We’ve previously discussed ways to ensure that a first draft of copy hits the mark — including hiring the right writers and crafting a thorough creative brief and/or assignment letter. Still, there will always be instances when you need to ask for revisions. And most writers are accustomed to taking feedback on a first draft and turning in a finished product that fully aligns with the creative director or marketing manager’s vision. It’s all part of the process.
But is the direction you’re providing getting through? Is it yielding results in a timely fashion? Does your team understand what you want?
Providing feedback on written copy is an art form of its own, and it takes practice and a certain amount of self-reflection. Perfecting revision requests, however, can speed up your production process and save everyone a lot of back and forth. Below are some of the principles we rely on internally at AVC, and they’ve proved useful in ensuring our writing and editing processes run smoothly.
1. Avoid generalizations.
Saying only that a blog post “isn’t working” or that it “misses the mark” isn’t productive. It’s important to explain why. What exactly isn’t working, and what is it the writer could do differently to make it work?
When copy is really far off the mark, it’s best to have a conversation with the writer about changes rather than by email or shared document. That way, both parties can get on the same page, and the writer has an opportunity to clarify direction and ask questions.
Sometimes, when you talk it out, you realize the content isn’t as far from where it needs to be after all. We’ve worked on projects where the initial feedback was that a piece was “all wrong,” but as we went through it line by line, we discovered that wasn’t really the case. It was just one section that needed to be reworked, or the copy itself was fine but the order was off.
Then again, sometimes a piece really does require a complete overhaul. Perhaps the creative brief was incomplete or the circumstances of a project have changed. Whatever the case, as long as you can articulate what needs to change and approach the conversation collaboratively, everyone should walk away more confident in round two.
2. Be specific about what you want.
With generalizations off the table, now it’s time to get specific. But even feedback that may seem specific to you could leave room for interpretation for a writer. For example, editors love to ask writers to “punch up” a line or paragraph. But that can mean different things to different people. Sometimes it means, “make it shorter,” and other times it means “use more colorful language” or “include an anecdote.” But without that kind of specificity, you may not get back the kind of “punching up” you had in mind.
Likewise, saying things like “I don’t like this” or “choose a different word” can be confusing, too, and may drag out the revision process if the writer’s second attempt isn’t what you had in mind either. The key is to elaborate and be descriptive. Is it that you think a word is too complicated for your audience? Too simplistic? Not nuanced enough? Too negative? When a writer understands what it is you don’t like about a particular word or style of writing, he or she can learn your preferences and deliver more effective copy the first time in future projects.
3. Recognize personal preferences.
I once worked for an editor on a health magazine who hated the word “veggies,” even though Merriam-Webster states it’s perfectly acceptable. She preferred we spell out “vegetables” in all instances, even if space was an issue. And you know what? That’s OK. She was the boss, and that’s what she wanted. So when I wrote for her magazine, I always made sure to spell it out. But I never would have known about that pet peeve of hers had she not told me.
The point here is everyone has personal preferences, and no writer will write a piece exactly the way you would’ve written it. If personal preferences come up frequently (i.e., how “vegetables” were mentioned in almost every issue of that health magazine) then be sure to mention them to your writers so they can keep it in mind going forward. Sharing your edits is also a great way for your writers to learn your style and be able to replicate it in future projects. But you can’t expect them to intuitively know all your personal preferences out of the gate.
Unless you can find a writer who’s a bona fide mind reader, copy revisions are inevitable. But with a little care and collaboration, you can perfect the revision process, and even reduce the need for massive edits in the future. And that just sounds more pleasant for everyone involved, doesn’t it?