How to Write an Effective Content Brief for Your Copywriters
A copywriting brief is the foundation of all work your copywriter does for your business. When well-formulated, there’s less of a need for back and forth communication and less risk of misunderstandings.
On top of that, a good copywriting brief ensures the resulting text is of a high standard and meets your expectations. In this article we’ll talk about how you can create an effective copywriting brief that helps you get the content pieces you’re looking for.
1. Basic guidelines
2. Text length
3. Due date
6. Target audience
9. Business information
11. Additional guidelines
12. Examples of why a good brief is necessary
14. Bonus: Copywriting brief template
Basic guidelines for a copywriting brief
While a detailed brief is always helpful, it can also be easy to overdo it and confuse your writer with overly detailed guidelines. So, let’s talk about how you can create a perfectly balanced copywriting brief that doesn’t take long to create but makes a world of difference for your copywriter.
- Keep it short
Many businesses worry that their copywriter won’t understand what they’re looking for and so go above and beyond in their briefs. But this can just give your writer information overload and make things even more complicated. Our advice is to keep the brief as short as possible: don’t worry, your writer will still understand what you’re after. And if they don’t, they’ll ask for clarification!
There isn’t a specific word count you should try to reach here, every brief is different. A content brief for an expert article is guaranteed to be longer than a brief for a short social media post. So, best practice is to write out your brief as you imagine it needs to be. Then go over it and remove any unnecessary bits and see how much you can shorten it. The aim should be to keep the result as short as possible.
- Make it complete
While you don’t want to go overboard in your briefs, you also don’t want to leave out the essential elements that you care about. If there’s anything that you want your copywriter to include in the content piece, make sure you mention it. If you want 5 different paragraphs, say so. Try not to leave out anything that you think is important and make sure the brief refers to everything you’d like to see in the article (but in as little words as possible).
- No room for ambiguity
Go over your brief and make sure there’s nothing unclear or ambiguous about what you’ve instructed. You don’t want to leave any room for interpretation here: be clear about what you’re looking for and what you need. If there’s anything in your brief that could be misinterpreted, try to change your wording or clarify it then and there. At the same time, make sure none of your instructions conflict with one another. For example, don’t tell your writer to use technical language in one paragraph and then later on ask for it to be written in a casual, easy-to-read manner.
- Have a clearly defined main goal
In the end, you’re having this content piece written for a reason. Let your writer know what your goal is with this piece, what you’d like it to portray, and how you want the messaging to look. Tell them where you plan on publishing it and how it will appear on the internet. All of these elements help to give your copywriter more understanding of what you’re looking for so they can write up a piece you’ll love.
Length of text
Every copywriting brief should include expectations of how long you’d like the piece to be. These should be made clear to stop a writer from going overboard and to make sure they write as much as you need them to.
In our time as writers, we’ve come across briefs that say something like: the text should be read for X minutes. This is not a clear enough guideline as everyone reads at different speeds and it can be open to interpretation by your writer.
To prevent misunderstandings, try to follow these guidelines for expressing the desired text length:
- Number of characters with/without spaces – e.g. 16,000 characters,
- Word count – e.g. 2,000 words,
- Number of pages (specifying font/font size, line spacing, or margins) – e.g. 10 pages in size 12 Times New Roman font, double spaced.
Don’t send out your copywriting brief and let it hang in a suspended time vacuum. Specify when you’d like it to be done. Without a due date, copywriters can (and will) keep putting your piece on the backburner while they work on other, more urgent tasks. Make your task a priority and outline when you’d like to receive the piece back, preferably with a specific date. Say something like ‘Friday, January 12th’ rather than ‘In 1-2 weeks’.
It’s essential that your copywriting brief specifies your goal. An informative content piece is going to sound completely different to a sales-y piece. If the goal of your article is to encourage readers to make a purchase, specify the products/services you want to promote in your brief and their advantages. This will help your copywriter to put forward the messaging you want. Remember, they’re not experts in your business – you are!
You can just write this section in dot points. As long as you’re clear, then that’s enough. That said, make sure you only have one clear goal or purpose. Articles that break this rule are usually chaotic, messy, and difficult for readers to follow. Stick to your one intention.
