Off with Her Head! How to Make Revision Requests Without Killing Your Writer (or Your Copy)

Posted on April 1, 2013 by Kate C

Working with Your Writer to Get Great RevisionsYou’ve got a great idea for one of your clients. A marketing campaign, maybe, that ties social media, a news-worthy event and a newly released app all into a neat and tidy bow. Brilliant! The only thing missing is the content you need to launch the campaign. You’ve already got a writer on board, your text should be arriving soon, and you’re about to start patting yourself on the back for a job well done. Then your copy arrives. Oh, no. It’s not at all what you had in mind. How could this have gone so wrong?

The truth is, article writers, like everyone else, are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. Maybe your writer misread your instructions. Maybe your instructions weren’t quite clear. When you’re faced with disappointing content, fuss and fume for awhile, slam a few doors if you need to — you have a right to your frustration — then take a deep breath and try some of the following suggestions. With a little effort and tact on your part, you may still get the quality copy that your project deserves.

  • Be very specific – When asking for a revision, try to be as specific as possible. As tempting as it may be to throw back an article with the cryptic directions, “Fix this!,” you stand a better chance of getting what you need if you can be less ambiguous. Does the piece need an authoritative reference? Ask for it. Does it need a humorous slant? State that in your request. Maybe the formatting would benefit from subtitles. Make that clear. Try to visualize exactly what is missing from the piece, and ask for it as clearly as you can.
  • Add a little praise – This may seem counterintuitive; we’re all adults in this business, after all. But, as stated before, writers are human beings and respond to being treated with kindness. In fact, in academic circles, the process, outlined here in an article by Gloria Neubert and Sally McNelis, is referred to as the PQP method: Praise, question, polish. Take a second look at the copy you’ve ordered. Is there anything in it that pleased you? Tell your writer about that before pointing out the deficits. Not only will this encourage her best efforts, it will also ensure that the rewrite doesn’t excise the parts you really liked.
  • Allow a little extra time – This may fall into the now-you-tell-me category, but you should always allow extra time for rewrites when scheduling your content orders. It’s very unlikely that you will always get just what you expected. If you allow a little extra time, you will always have the wiggle room you need when a piece requires a little polish.
  • Know when to throw in the towel – Sometimes you and your writer simply can’t get on the same page. If you find yourself hand-holding her through multiple word-by-word revisions, it may be time to start over. Your writer may be new to the profession, or maybe the subject matter is simply out of her reach. Either way, moving on will be better for both of you.

It may be tempting to scrap an article that doesn’t meet your standards; after all, you’ve already wasted so much time on it. But, while getting the copy you need the first time around is ideal, getting it after a well-worded revision request really is the next best thing.

Kate C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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