Building the right writing team for large rewriting projects

Having a good writing team is essential

  • By Kathy Wagner
  • |
  • Aug 6 2019
  • |
  • Categories: Articles

Building the right writing team doesn’t mean throwing a couple of writers at the problem and expecting them to figure things out. When you have thousands of pages of dense content to rewrite, you need to ensure you have all roles and responsibilities covered and that the writers can work within (or help to develop) defined processes and workflow. They need to be familiar with the support tools they’ll be using, and work within your established timeline and budget.

Note: This is part 2 in a 4-part series, and follows
rewriting content for large websites and intranets.

Having the right team makes good content happen. The wrong team will cost more money and may create content that is not useful or usable.

The right team will:

  • Adhere to new standards and structures.
  • Write content that is easy to read, understand, and act on.
  • Write quickly and efficient.
  • Raise problems and suggest solutions as needed.
  • Respect the different team roles, and do their part well.

Is it really important to have a good writing team?

For an information-rich site, it’s always important to have a good writing team. If you’re rewriting hundreds or thousands of pages of content, you will need a team of dedicated experts with different roles and skill sets. It’s impossible for your current staff to tackle this in addition to their existing duties. It’s impossible to rewrite the content to any degree of quality unless your team consists of trained, professional writers with experience specific to the type of writing they’ll be doing.

Risks and limitations associated with building a good writing team

It’s unusual for an organization to have skilled writing resources available internally to dedicate to a major rewrite project. This kind of writing team is typically contracted, in full or in part, or hired on a temporary basis.

It’s expensive to contract writing teams for large sites, which is another good reason to reduce your content as much as possible. The budget for rewriting content needs to be realistic and approved as early in the project as possible. Without budget, you have no writers. Without writers, your content will not get rewritten.

Depending on where you’re located, and the type of content you’re working with, skilled writers may be hard to find in your area. If you need to have writers onsite full-time, it may be even more difficult. In these cases, be sure to begin the hiring process months in advance of needing the writers in place.

How to resource people for your writing team

You will likely need to undertake a formal contracting or hiring process to fill these roles, unless you’re able to free up the time of suitable writers in-house. If you have somebody internal who has specific and senior-level experience in the type of writing that you’re hiring for, have them participate fully in the interviews and review the applicants’ work and portfolios.

If you do not have an internal resource with this level of experience, hire the managing editor role first and have them lead the search and interview process for the rest of the writing team. They may already have contacts they’ve worked with in the past, which may save time and money and result in a more cohesive team.

If you’re hiring long-term contractors for 6 months or more, build in a performance checkpoint early on in the project. After four to six weeks, replace any writers who seem particularly slow or are unable to achieve quality standards. It’s not unusual for some writers to produce quality content twice as quickly as others. Those are the people you want on your team. Don’t hold on to writers who aren’t highly productive, unless there are truly no alternatives. Never hold on to writers who produce poor quality content.

Use the first week together for training and team building, in-person if possible. This is a good time to have the managing editor review and fine-tune the writing processes and RACI charts with the writers, and finalize any support tools they’ll be using.

Who to have on your writing team

Having the right blend of skill sets, roles, and seniority levels on your writing team is critical.

Skill sets

All writers should be well-versed in user-centred design principles, plain language, and writing for the web.

Other specific writing skill sets required depend on the kind of writing that’s needed. The list below shows the most common types of writing required and the associated skills to look for. Remember, one writer may have skills and experience across multiple areas.

  • For policies and procedures, hire technical or policy writers.
  • For educational and learning materials, hire instructional designers.
  • For knowledge centre and support content, hire technical writers.
  • For product information, hire product or marketing writers.
  • For marketing content, hire marketing or web writers.

 Roles and responsibilities of different writing team members

You will need to resource for various writing-related roles and responsibilities. If you have a few hundred pages to rewrite over a six-month period, you may only need a couple of people. If you have thousands of pages to rewrite over a twelve-month period, you will need a full team. Either way, be sure to have the roles outlined below on your team. Remember that smaller teams can have one person with multiple roles and responsibilities. 

Use this as a guideline:

  • Managing editor. This role ensures the writing work gets done efficiently and to quality standards. They will ensure that effective writing processes and workflows are followed and that writers have the tools and training they need to be successful. They will report to the project sponsor on progress and risks as they arise. If there is no copy editor on the team, they will review all work to ensure it aligns to content and writing standards.
  • Writers: This role does the actual work of writing, adhering to defined standards and guidelines and using standardized tools. Frequently, they will also interview subject matter experts. It’s sometimes useful to assign a senior writer to the role of “lead writer” who acts as a resource for less experienced writers and supports the managing editor as needed.
  • Subject matter expert: This role has discussions with the writers to help them fully understand the information they’re writing about and reviews all content for factual accuracy and completeness. They do not provide input on writing style or standards, or how the content should be designed. If this role is filled by an internal resource (as is usually the case), be sure to reassign their other work so they can dedicate sufficient time to this role.
  • Copyeditor: Depending on the scope of your project, you may decide to hire a copyeditor. This role reviews all content for basic grammar, style, and standards issues, and can lighten the burden of the managing editor. Sometimes, this role is combined with content entry activities.
  • Content entry and quality assurance: Ideally, the writing team will author within the content management system (CMS) that will be used to publish the content, but this is not always feasible. If the writing team is authoring outside of the technology platform, then this role enters the rewritten content into the CMS and reviews it for formatting and other quality control issues prior to publication. Even if the writers author within the CMS, it’s still important to have a different person reviewing the content for quality assurance prior to publication.

Seniority level of different writing team members

Your managing editor, subject matter expert, and preferably at least one writer should have a senior-level of experience. The rest of your writing team may include a mix of experience levels, but be sure to build in sufficient time for training and support if you have a less experienced team.

Hiring an inexperienced team and not providing training, oversight, and support can lead to disastrous outcomes.

Next steps in effectively rewriting a substantial amount of content