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Five tips for briefing your copywriter

22 April 2014

Good copywriters spend a lot of time talking. Sharing thoughts and ideas, making bad grammar jokes and, most importantly, asking their clients lots of challenging questions. So if you brief a writer and are met with silence, beware.

It’s the copywriter’s responsibility to make sure they fully understand the intricacies of your project and the subtleties of your tone of voice. Giving them a brief that clearly explains what you need, and why you need it, will help you get what you want.

Here are five things to think about when putting a brief together.

1. Answer the key questions

Your brief needs to combine the wider context with the finer details of your communication.

  • What is it? It’s easy to forget the basics, like the format and length.
  • Why are you producing it? Is it a follow up to a previous campaign? Has some recent market research highlighted the need for it? Give your writer a bit of relevant background.
  • What is it aiming to do? Make sure you can give one clear, concise answer to this question. For example, ‘to persuade at least 1,000 people to take part in our flagship fundraising event’ or ‘to raise £500,000 for a new information centre’.

Then you can expand and include:

  • What you want people to think/feel/do when they’ve read it? Avoid empty phrases here like ‘engage the audience’ – every communication should do that. Do you want your reader to:
    • Feel so moved by a story they want to visit your website to find out more?
    • Identify with your case study and know they can call your helpline if they’re in a similar situation?
    • Learn a key, myth-busting fact about homelessness? Go to their doctor if they have a certain medical symptom?
  • Are there any issues/barriers that might stop people taking action? If your writer knows what these are, they can help the reader overcome them.

2. Remember who you’re talking to

Help your writer get to know the reader. Keep it short and simple – a paragraph will do – but describe someone they can picture. You might include answers to questions like:

– How old are they?
– What job do they do?
– What newspapers and websites do they read?
– What attitudes do they hold about your organisation and your cause? Include any that may affect their response to this communication.

3. Don’t forget the detail

Think about how and when you want your copywriter involved in this project – and make sure you include each stage in your schedule.

  • Do you want them to come along to any initial creative meetings?
  • How many rounds of copy amends/ feedback do you expect there to be?
  • Will you still want their input at the design/layout stages? Will you need them to subedit and proofread?
  • Have you included word counts? (Even a rough range is helpful.)

4. Include some background reading

If your writer hasn't worked for your organisation before, don't forget to give them:

  • Your brand guidelines – particularly anything that describes your tone of voice
  • Your house style guide
  • Examples of previous communications

You could also consider giving examples from other organisations that use the tone you’re looking for, and some that don’t. Bad examples can be as useful as good ones, as long as you can explain what is wrong with them.

5. Have a conversation

Taking the time to talk to your writer before the project starts will improve the odds of you getting what you’re looking for first time round. Give them a chance to digest all the information and then arrange a conversation. Face-to-face meetings are great, especially for bigger projects, but a phone call will help too. Remember, if you’ve missed any of the key information, a good writer should be quick to point this out.


This article is a result of a question raised in our creatives group on LikedIn.

Sarah Myers

copywriter and editor, freelance

Sarah Myers is a copywriter, editorial consultant and creative manager, with more than 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked in-house for Mencap and Macmillan Cancer Support, and at a charity copywriting agency. Now freelance, her clients include an extensive range of charities, professional bodies and specialist agencies. Her guide to Storytelling for Impact was published by the Directory of Social Change in 2022.