Writing quality content is a lot like wearing old trousers; you’d better make sure you have great briefs otherwise you can get into all sorts of trouble.

The brief is the cornerstone of any engaging article: it gives purpose, thrust and direction to a piece and makes sure you stay on topic.

Here’s how we do it:

Brief encounter

Here’s our brief template. Whether we’re writing an article ourselves or assigning work to writers, this is the process.

Let’s look at the sections individually.

Content type

Are you looking to write a Buzzfeed-style list piece or is it a short, punchy news item? Is it an interview? If so, does that need to be a Q&A or will it be editorialised? The info in the content type box will make that clear.

This box is first for a reason; you need to think hard about the most effective way to present your information or argument, and the structure will determine how a writer goes about researching the topic.

Thrust

As a journalist, I would write a 50-100-word teaser to send to commissioning editors: a short pitch which sums up the article in a nutshell and captures the imagination. That’s what this section is. If it’s not interesting in 50-words, give up and write something else.

We also want to explain why we’re writing this piece. What is the thinking behind it? What is the value to the end user?

If you’re writing the article yourself, this section helps you focus your thinking. If you’re hiring a freelancer, it gives them a feel for the research they need to do and the direction the article needs to take.

Target readers

As part of our initial content strategy talks, we find out as much as we can about a client’s target audience. We build personas, usually two or three per client, and we communicate them to our writing team. We’ll make clear which of these personas we want to reach here. This information affects the direction of the article again, but also the tone, language and examples used throughout.

If your target audience is large corporates, using Ted’s Hammer Shop as a case study simply won’t resonate. And vice versa; Ted is not going to be interested in Google’s latest major multi-million dollar investment (unless it’s in futuristic hammers).

Main points

This is the meat of the article, and this section of the brief can take many forms. You don’t want to write the whole piece or be too prescriptive, a writer (assuming you’re allocating it to a freelancer) wants some freedom after all, but there will undoubtedly be elements and information you feel are essential to the piece.

Sometimes, this section can simply be “this is what the intro looks like, here are three main points to cover”. Other times it may suggest inspiration for a list piece. It all depends on the type of article and the thrust.

Conclusion

If you have a key takeaway, insert that here. With list pieces and interviews, this might not be relevant. With any other piece, this is essential. If a writer knows why you’re writing a piece (i.e. the thrust) and the conclusion you want to come to, that’s makes their job an estimated 83% easier.

CTA

Now what? Assuming the reader has got to the end of the article (not guaranteed, but if you’ve done your job well, possible) what do you want them to do now? Follow on social media? Head over to some case studies? Look at your services in more detail? Tell the writer what you want the reader to do next. A good writer will take the CTA and link it to the article they’ve just written.

One quick note about CTAs, you need to separate them from the main body copy. One or two sentences after the article, italicised, does the trick. See the bottom of this article for more information.

References/contacts

A great writer will do their own research, but there are likely articles that you’ve read which contain some brilliant information. Leave links for the writer and make their job a little easier. You could even signpost the pertinent information from the link too. And what about contacts? If there’s an interview involved, contact details go here. Simple.

This might seem like a lot of effort just to get an article written, but the more information you can give a freelancer, the more likely it is you’ll get something back you’re happy with. It’s easier to do the work up top and get back an article which is 90% there than provide minimal direction and have to rewrite huge slabs of text because it’s not right.

Try it, and thank me later.

Alternatively, get a content agency to produce work on your behalf. Check out some of the clients we’ve helped on our case studies page. (And that’s how you present a CTA)

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.