Set the stage before you start writing. Use a templated “content brief” to define your topic, audience, and any other criteria that sets the scope and requirements of the document.
At OSP, we use a content brief for any kind of content asset we create. The content brief answers “Why am I writing this?”, “What should I say?” and “How should I say it?”
A brief provides us with a clearly thought-out purpose and context before we start writing. It helps us focus our writing, build a strong(er) narrative, and connect to our audience.
Whether you’re writing for yourself, your company, or a client, answering these questions first means you’ll never have to face a blank page (or screen) again.
Start working on your next content asset using our brief.
Why Use a Brief?
Process over Creativity
Steph Smith talks about the idea of decoupling the writing and ideation processes in Writing is Thinking: Learning to Write with Confidence. She explains that the process of ideation and properly formulating the “why” behind any piece of writing brings with it a mental load that is best separated from the creative task of the writing itself.
Filling out one of our briefs is a discrete task that is basically about gathering data. It includes ideation, research, interviews, understanding a client’s content strategy and audience, making decisions about structure, and then articulating the value or call to action.
When you finally sit down to a focused writing session, the creative task of writing is made less daunting because the brief seeds and feeds the written piece.
A brief helps us get started, keep up the momentum, and share work with clients and colleagues. Once you start writing, you’re filling out details and building on previously defined points, rather than beginning with nothing but a topic or a title.
Review and Fail Fast
The content brief saves you time and anguish. It is incredibly frustrating to get halfway or more through writing something, only to discover the message (or business goal, or purpose) was completely wrong for a particular audience or business goal.
Use the brief and outline as a review milestone before further writing.
- Internal or peer review at this stage helps ensure the brief is the best it can be. Colleagues can identify missed opportunities, supply research prompts, or add ideas for supporting points.
- A brief is the perfect client sign-off deliverable. With approval at this stage, you get consensus on the thesis, goals, ideas, and head off many misunderstandings before they can cause major trouble.
Writing as Teamwork
The creator of the brief doesn’t have to be the author of the content. Briefs make tasks transferable, and help keep our writing consistent (and of a consistently high quality) across a team of writers. At OSP, all of our writing and editing is broken down into modular tasks in this way.
You may have a great concept and research, but no time to write. Invest in the brief, then hand it off! Another team member can pick up where you left off. The brief acts like a passport, allowing any holder to open the door to that content and start writing.
What’s in a Brief?
The content brief can be adjusted based on the content you're writing. Case studies, blog posts, and podcasts for example, have different scopes and purposes. The brief remains the unifying factor: it’s always there for us right in the working document, giving us a scoped list of requirements we should address in the piece.
- Thesis: What is the main idea? What is the content about? What is the direct message?
- Brand Message: What is the indirect message, “in between the lines”? What do we want the reader to take away about us, our client, or the topic?
- Target Audience: Who is this for?
- Pain Points: What are the audience’s challenges?
- Business Goals: Awareness, Conversion, Monetization
- Call-To-Action/Call-To-Value: What is the next step we’d like the reader to take?
- Thesis: [Main Idea + CTA]
- Supporting points
- Conclusion: [Summary + CTA]
Other elements we might include, depending on the content type:
- Publish title
- Word count
- Task tracking tool link (We use Asana)
- SEO Target Keywords
- Featured Image link
- Meta description
- Social sharing messages
We use Google Docs, and our briefs are baked-in to our templates so that when writers create a new document, the brief is already built-in and ready to go. We also create custom briefs based on client requirements, so that onboarding new writers to a project is friction-free.
Stop before you start
Don’t start a writing task with writing. Stop a moment. Take a beat to articulate the purpose and scope of your writing, and who it’s for. Ideally, you’ll spend about half of your time on the planning and the brief, and half on the writing itself (the third half is for editing!)
You will be able to write more, better, and more often, if you do the brief first.
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