Each day I collaborate with marketing professionals.
Some days are inspirational, productive and so rewarding that I wish I would be at my desk from dawn until dusk.
Other times, not so much. I can tell there’s tension. There are questions that need to be asked, but aren’t, because we’re all too polite (usually) and just let things drive us crazy.
That’s why there’s wine.
So, over the next three weeks, I’m answering some questions from a great gal I collaborate with often. Barb Dittert is a Content Marketing Specialist and Team Lead at Volume Nine, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Denver, Colorado. She spends part of her days working with freelance creatives, like me!
We talk often, and in a recent email she expressed some frustration when dealing with freelancers. Somehow, we don’t all “get it”. In this instance, the “it” is the collaborative exchange between content marketers and freelance writers.
With our conversation as inspiration, the goal of this three-part series is to improve communication between marketers and freelance writers throughout the content creation process. Barb’s asking some tough questions, and as a seasoned freelance writer who’s been slinging words full time for over seven years, I’ll share my ideas and opinions.
Today we’re diving into the first three questions Barb sent my way. I will address the remaining questions in Part 2 on February 2 and Part 3 on February 9. So, let’s do this!
Barb: What is the best way to give feedback on a piece of content that just didn’t hit the mark?
Angela: Writers tend to be delicate creatures. As much as some boast about thick skin, it’s best to give constructive criticism. I like the old tried and true sandwich method.
Start with praising what was done well, even if it seems insignificant. Did they meet the deadline, have a killer opening line, present interesting information or secure great sources? Let them know.
Then explain what needs to be improved and give details. Let’s say the piece was just terribly organized and didn’t flow at all, but included great information. Try offering a very basic outline to help the writer restructure. Suggest one of the details for the introduction, maybe some subheads for the body and which fact might be fun to wrap the article at the end.
Sure, it’s more work for you, but you’re teaching the writer something that will likely carry forward to their future assignments, making your upcoming editing tasks easier!
Barb: I have had several experiences where I feel like I gave pretty clear instructions on what my clients are looking for in a piece of content, but the writer comes back with something way out of left field, something that I don’t think I could even have predicted. How do I communicate this to the writer?
Angela: Ouch! That is a tough spot to be in, especially on deadline. I’m going to guess that writer didn’t have a clear understanding of the assignment and was too scared/nervous/lacking self-confidence to ask for extra details or clarification on anything that was confusing.
When you work with a new writer for the first time, be sure to include links to the writer guidelines and any extra notes relating to the assignment topic with the assignment itself. Then, check in with the writer maybe 24 hours after creating the assignment to see if they have any questions and whether or not the notes/guidelines make sense. That initial contact makes it easier for a shy writer to ask questions.
I’ve even collaborated with editors before the rough draft due date just to make sure I’m starting to move in the right direction. Let the writer know they can reach out to you any time during the content creation process, and the best way to reach you. Is it by email, Facebook messenger or texting?
If this an established writer, and the wacky article comes out of nowhere, give some constructive feedback. Maybe the information is good, but totally is in the wrong direction or the voice is not appropriate for the audience. I’m guessing the writer wasn’t giving the assignment their full attention and was mixing up the client’s needs with another project, or they rushed and just didn’t care.
Offer some direction by elaborating on the initial instructions and again, a very simple outline, just for direction. If they blow the rewrite, it’s time for a little talk. They may be facing a personal situation that is affecting their writing and work tasks overall, and you can’t fix that. Communication is key. Maybe they just need a few days off work or a heart-to-heart talk.
I had a client last year that offered very brief directions for each writing assignment. However, they were quite detailed and I always felt like I knew what I was doing. Every single article came back for complete rewrites. Why? They never fully explained the audience beyond the guideline generalities (parents ages 25-50), so I’d have to rewrite the posts to shift the focus. After a little talk, they started including a sentence about who the key reader is, and it made a huge difference for me!
Barb: I sometimes struggle with sending a piece back to a writer for revisions. I second guess that maybe I am just being too nitpicky. Do you have any tips on what writers expect in terms of editing and revision requests?
Angela: Every editor I’ve worked with approaches editing differently. There are no set rules or standards, so I’ll let you know what I appreciate from editors.
I actually like to tackle edits. When an editor points out that I use too much passive voice or my paragraphs are too long (rather than just making the edits themselves) I learn from that information and it improves my writing moving forward.
I think an article should go back to the writer to edit if they…
- used the wrong voice or tone throughout the entire piece
- didn’t take the time to use proper punctuation, spelling or formatting throughout the piece
- need better or more sources to back up facts and statements
- went hundreds of words over or under word count, and it matters to the client
I get upset when an editor sends something back to fix a spelling error (I’m human) or to ask me to insert a missing serial comma. Really? Those requests seem petty to me!
If you’re short on time, and the edits are minor, do them yourself. Then, send a note to the writer that the article looked good and is off to the client. Explain that all it needed was a little A, B and C, which is pretty basic! The writer will be notified of things to watch for next time and you meet your deadline.
Next week we’ll be tackling another group of questions from Barb that address quality issues, inconsistencies and laziness.
Would you like an email reminder so you don’t miss upcoming posts on Web Writing Advice? Get email updates by subscribing HERE.