How to write a briefing that results in the perfect text

When it comes to the creation of content, search engine optimised texts (SEO texts), for example, clear and efficient communication between clients and agents is essential for a successful collaboration. The means of this communication is often the so-called copywriter or editor briefing, which gives the writer a precise detailing of what is expected. In addition to the topic and the desired keywords, the editor briefing also lays out the desired content, references, media, and other components of the requested text. In addition, the client can specify the general style of the text by identifying the target audience, for example.

The desired content of the commissioned text must be clearly communicated to avoid misunderstandings between client and writer. It’s important to find the right balance: if the briefing is too short or too vague, this can lead to a product that doesn’t meet the client’s expectations. However, when the briefing goes into too much detail, it can have an inhibitory effect, restricting the writer’s editorial freedom.

A good text briefing should be written thoroughly and deliberately. The client’s remit is to prepare a briefing as precisely as possible, just as the writer is obliged to create a text that meets the specified requirements. To follow is a step-by-step guide on how to write a briefing with various examples.

Note

Many agencies use special tools to store copywriter briefings in their database, using forms, for example. In this guide, a copywriter briefing is treated as a text document that you need to write yourself.

Step 1: structure and selection of briefing points

Text briefings can vary depending on the type of text, the client, and requirements. Some are extensive and complex, others relatively simple. While some briefings provide concrete content, stylistic, and technical specifications containing points such as media to be integrated or sources to be referenced, others rely on only a few key points. However, all briefings have some essential points in common, e.g. the topic, the content, and the type of text. The table below lists and briefly explains all possible components of an editor briefing with optional points in parentheses.

Briefing point

Explanation

Short examples

Text type

Make it clear what kind of text you expect. The type of text advises on the structure and tone and conveys the intention behind the text.

The goal of the text is particularly important. An advertising text differs substantially from a neutral advisory article, for example.

Blog post, guide, brochure, op-ed, column, review, match report

Advertising text for our e-mail packages

Topic

The text topic determines what should be covered in terms of content. This section should be as precise as possible.

“Best e-mail providers”

“Biography of Winston Churchill”

“Most reliable predictors of who will win the Premier League Cup”

Required keywords

Good SEO means researching the most important keywords for the topic. These give the author the requisite focus of the text. Keywords should ideally be sorted by importance.

“e-mail, e-mail provider, best e-mail provider, top e-mail provider”

“Premier League Cup statistics, who will win the Premier League Cup, most accurate predictor of the Premier League Cup”

(Keyword density)

Depending on your SEO strategy, you can more or less specify the keyword density in the text.

“Keyword density 3%”

(Requested media)

Many websites prefer to accompany their articles with photos, videos, etc. As a client, you can explicitly request this.

“Please include screenshots of the respective e-mail tools.”

“Please embed the official promotional video.”

“Please create a heat map for the match and include it at the end of the article.”

(Text category)

If you divide texts into categories on your website, it’s helpful for the writer to know which category the text is for.

“Lifestyle”

“Sports”

Content/questions

The focus of the text can be expressed through questions you want the article to answer.

You should also explicitly state what you don’t want to see in the text.

“Compare the major e-mail providers.”

“Which is the best email provider? Why do they top the competition?”

“Please mention Gmail only briefly as this will be covered in a separate article.”

“Play by play of the final match: What were the highlights? Who was the MVP?”

“Please don’t refer to the semifinals. This will have its own article.”

Structure

Many clients specify the structure of the article to include headings and text elements such as tables and text boxes.

“Headline: The 5 best e-mail providers. Please summarize each provider’s services in a separate section. Conclude with a comparative overview in tabular form.”

“Reveal the score at the beginning. Then write a chronological report about the game, highlighting individual players. Finish off with the game statistics at the end of the text.”

Audience

The intended audience group is instructive for the tonality and technical depth of the article. Some websites even divide articles according to the level of expertise required to understand the text. In other words, you should specify if the text is to be written for laymen or experts.

“Beginner”

“Advanced”

“Youth”

“Technophiles”

Addressing the reader

Should the reader be addressed directly? This is an essential criterion informing the tonality of the text. For example, it’s normal to address the reader in a tutorial, but not in a news article.

“Avoid addressing the reader.”

“Addressing the reader is welcome. Casual, friendly tone.”

(Style)

The target audience (see above) provides very specific information about the text style.

“Reputable and neutral”

“Not overly analytical. Just stick to the facts.”

“Celebrating the local team’s victory is allowed and encouraged.”

Text length

The word length of the article depends on the structure of the webpage or the contract between client and writer (for example, if payment is per word). Specifying a specific word target for each section of the article is also an option.

The target audience also informs how long the article should be (laypersons are usually less interested in extensive texts than experts). However, the topic is the most significant factor, as it has the greatest bearing on how much explanation is necessary to carry out the assignment.

“min. 2,000, max. 3,000”

“c. 1,500”

“In the Top 10, each position should contain 90 to 100 words. First place can be described with up to 300 words.”

(Requested links)

In SEO, internal links are recommended. You can specify an article suitable for linking in the briefing.

“Please include a link to our article on Outlook.”

“Please link to the article ‘Ten rookies to watch in 2018.’”

(Research sources)

If your preliminary research leads you sources that might be valuable to the writer as a starting point or that reflects your expectations in terms of content, you can include them in the editor briefing. You can also direct the writer to review a certain source for background.

 

“Please refer to the Wikipedia chart.”

(Deadline)

The article may require a deadline depending on the timeframe for publishing or other contractual details.

“Deadline: 31 March, 2018”

"Please complete by the end of the week.”

Note

Carefully consider which of the following points are important for your brief. If you omit important points, this can impact the end product, whereas overloading the briefing can intimidate or discourage the writer. Find the right balance!