Here are some examples of a purpose you may want your content piece to achieve:
- Share information,
- Get sales,
- Be educational,
- Provide customer support (i.e. after a sale),
- Increase brand awareness,
- Introduce a new product,
- Increase search engine visibility,
- Advertise your business (information + sales hybrid).
The above are just some examples of a purpose, but by no means is it exhaustive. Any goal you want to achieve from your content piece is a good goal. Just make it clear and ensure both you and your copywriter have the same understanding of the terms being used.
It’s very important for a writer to know where a content piece they’re writing will be published. If the article is going to be printed on a brochure or some other hard copy, they’re likely to have more stringent word count rules to follow than if it’s being published on the internet. If it’s on your website blog they can probably go a little more overboard than if it’s being published externally and the word count is stricter. Language used on your website will differ from language used in email or social media. You get the picture. Just let them know where the content piece is going to be published.
One essential element of a copywriting brief is the target audience. This helps a copywriter to write a piece that appeals to that particular group and get the message across better. One tip here is to try to add a few extra sentences about your target audience’s knowledge level. This could be in regards to their reading level, understanding of the industry, brand knowledge, and so on.
This information will help your writer know what kind of language to use and whether they may need to explain particular concepts to the reader. An article aimed at more knowledgeable readers can use technical language, drop concepts without explanation, and be slightly more difficult to understand to an outsider. On the other hand, one aimed at a less knowledgeable reader will be more simple, explain concepts to beginners, and avoid using complex terminology.
Here’s an example of a clear target audience outline:
‘Target audience: 25-40 year old women, from cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. Unfamiliar with brands, beginner (requires industry definitions, simple reading level)’.
See how that helps to give a better understanding than simply saying ‘women aged 25-40’?
If you have an idea on how you’d like your article to be formatted, it’s worth pointing this out to the writer in your brief. This can include if you want specific headings or subheadings, how many sections you’d like to include, whether you want certain information to be highlighted, and so on.
Do you want the content piece to address the reader directly or be impersonal? Some articles use terminology like ‘you’ or ‘we’, helping establish identities for both the reader and writer. Others are completely impersonal and don’t use this language at all. If you have an idea of what kind of language you’d prefer your content to use, make sure you outline this to your copywriter in the brief. This is especially important if you’re working with multiple writers, as they’ll each have their own style which can make your content inconsistent.
Here’s an example of what we mean when we talk about addressing the reader:
- Impersonal language: ‘When watering roses, it is important to avoid watering their leaves and flowers’,
- Second person: ‘When you water roses, make sure you avoid watering their leaves and flowers’,
- First person plural: ‘When watering roses, we always make sure to avoid watering their leaves and flowers’.
Another important part of the brief is clarifying the general tone of voice you’d like the article to have. Most copywriters can assume this based on your business and branding, but it’s still good to be clear about it to avoid misunderstandings.
Here are some examples of tone of voice:
- Formal – This is good for businesses that offer more serious services, such as lawyers or accountants. It usually makes sense to address readers impersonally and avoid jokes or references to pop culture.
- Funny – If you can afford to make your content humorous, and you’re sure you won’t be offending readers, then go for it!
- Scientific – This kind of language will require references to sources for any statistics or facts presented in the content. The writing should also be as objective as possible, with little digression and personal thoughts or opinions from the writer. Again, impersonal language works best here.
- Journalistic – Basically the opposite of scientific. Here, the writer can explicitly share their own subjective opinion and portray their personal opinion or angle on the discussed content. Make sure you specify the angle you’d like writers to take for these kinds of pieces or they could end up discussing the opposite of what you want them to!
- Colloquial/casual – Simple, easy-to-read text that’s like having a conversation with a friend. This tone of voice is uncomplex and relatable.
Copywriters can assume as much as possible about your business, but they could still be wrong. It’s a great idea in any content brief to outline your company values and indicate that the content should be consistent with them. There’s nothing worse than getting back a content piece that conflicts with your core business values and characteristics. For example, if your core priority is promoting high quality services and excellent customer service, you don’t want the writer to highlight your low prices or fast execution. That could lead to misinterpretation by readers.
