Writing Quality Content – What’s involved?
Anyone with a little knowledge about writing processes probably doesn’t need to read on. For those wanting additional insight, however, I’ve done my best to lend some transparency to the writing process, perhaps answering the question on many people’s lips at the end of the month: “How could 300 ‘simple’ words possibly take 2.5 hours to write??”
- It’s the nature and purpose of good content to be easily read and interpreted with minimal effort from the reader, yet that simplicity can be painstakingly difficult for a writer to achieve. Ironically, it’s that apparent effortlessness which commonly has people asking “How could 300 ‘simple’ words possibly take 2.5 hours to write?
- Essayist Paul Graham, wisely said, “The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite.” If you’re in any doubt, confirmation is easily obtained by sitting down and ‘knocking out’ 300 great words with a timer on.
- Human beings are instinctive creatures. When speaking face-to-face, you have all sorts of indicators to reassure your audience that you and your message are both genuine and worth sticking around to listen to. Your intellect, energy, and ability to stand behind your message can all be discerned in a matter of seconds. On paper, however, it’s a different thing entirely. You have just one tool – words. Those words need to engage the reader instantly, hold their attention, establish credibility and evoke emotions which resonate or stimulating, depending on your objectives.
- When creating content for business, you have a few more obligations. You have to persuade, entice, reassure, and convince – and you must do it authentically because no one likes a blatant pitch. Your writing priority isn’t to offer your opinion, but to convey your client’s message with the intention of reaching a target audience. The reality is, you’re selling people something in some way, shape or form; an idea, business, product, a person, even a pastime.
- Without the advantage of body language, the tone of voice and other cues, you have to search for a finely balanced selection of words which sell your message in the most authentic way possible. Hundreds might do, but often there’s only one, or perhaps two combinations which are just right; words which fit your message like a glove and tell it in a way that won’t have your reader slowly backing out of the room. Given that, it’s not unusual for a writer to spend 15 minutes rearranging the flow of one sentence to sound smooth, eliminate any feeling of cliche and perfectly capture an original, fresh concept.
- Creative or meaningful writing is rarely achieved in a linear ‘beginning-middle-end’ process, but if it is, you’ll often find the result to be wooden, lacking in depth or unoriginal. An exception to this rule could exist when writing technical or research documents, where a linear approach is required for structure, accuracy and academic rigour.
Conclusion? You’ll always find someone quicker or cheaper, it just depends on how important quality is to you for the particular piece you have in mind. When my focus shifts to reducing time, it manifests directly in the quality of my writing. Therefore, I spend as long as it takes, but no longer than it needs, to translate a client’s message to the best of my ability. In turn, they’ll receive the benefit of a quality piece of content which will stand out from the crowd.
While many parts of a business become quicker and more efficient over time, writing quality content is not one of them. To preempt any unnecessary confusion, I’ve described some of the less well-understood components of freelance writing invoicing.
1. When comparing invoice charges to finished content, as a genral rule you might expect it to take around 2 hours for approximately 300 words of quality writing. By ‘quality,’ I mean proofed and original content which effectively conveys the intended message to the right demographic in an engaging manner. This excludes research and administration.
This is comparable to the commonly used ‘50 cents-per-word’ standards in New Zealand for journalists. Feature-writing in a publication with significant readership would usually attract higher rates due to greater return value and because stories must be developed with a degree of depth, as opposed to a flatter journalistic style which needs to conveys facts in an easily read style.
2. Word count can be a general guide for judging a writer’s time investment, but it’s often inaccurate, hence the famous quote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
When given a minimal word count, it can take an extraordinary amount of time to first; establish priority information, often wading through a large body of other content to do so. Second; mercilessly cull words which you’ve already decided are pertinent, then repeating the process as many times as it takes to reach the desired count. Third; All while ensuring you don’t lose relevancy and retain a punchy core message without the benefit of additional words to do so.
3. Activities other than writing are also charged at the same hourly rate. This is for the simple reason that time spent on other tasks means you’re not writing, and you can only use your time once. The hours billed on related activities can change dramatically due to many variables:
- Research required – This component varies enormously from job to job. If the client’s brief is too brief, it can be counter-productive on a small budget as valuable writing time is spent gathering pertinent information. N.b. Research is, of course, a widely accepted part of a writer’s job, but it’s also an easy thing to provide in-house if it’s a cheaper option.
- Communications – How many emails, phone calls, texts and subsidiary administration is required.
- Interviews – How many, how long?
- Complexity – The tone, depth and overall complexity of the subject matter.
- Publication – The quality of the source and their audience reach.
- Amendments – These alone can often take over an hour of emailing back and forth between both subject and client, placing in-text changes to correctly matching syntax and general flow, and re-proofing.
4. Finally, some notes on editing and proofing services:
- Proofing is simply a spelling, grammar and punctuation check and generally doesn’t take too long. You can proofread a document anywhere between five & 30 times over the course of writing it, and that’s on the conservative side.
- Editing is quite different. You take someone else’s content to reform it; a complicated process which includes removing surplus information or unnecessary words, adjusting vocabulary to reflect brand voice or the client objective, rearranging sentences to improve flow, adding relevant information to meet targets better, and let’s not forget re-proofing.
- This explains why editing content can be more time-consuming and costly than giving your writer a thorough brief which enables them to provide fresh content in a way that is natural to them.