What to Do When You Need More Writers
Your organization is full of people who can be great content writers. The trick? Providing the right resources and training to help them succeed.
Too much content to write and update, not enough people or hours to do it? You have two ways to fix it:
- Make less content. (By being strategic and focusing on what will have the greatest impact. Always a good idea!)
- Get more writers. (By ... well, that’s what this post is about!)
If you could hire more writers, you already would have. That leaves training: turning people you already have into writers.
“But I’m not a writer!”
Too many of our colleagues suffer from a chronic case of I-can’t-write-itis. Maybe they’ve been convinced by the media that writing is a magical ability only a precious few are gifted with. Or maybe they’re underselling their skills, worried about how hard it will be to get the writing done on top of their other work. (And who can blame them? Writing is hard!)
Whatever the origin of this disease, it means you can’t simply assign the writing to a bunch of new people and expect everything to go smoothly. If you want to turn more people into writers, you’re going to have to work for it.
Voice and tone guidelines won’t turn people into writers.
Onboarding for new writers often has more in common with a mandatory human resources seminar than an inspiring, skill-building workshop. “Here are a bunch of rules you have to follow. Good luck.”
Voice and tone guidelines, plain language requirements, house style guides, and other types of editorial standards will shape the final word choices in your content, but they can’t tell new writers how to get the writing done.
Deadlines won’t turn people into writers.
Telling someone they need to rebuild a carburetor by the end of the month won’t make them a mechanic, even if you put “Carburetor Rebuild Due” on their calendar and create a JIRA ticket about it.
Deadlines are important for clarity and collaboration, yes, but the calendars and cadences that drive those deadlines can’t tell your writers how to get the writing done.
Training and education turns people into writers.
Even if you recruit skilled communicators from departments like marketing, sales, and design, you need to plan time and resources to train them. Ad copy, sales emails, and print collateral exist in relative vacuums and give the writers of that content a lot of freedom. Digital content, meanwhile, exists as part of a complex ecosystem and often needs to serve a variety of audiences and contexts. The process of planning and producing content for a website or application might well be completely foreign to your new recruits.
Here are a few things I recommend covering with your new digital writers:
- Tools and resources. Don’t just cover the rules (like editorial guidelines). Tell people what tools are available to them, too. Are there boilerplate copy decks they can borrow from? Helpful apps for writing and editing text? Collections of customer testimonials to inspire their work?
- Real-world production workflows. Share how other writers in your organization get the writing done. What steps do they go through? How much time do they allocate for particular assignments? How do they collaborate with others?
- How to get help. Tell people what they can do if they get stuck. Can they ping you or other writers on Slack? Are there stakeholders or subject matter experts they can ask for preliminary feedback? Books or websites that you recommend for guidance on style and usage?
- What happens next. Be as clear about the overall content production process as possible. Being “done” with the writing can mean different things to different people. Do they need to refine the copy on their own, or can they turn in a rough draft for review? Will they get edits back, or will the text move forward without them? Will they have a chance to review the writing before it’s published?
Exploring these topics and more with your recruits will help you start to build an organizational culture around writing. Consider extending the initial onboarding with things like monthly lunch-and-learns, an email list or Slack channel to share resources, book clubs, office hours, and group critiques.
What’s worked for you in turning your coworkers into writers? Let us know in the comments!
Scott Kubie is the lead content strategist here at Brain Traffic and the author of Writing for Designers from A Book Apart. Scott has focused on the content side of digital experiences since 2009, and was the first UX content strategist at Wolfram Research. He grew up in rural Nebraska, and studied electronic media and journalism at Drake University.