Try to name a few of the most important players here, and don’t overdo it. A good idea is to include a sentence or two about how your business differs from each competitor. This will help the writer to highlight the advantages of your products/services over competitors.
You may have additional guidelines for your copywriter, which you can include at the end of your content brief. These could include:
- Keywords or phrases you want to highlight,
- Providing sources you want to be included,
- Images you want to be used.
Examples of why a good brief is necessary
At the end of this article, we were going to suggest you try a little experiment the next time you’re sending out a content brief to your writers. For one, create an extensive brief, for the second, give a slightly detailed brief, and give the third a scarce brief. The idea was for you to see how your briefs have an impact on the resulting content.
We decided an even better idea was to do this ourselves! So, without further ado, real life proof of why a good content brief is necessary. We sent three briefs out to three different writers:
- Each article was on the same topic: ‘How to Grow Garden Roses’,
- All articles were specified to be 630 characters long, with spaces,
- The first article wasn’t given a brief. The second was given a slight brief, and the third a more detailed brief.
See the difference for yourselves.
Topic: How to Grow Garden Roses
Article: A rose is a flower that will repay gardeners with a beautiful fragrance. Most roses like loamy-sandy soil and require a slightly acidic pH. Roses grow best in full sun, however some species can also be planted in partial shade. They do not require frequent watering, but you do need to be careful that the water avoids the flowers and leaves. Roses should be fertilised each season with the exception of winter. These beautiful plants are susceptible to diseases like: powdery mildew, spider mites, black spots, and rust. Roses should be intensely pruned in the spring. Some roses should be protected against winter, for example by covering the roots with straw.
Topic: How to Grow Garden Roses
- Target audience: Novice gardener
- Language: Address reader in second person, i.e. ‘You’
- Additional information: Include examples of different rose varieties.
Article: Roses will bring a lot of charm to your garden. They grow well in slightly acidic soil and in sunny positions. If you want the flower to smell beautiful, choose a large-flowered English or climbing variety of roses. Ground cover and park roses have disease resistance; others may require observation and spraying if necessary. Miniature, park, and ground cover varieties are frost resistant. Other species will need to be covered during winter to keep them warm. Multi-flowering, bedding, ground cover, and climbing rose varieties can bloom several times in one year. All roses will need to be pruned in the spring, and those that bloom multiple times a year will need to be cut after flowering.
Topic: How to Grow Garden Roses
- Target audience: Novice gardener,
- Language: Address reader in second person, i.e. ‘You’,
- Additional information: Include examples of different rose varieties,
- Purpose: To sell specific rose species with an ADR resistance certificate,
- Place of publication: Advertising brochure,
- About the business: An online store selling various types of flowers, including roses. Potted seedlings are shipped all year round.
Article: Roses are graceful flowers that will bring a lot of charm to your garden. There are some general rules you should follow when growing roses. These are:
- Position: Slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5,
- Planting: From a pot all year round, with an open root system in spring or autumn,
- Watering: Rarely and avoiding leaves and flowers,
- Frost resistance: Some flowers are frost resistant and won’t require covering in winter,
- Diseases: It’s best to choose more resistant rose varieties to start with as a beginner,
- Pruning: In spring. For varieties that bloom repeatedly, prune after each flowering.
The best roses for beginners are those with an ADR resistance certificate. You can find these in our store.
All three content pieces are substantive. Each meets the requirements specified in the briefs given, are the same length and written for the same topic. However, all of them have different contents. The writers have chosen to focus on specific aspects of growing roses depending on what they feel is relevant or important. This is why it’s valuable to take the time to tell the writer what is important for you and what you want to highlight. Only then will you get a content piece that truly meets your expectations and needs.
Don’t feel intimidated by the need to write a content brief. Most of the elements of a copywriting brief will be universal and applied to every brief you send out, like a template. You’ll only have to readjust one or two parts depending on the articles (e.g. publication, purpose, formatting).
So, take the time to sit and write out a good copywriting brief once and for all! It will have a huge impact on your relationship with your writers and the resulting work they create for your business. You’ll thank yourself later – and so will your copywriter.
Bonus: Copywriting brief template
You can start reaping the benefits of a well-written copywriting brief today! We’ve created this copywriting brief template that you can easily download and fill in with your own information and content requirements.