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Ready to Write? Answer these Important Questions first!

I’m going to save you some time and give the answers to you now.

1. Who is my audience?
2. What is the purpose of this piece?
3. What type of deliverable will this be? (print publication, online, direct mail, mobile, etc.)

That’s it. These are the three most important questions to ask before you begin a writing project.

Let’s try and break the model with some examples:

High school book report
Audience: teacher, classmates
Purpose: demonstrate understanding of concepts and skills
Deliverable: Single-spaced paper, 3 pages minimum

Blog for B2C company selling products
Audience: readers of the blog, customers & prospects, specifically, men and women in their late 30s to mid-40s with kids
Purpose: educate on the features and help readers understand how to make a smart choice for their families
Deliverable: blog post

To-do list
Audience: You
Purpose: Help you stay focused to accomplish specific tasks
Deliverable type: google calendar

Social media post
Purpose: entertain and educate
Audience: prospects and customers on our accounts
Deliverable type: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to write something and the answer to at least one of these questions is not fully thought through. Sometimes I’m requested to “write a blog post” or “post things to social” but what’s harder for the client to tell me is why. “Why am I writing this blog post?” The “why” gets to the purpose of the piece and is usually part of a bigger-picture strategy worth having a conversation over.

It’s important to ask the right questions up front to make sure there is enough of an understanding by both parties (client and writer) to pull the project together with minimal rounds of revisions. Once you determine the answers to the three most important questions, there are other questions that will help guide your work so that you can deliver on expectations.

Additional questions to ask before beginning a writing project:
– What should the tone be? (casual, eloquent, wicked chill)
– What is the ideal word length? (300, 500, 1,500)
– Is there a particular angle I should take? (tell the story through the customer’s eyes, help people understand the employee perspective)
– Are there any red flags or sensitive topics I should avoid? (don’t mention the latest upgrade just yet because we’re working through the bugs, don’t mention our newest customer yet because we’re getting clearance through our PR representative)
– Are there certain phrases I should use or avoid? (use “training exercise” instead of “classroom training”)
– What style should I use? (AP, MLA, whatever matches the website)
– When would you like to have this published/posted? (next Tuesday, tomorrow)

The absolute golden ticket question to ask:
How will you know if this piece accomplished your objective? In other words, if the goal was to educate readers or entertain them, how will you know the piece did its job?

One of the beauties of content marketing is that we’re sowing seeds. We’re making an upfront investment in time and skills and distributing the seeds. Depending on a number of things such as the content alignment and timing to your buyers’ journey, the place where you have made content available, and the length of your sales cycle, you will be setting things in motion for payoff down the road. It’s more unlikely than not, that your content will go viral. So if it falls into the majority and does not go viral, over time (week over week, month over month, quarter over quarter, etc.) you will be able to see the impact your writing has made. Some immediate ways to demonstrate interest include any type of social interaction (shares, likes, etc.), any lift in website traffic or social activity, order intake or inquiries and an increase in the number of subscribers.

There are three important questions to answer before beginning any writing project but there are also several other questions to ask to minimize the amount of rewriting you’ll have to do. Taking the time up front to answer these questions is a good way to help save time and become a more efficient writer.