Back when I first started working in journalism, there were only a few requirements for us writers. Every story needed at least three sources, two verifications per big statement, follow AP Style. The only formatting was a slug at the top of the piece, your name and the word count, followed by double-spaced copy and a -30- at the end. Source info, art, etc., were noted below the -30-. This was the industry standard, so no matter who you were writing for, this is how they wanted it. Most of the work was in the reporting and writing. All seemed right with the world.
Doing more than writing
But in the last 10 years, writers are being asked to do more non-reporting and writing stuff. Back in the early 90s, clients started creating their own standards for conventions, usage and formatting. Smart editors provided a well-written set of writers’ guidelines (with helpful examples), and smart freelancers formatted a template for each client to cut down on confusion. We’ve got a file on each client that includes the documents plus Gold Standards we’ve created for particular forms. It’s the only way to keep the large number of diverse requirements straight.
Writing for readability
Then there was the whole Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test craze. The test essentially scores your writing based average sentence length, average syllable per word and use of the passive voice. Clients started requiring freelancers to aim for certain points on this scale. I know it was with the best intentions, but in many cases it created watered down text that all sounded kind of the same. That’s because many writers began forcing short words and short sentences to make the grade. It takes talent to bring some style and voice to this formula, plus a keen sense of the traits that make good writing (strong ideas and solid details, clear voice, effective word choice and sentence fluency). We learned to maintain these core qualities under the F-K requirements. Happily, the craze pretty much died out, but we do have one client who still relies on it. (BTW, this piece got a score of 58.7, meaning it’s “easily understandable by a 9th grader”)
Writing for SEO
The latest formulization of writing is SEO. Despite the fact that the terms people search on can be pretty different that the terms they (or anyone else) would use to actually describe the product/service/person/enterprise (more on this here) many clients now insist on search-optimized content. And many of them ask us to insert the title and meta tags and denote cross link opportunities. Including search terms can lead to slightly clunky copy, and doing the coding adds to more time which means more money. We’ve taken to dividing the duties here so that there’s a writer for the copy and an SEO jockey for the coding and cross-linking. That way, the writer can concentrate on good copy while the other focuses on smart navigation and correct coding.
We’ve learned to adapt during our 16 years in business. We know the key to sticking around this long is providing great service that meets the clients needs. So we continue to evolve the way we work with smart processes, clear roles and a desire to continue to produce content that gets results.
Interested in working with a group that's seen it all and done it all (well, too!)? Drop me a line.