7 tips for hiring the right writer

Good news! Great writing is within your control

You already know that it’s more effective and cost-efficient to hire a professional writer to develop your business copy than, say, getting the product manager or designer to do it. But how can you make sure that your content investment pays off? And why do so many professional writers do a lousy job of getting your message across?

Well, the good news is that bad writing is not necessarily the writer’s fault—it may very well be yours. That’s good because it means that great writing is within your control.

Many businesses hire writers because somebody tells them the writer is good or they read something the writer wrote, and liked it. That’s a bad approach. There are way too many different types of writers, with different styles and skill-sets, writing for different audiences and business purposes. What’s great in one instance is garbage in another.

Here are some tips to help you hire the right writer:

1. Know your writing requirements

Different types of content have different formats, standards, and styles. Just because somebody has written great marketing content on a website doesn’t mean that they have the skills to write user-interface text for your web application. An article writer who was trained in print media may not know how to effectively adapt their skills online, and an ad writer may make a mess of your e-newsletter.
As much as possible, try to find writers with experience and training in the type of content that you’re developing.

For these content areas, look for these skill sets:

  • Blogs, news, newsletter, profiles, social, storytelling: Digital journalism
  • Sales, marketing campaigns: Digital marketing
  • Consumer and general web content: Web copywriting
  • Technical, support, user interface, help systems, structured content: Technical writing
  • Training: Instructional design

2. Know your audience

It’s never just about the content. Presumably, someone is going to read it and react to it. The skills needed to write for Mr. and Mrs. Consumer are very different than those needed to write for software developers, or the youth market, or research scientists. Is your writer experienced in speaking to your target audience in a natural and compelling way?

3. Don’t rely on their title

Writers use many different job titles: copywriter, web writer, technical writer, marketing writer, SEO writer, and content developer are just a few. But there’s very little consistency in experience, focus, and training within each of those areas. Writers will also often use a title they feel is most likely to win them the job.

Their title is pretty much irrelevant. Ignore it.

4. Ask for writing samples

Look for strong writing samples that demonstrate a purpose, audience, and format similar to your project needs.
During the interview process, ask the writer to explain why they made the choices that they did, both in terms of language and information design. Listen to see if you think their points are valid to your business and your target audience. If the project is online, can they explain why their content is easy-to-use and easy-to-read? Can they explain why their content is compelling and effective?

5. Look for subject matter knowledge or good research skills

Many businesses rely on writers to create rather than just write content. Writers need to get their information from somewhere. Be sure to hire a writer that has demonstrated a solid understanding of your subject area or has excellent research skills. Even if you provide all of the content, a writer who has research experience knows how to ask the right questions and can identify and strengthen weak areas in your content.

6. Choose somebody with the appropriate level of experience

If you know the writing requirements, can provide clear guidelines, only need one style of writing, and have a strong editor, then a junior writer is appropriate. Look for a writer who is articulate and eager, has a great grasp of writing mechanics, and at least some experience in your specific type of project. It’s essential that they know how to ask relevant questions and follow the processes you have in place.

If you do not have a good support process in place, or if you need a writer to develop content for different purposes across multiple communication channels, then you need an experienced writer. Ask the writer to explain how their writing approach will be different in each context and the processes that they follow.

7. Verify the quality of their writing

Get an expert’s opinion of the quality of the applicant’s writing. It’s often easiest when you ask each shortlisted candidate to complete a brief writing assignment. This way, you can directly compare writing styles and techniques based on a writing sample relevant to your project. If you don’t have the background to effectively evaluate the quality of the writing, hire a professional editor to provide feedback. Many people can’t tell the difference between mediocre writing and great writing, but mediocrity can have a huge negative impact on your business.

Further reading

Web writing best practices: Keep it lean

Content leaders: Manager, strategist, or practitioner

Our content strategy services