By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist
We all know what we want from a new writer: competence. But what exactly is that?
Presume she knows the basics...
Let's presume for a moment that your new writer knows the basics: her grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It would also be nice if she had a flare for words, could turn a phrase and knock out a tag line, select a meaningful quote, so let's give her that, too. Let's also give her the benefit of the doubt about sentence and paragraph structure.
What makes for a good -- no, an excellent -- writer is when he can add value, when he can contribute to the project by advising you beyond the basics.
Tap into his experience...
Your new writer should bring all his business experience to your aid. That's true, whether your project is a website, brochure, or a business letter.
I have developed business websites since 1994. That includes, writing, editing, site mapping, navigation design, project management, content management application integration, search engine optimization, and more. I have also been a privacy officer. All that has taught me to look beyond writing when I integrate with a client developing content. When I go into a website project, I always have a lot of basic business-decision questions that I find many businesses haven't thought through that can have an impact on copy or site structure. Clients always appreciate it.
In addition, I have worked on hundreds of print projects over the years. I know about design and production issues that can help guide a project to successful conclusion, and I know that decisions that are made early-on can have a huge impact on later work on the project. I don't hesitate to advise clients on things beyond copy that will make a project communicate better.
This is all to say, your new writer should be able to provide insight into more than copy for a project, and don't hesitate to ask him questions or listen to suggestions. Make sure they make sense before accepting them, of course.
You should get what you pay for...
How much you're paying for her work may determine how much she's willing to provide in "extra" advice. However, as with any professional, most writers will try to provide as much value as possible. After all, they would like you to return as a client and refer them to others.
Keep in mind, there is a division of labor in the editorial world that might make it more useful for you to hire an editor than a writer if what you really need is an editor. An editor has made many more editorial decisions beyond simply writing ones. She has headed a project, dealt with writers, designers, and production (or developers for websites), and done battle with accountants over budgets. In a sense, a writer has to worry about a page, an editor has to worry about a whole book.
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