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 an article.

Thrust

As a journalist, I would write a 50-100-word teaser to send to magazine 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 in question 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’re want to reach here. This information affects, again, the direction of the article, but also the tone and language used.

Main points

This refers to 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.

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? Hit the reader with your ‘ask’ of choice.

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

Research, research, research. Make sure you fully understand your topic before you start writing something, and leave the references here as guidance. A reader can tell if you’re explaining something to yourself as you write. Symptoms include waffling, unclear sentences, pointless asides, no life or colour.

If you’re asking a freelancer to write something, there will be references you want them to read or cite to get up to speed with the topic. The URLs go here. And what about contacts? If there’s an interview involved, contact details go here. Simple.

So there we go, how to write a brief with juuuuuust the right amount of information to write a great article. Have a go, and let us know how you get on.

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.