Japanese scribe set
Japanese scribe set. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

Here are 10 tips for getting the best from your copywriter when producing brochures, newsletters, annual reports and other corporate communications materials.

1. Know your audience

Good writing addresses the interests and concerns of the reader. That means you and your copywriter need a clear understanding of the audience: their age, background and their familiarity with the subject. Tailoring your message to the audience increases the likelihood it will be read, understood and acted upon.

2. Brief your copywriter

Your copywriter needs clear instructions. That includes your deadline, word-count and number of revisions. You’ll also include your main ideas and supporting arguments, sensitive issues, and most important, the action you want the reader to take. A detailed brief helps the writer deliver the copy you want.

3. Use a style guide

Develop a style guide for your organization, and share it with the copywriter. The guide should include your product and service names, choice of spelling and style, industry-specific terms, and unusual words and phrases. Consistent style aids comprehension and gives your messages a polished, professional appearance.

4. Follow the format

Ads, newsletters, brochures and annual reports each have a distinctive tone and style. The casual, conversational approach in an ad won’t work in the more formal context of an annual report, and vice versa. Pick a suitable approach, and use it throughout the document.

5. Make progressively smaller changes

With a clear brief, your copywriter can deliver a solid first draft. Each successive draft should have fewer changes, and bring you closer to finished text. Endless revisions or wholesale, late-stage rewrites increase the chance of inconsistencies, errors and flabby writing.

6. Buy the right service

Proofreading, copy editing, rewriting and creating original copy are distinct tasks requiring different skills. Budget, brief and schedule accordingly.

7. Manage the politics

Review-by-committee and arbitrary changes can ruin excellent copy. Both are sometimes unavoidable. But you can minimize the risk by building agreement inside your organization before briefing the copywriter. Asking the writer to explain their work, and knowing when to gracefully back down, can also help.

8. Honor your reader

It’s harder to write crisp, concise copy—where every word is essential—than verbose, vague text. Lucid copy takes longer to write, but saves your reader time and effort.

9. Educate yourself

The more you know about good writing, the better you can manage the writing process. Review competitors’ materials, build a reference library and ask questions. Read quality writing, like The Economist, The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

10. Hire fresh eyes

On long projects, the production team will have seen the copy so often that they may “read through” typos and other errors. Hiring a professional proofreader can prevent costly reprints. And don’t forget to review charts, tables and captions, where mistakes can undermine an otherwise strong document.

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