Step 2: writing a briefing

Once you’ve prepared the structure, i.e. your briefing points, you can begin writing the briefing. Note the following:

  • The KISS principle (“keep it short and simple”): provide the necessary information directly and unambiguously. Ideally, your copywriter briefing should be easy to understand in just a few seconds.
  • Use line breaks or bullet points to separate briefing points for clearer reading. Avoid large blocks of text to make it easier for the writer to get a quick overview of the briefing.
  • Tone is important when writing a briefing. Try and phrase specifications as requests and avoid overuse of the imperative. Otherwise it comes across as authoritarian, which can be demotivating.
  • Many writers deliver their best work under circumstances where they are given some level of creative freedom. This makes it all the more important not to dictate too many details of the commissioned text. Only mention important requirements regarding content and structure. At the end of the day, the editor briefing isn’t so much a guide, per se, but rather a collection of guidelines.

Templates and examples of briefings

The following template is useful for concentrating on the essential information for your commissioned text and will help you in writing the briefing in the form of bullet points.

Article topic:

Text type:

Category:

Word count:

Deadline:

Content:

Structure:

Media:

Style:

Target audience:

Take the following order as an example. The writer should write an article comparing the best dating apps. SEO analysis has shown that a “Top 10” format makes sense. We think that one screenshot of each app offers the reader added value and in our research, we found that gender ratio and pricing models are very important in dating apps, so we want to highlight this information. The following editor briefing has been made according to these specs using the above template:

Article topic: Top 10 Dating Apps

Text type: Guide, Top 10 List

Category: Apps, Lifestyle

Word count: 3,000 – 5,000

Deadline: 30 April, 2018

Content: Compare the best dating apps and present them one by one in countdown form, sorted by quality. It is up to you to select the top 10.

Please refer to the following points in the individual apps: price model, gender ratio, method, match making, and personal profile.

Please also briefly specify the compatible operating systems for each app and whether there is a desktop or web app.

You are also welcome to address regional differences (for example, certain apps seem to be more popular in some cities than others).

Structure: H1: “Top 10 Dating Apps.” Use a subheading for each app with the name of the respective app. Please summarise with a table showing the comparison criteria at the end of the article.

Media: Include a screenshot of each app, please.

Style: Casual and conversational. Addressing the reader is ok.

Target audience: Under 30s

Copywriter briefings are commonly written in bullet point lists like these; however, briefings in continuous text are still quite popular. The advantage of these is that they feel more personal than just a list of important points. Depending on the number of specifications, a continuous text also makes more sense, e.g. if the author has a lot of flexibility and fewer fixed parameters need to be communicated.

Dear writer,

Please create an article on the topic of dating apps, presenting the 10 best dating apps in a top 10 countdown (ending with first place). The selection and evaluation of the apps is up to you. The overriding question is: What is the best dating app?

The question of cost is paramount to many readers. Are the apps still effective if you don't want to spend money? How expensive are the paid versions? In addition, there are often regional differences, as some apps are more popular in certain cities than in others – please address this. It would also be nice if you could describe the three main features with screenshots. Dating apps often differ in their user experience depending on gender – you are welcome to discuss this.

Because our target audience is mainly young people under 30 years of age, the tone should be appropriately relaxed. You are welcome to address the reader and assume that he or she is single.

At the end of the article, please summarise with a table in which you can quickly compare the cost of each app.

We need the article by 30 April. It should be about 3,000 words. The following keywords appear most frequently in searches, so should be included: “dating apps,” “the best dating apps,” and “apps for singles.”

We hope you find all the information you need for a successful article. If there is anything that is not clear in the briefing, don’t hesitate to ask.

All the best,

John Public

Text Commissioning Co., Inc.

Step 3: reviewing the text briefing

One you’ve written the text briefing, read it through for errors and, if necessary, have it proofread by a second person. Texts that don’t meet expectations often result from misleading or incomplete briefings, so it’s in your own interest to avoid unnecessary mistakes. A good editor briefing saves both the writer and the client frustrating and time-consuming rewriting.

  • Check that the most important instructions are included. Sometimes it helps to keep the “w” questions in mind: what should be written, how, why and for whom?
  • On the other hand, consider whether the instructions contained are all meaningful or important. Too many instructions can be inhibiting or restrictive.
  • Put your briefing to the test: pass it to a colleague and ask them if they understand the assignment and know exactly what they need to do. Is there any unclear or confusing information? Are any instructions missing or is there too much information? This enables you to obtain valuable feedback on the clarity of your briefing.
  • Also check the keyword list again. Are the keywords all spelled correctly and do they make sense? Too many keyword requirements can force the writer to include awkward phrases. It’s best to stick to three to five keywords and always reflect on them before including. With SEO, quality is more important than quantity.
  • Compare your briefing with other successful and/or even unsuccessful writer briefings, e.g. briefings written by colleagues. What worked in the past, what didn’t? If the writer you’re commissioning has already received briefings from you or your colleagues, using old briefings can provide a helpful orientation.

Step 4: communication with the writer or editorial team

In many cases, it’s helpful to talk to the writer or editorial team about the briefings. If you ask your copywriters for feedback on previous briefings, you’ll be able to write them much more effectively. As a rule, once a certain briefing structure is established, you only have to change individual points for each article. The perfect copywriter briefing is the result of good communication between the commissioner and the agency.

Ask the writer or editorial team for regular feedback on the following:

  • Are the briefings easy to understand? Does each writer know what to do?
  • Are there any requests on the writer’s side for future briefings? Is more or less specification helpful?
  • If there have been unclear or contradictory briefings, ask for examples of what created confusion. Comparing these to briefings that were well received is the best way to identify mistakes to avoid in the future.

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