Have you ever assigned an article to a writer, and despite giving them what you thought were clear instructions, they completely missed the mark?
Some people seem to be naturally gifted writers. They appear to effortlessly and articulately arrange words in a way that informs, engages, and persuades readers.
Others require more effort to achieve the same results. And sometimes they miss the mark entirely. This slows down progress while reducing results and profitability.
Whether we’re doing the writing ourselves or assigning it to another writer, writing content that is both informative and engaging is difficult can be challenging.
The good news is that you can ensure that writers understand the outcome you’re looking for.
The mistake most people make is they have an idea for an article and they simply begin writing. This is the wrong approach because it often leads to creating content that wanders aimlessly.
Instead, it’s better to work from a structured plan, which will enable someone to write an article that informs, educates, and persuades readers, and to do so in a much more efficient manner.
I’m going to share the method I use in my digital marketing agency, both for our own writing and for the writing we do for our clients.
I’ve based this on the Marine Corps Five Paragraph Order, which is the planning methodology we used to plan all of our missions.
When you follow this plan, you and/or your writers will be able to more efficiently produce the kind of content that gets people talking about you, your content, and your brand, and you won’t even need to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show to achieve that!
5 Paragraph Order for Assigning Content to Writers
In order to create content that performs well in search and social, we must fully understand the situation we’re working within. This requires you to evaluate three critical factors.
First, we need to determine exactly who the audience is. This means going deeper than just writing to a general niche.
I explain the process of identifying your audience in extensive detail in my last article (3 Steps to Conjure Content That Performs in Search & Social), but to summarize – you need to determine exactly who you want to read this particular piece of content.
What motivates them and what are their fears? What are their interests? What do they hate?
Next, we need to be clear on who is presenting the content.
If it’s being published in your own name, it’s pretty straightforward. If it’s being published in your client’s name, that’s a different thing entirely and will require the writer to understand both the voice of the person they’re writing for, and that person’s role in their company and industry.
For example, an article written from the perspective of the CEO of a large architecture firm would generally be different than one written from the perspective of an entry-level architect at the same firm.
Content from the CEO may focus on higher level strategic thinking, while content from a less experienced architect might focus on how to properly execute specific tasks.
Finally, we need to consider where the article is to be published.
If it will be published on your own website, you have a lot more flexibility in the content, style, and tone. You can also work in calls to action where relevant and appropriate.
If it will be published elsewhere, such as a tier one media publication like Forbes or Entrepreneur, a trade publication, or even a smaller independent blog, you’ll need to carefully consider the audience and editorial guidelines of that publication.
What is to be accomplished by this article?
There are generally only five reasons to create a piece of content, and while it will have one main purpose, it can have multiple additional purposes.
These purposes include:
To sell a product, service, or idea.
To educate readers.
To demonstrate your expertise.
To raise awareness.
To entertain/amuse readers.
Knowing exactly what we want to accomplish with a piece of content enables us to take readers down a precise path with maximum efficiency.
For example, content intended to sell architectural services to clients would be written differently than content intended to educate other architects on a new construction technique.
It’s important that you not try to assign too broad a mission to a single piece of content. Much like trying to appeal to an audience that’s too broad, when you fail to define a highly-focused mission, your content will fail.
A well-planned execution can dramatically increase efficiency, profitability, and performance. More importantly, it increases the likelihood that an article will accomplish the intended mission.
On the other hand, a poorly planned execution can have the complete opposite effect.
Since we want to avoid the latter, there are a few steps we should take to ensure a smooth process.
In most cases, it’s smart to develop an outline based on the situation and mission. It helps you to create content more efficiently and to create content that more effectively accomplishes your mission.
Most people – even experienced writers – can benefit tremendously from this kind of structure.
We often need to mention certain facts, link to certain pages, or take a particular stance on certain topics within our content. Including specific instructions helps to ensure a writer hits the mark right out of the gate.
It’s important to be as detailed a possible here. Especially if you’re working with a writer who isn’t as familiar with your topic, industry, or client. This helps to avoid needing to rewrite large parts of an article later.
Smaller independent blogs tend to have looser editorial guidelines, while tier one media publications and trade publications will usually be much more strict.
For example, some may require that you follow the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style, or may even require that you write in the third person. This particular author hates the latter, and feels that it stifles his creativity and slows down his writing.
Understanding the editorial guidelines from the beginning helps to ensure that your content sails smoothly through the submission process.
If you’re doing the writing yourself, compiling the appropriate reference materials for is no problem because you know exactly what you need.
On the other hand, if you’re assigning an article to someone else, it’s critical to make sure they’re starting with the correct information.
We all know how easy it is for someone who isn’t as knowledgeable on a particular topic to go down a rabbit hole and stumble across incorrect, outdated, or irrelevant information to base an article on.
4. Administration & Logistics
The writer needs to know exactly when an article must be completed, and once it is, where and how it should be delivered.
The deadline should be specific to avoid potential misunderstandings. Instead of telling a writer you need the article completed and in your hands in a week, tell them you need it on a specific date, at a specific time.
Be just as specific with where and how the content should be delivered.
In my agency, we have a detailed process we follow within our project management system. But you can use whatever works for you as long as you make it clear to writers what you expect.
This might include sharing a Google Doc, uploading the document into a project management system, or even publishing it directly into WordPress.
This section should also contain instructions on anything else that should take place after the article is delivered, which may include:
Notifying internal team members and/or the client.
Archiving the document.
Sharing the content on social media.
Linking to the new content from existing content.
Closing out any related open tasks in your project management system.
5. Command & Signal
Where should any project-related questions be directed?
In some cases, you may want writers to only contact you with questions they may have about the content. In other cases, you may want them to contact clients or sources directly.
It’s important to make this explicitly clear, and to provide them with a means to communicate with whoever you want to be in charge of decisions pertaining to this piece of content.
Featured & In-post Images: Created by author, February 2019
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ’s Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!