation coming up! Knowing when others involved will be available will help you plan your time.
- Are there similar documents already developed? If so, you are in luck! Having an example to work from can be a tremendous help in determining style, length, format, and subject matter.
Identifying and characterizing your audience is key.
- Who is your audience? What are their primary characteristics? What do they have in common?
- What are their main concerns?
- What do they already know? What do they want to know?
- What problems can you help them to solve?
- How do they like to receive information?
Knowing what a document is trying to achieve is critical. Is it a website that is essentially an online brochure—strictly informational? Or, is its purpose to lure readers via search engine optimization and point them to affiliate links? Is it meant to sell products within the site itself? Knowing in advance the purpose of the document will shape the way you develop it in terms of style, flow, and content.
Find out what length your document should be, in words, or pages. I have gravitated toward using number of words as a measure, because a page could be anywhere from 200 to 700 words, depending on format, type size, image placement, etc.
Be sure you know how this document will fit in with the company’s plans, the audience’s preferences, and the competition’s promotions.
- How will the document be used? For example, will a case study simply be posted as a PDF on a website, or will it be included in a physical marketing packet? The format and design—and, therefore, the content—may need to be altered accordingly.
- At what stage of the buying process will it come into play? When prospects are first introduced to the company, or at a later time? Will branding need to be introduced, or merely reinforced?
- What other information will be available, or will have already been seen? How will the current document add value?
- What higher-level company objectives should the document contribute to? For example, is the company trying to gain market share, correct bad press, change its focus?
- How will this document compare to or take into consideration what is the competition doing? How can it be better?
Do you have examples of writing project success (or lack thereof)? Please share in the comments.
About the Author: Karen Marcus, M.A. is a Northern Colorado copywriter who has been helping clients in a wide range of industries to put their best word forward for 13 years.
Need assistance setting yourself up for writing project success? Karen can help! Click here for contact info.