The Goldilocks Guide to Instructing Freelance Writers

In the classic children’s tale, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the story’s young heroine enters a cottage and finds three bowls of porridge. She tastes the first bowl, and it’s too hot. She tries the second, and it’s too cold. The third bowl, though, is not too hot and not too cold. With a happy sigh, Goldilocks proclaims, “Ahh, this is just right.”

The same principle applies when you are hiring a freelance writer and giving the writer instructions. Avoid the extremes of giving too much information or too little information. Instead, give the amount of information that is “just right.”

Too Much Information

You may have many ideas about how you want your writing project to be done and a strong urge to instruct the writer on all of them. The danger of giving too much information, though, is that your most important points can get lost in a sea of details.

How much information will be “too much” also depends on whether you are hiring a freelancer for a one-time project or whether you are starting a long-term working relationship. If the current assignment is the first of many, it’s reasonable to expect a lengthy initial learning period.

If, however, this is a one-time assignment, then the instructions should be short and to the point. If, for example, the writer has to spend more time studying the instructions than writing the article, the writer’s per-hour pay rate will be cut by more than half. Overly complicated instructions for one-time assignments may scare good writers away.

Too Little Information

At the other extreme, you could give so little information that the writer won’t know what to do. Both you and the writer will waste time if you have to ask for a rewrite because of something that could have been explained in the first place, but wasn’t. Don’t leave out anything that is crucial.

Consider giving writers a link to the site where their work will be used. They can glean useful information on style, tone, format and emphasis by seeing what has already been published on the site.

Instructions That Are Just Right

Clearly explain the most important points that you want the writer to know — and pare everything else away. You’ll be happier, the writer will be happier, and the finished product will be better. Goldilocks would be thrilled.

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


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