Guidelines Gone Bad: How to Hit the Mark the First Time

Guidelines are an important part of communication between writers and clients. Read on to learn how both sides of the Scripted platform can excel with guidelines.

For Scripted clients and writers, understanding the intricacies of writer guidelines is crucial to getting the copy right from the very first draft. When ordering Scripted jobs, there are certain ways that clients can ensure they have provided the necessary information. When working on Scripted jobs, there are some key tricks writers can learn to adapt to less-than-perfect guidelines.

Word Count

The average blog post comes in at around 400 to 500 words, and many clients provide this as their target word count regardless of the project. This doesn’t always work.

Take the popular Top 10 list, for example. If your writer takes 50 words — which is only two to three sentences — for both the introduction and the conclusion, that leaves 400 words for the body. Divide that by 10, and that’s only 40 words — or two sentences — for each point.

If you’re doing a Buzzfeed-style listicle, this might work, but if you’re envisioning a Top 10 list of the best tablets and want your reader to come away with real information, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Conversely, asking a writer for 400 words on something obscure, such as a buyer’s guide for clarinet reeds, means your writer is going to struggle to avoid including filler text.

For clients: Take some time to do the math and make sure your word count matches up with what you want in the end product. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 100 words for each full paragraph and at least 60 words for each point. Then, add 100 to make sure there’s some wiggle room. Using this formula would mean a four-paragraph blog post would be around 500 words. A Top 10 piece would come in between 700 and 1100 words.

For writers: Always look over the guidelines and map out the article before you start writing. This can help you spot issues with word count before you get halfway through a piece. If you’re running out of words, edit with a fine-toothed comb, and be ruthless about cutting anything unnecessary. If you end your piece with room to go, make sure you’ve hit all the required points that the client was looking for. Writers often don’t provide enough examples, and adding just one or two can help boost your word count.

Tone and Audience

Professional writers produce different kinds of copy for different audiences —occasionally all in the same day. They can switch from white papers to marketing copy to a conversational piece about the trials of parenting without missing a keystroke. But if you don’t tell your writers who they are writing for and why, it can be difficult for them to know which style to use.

When creating guidelines, think about who will be reading the piece. Are you using this as content marketing for a business or product? Do you want readers to engage with the article and leave comments? Are your readers likely to be in a specific demographic? Knowing the answers to these questions will help your writer make decisions on word choice, phrasing and perspective.

It’s also important to have a sense of what you want your readers to do with the information. A blog meant to help readers make an informed purchase requires a different tone than one meant to spark a conversation.

For clients: Examples are key. Find some blogs that you like or want to mimic, and send those links along to your writer. Even if the blog is on a different topic, noting that it is a good example of the target tone can help immensely.

For writers: If your client hasn’t provided examples of intended tone, do some research. Try searching for the client’s website to get a sense of voice. When contacting the client isn’t a possibility, it’s best to err on the side of a more formal tone, using third-person point of view and keeping the cliches and humor to a minimum.

A Final Word of Caution

Strict requirements can backfire. Detailed instructions on tone, audience, content and structure help your writer understand what you want in your article, but getting overly specific can stifle your writer and result in suboptimal copy.

Hiring a professional writer and micromanaging every aspect of the piece is a bit like commissioning an artist to do a paint-by-numbers illustration. Make sure your guidelines give your writers enough leeway to leverage their skills, and you’ll be much happier with the final result.

Have any tips for writers and clients on succeeding with guidelines? Let us know in the comments below.

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