20-plus questions to ask before starting to write

Before you start writing anything for a PR and marketing audience, here are 20 questions you should ask. Consider it a template for a creative brief specifically for writing projects, if you like.

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  1. Why are we writing this?
  2. Who is the intended audience (or audiences)?
  3. If there’s more than one audience, what’s the relationship between them (if any)? Why is there more than one audience?
  4. What’s the specific goal of this piece of writing? To move someone to action? If so, what action? To change what someone thinks/believes? How?
  5. What value should the reader get from this? What’s the benefit to the reader of reading this?
  6. How will the writing be published? In a print brochure, magazine article, email, web page, blog post, case study, something else?
  7. When and how will this probably be read by the intended audience? For example, will it be a brochure they pick up a trade show and quickly leaf through, something they read at night before going to sleep, or an email that’s read on an iPhone at Starbucks in the morning?
  8. What are the reader’s likely questions about this subject? Not only the questions we want to answer, but the questions the reader may have above and beyond those?
  9. What tone/voice/personality should this piece adopt? Are there examples of this?
  10. Do you have similar pieces that you’ve seen (yours or others) that you particularly love or hate? (Get them.) Why did you love or hate them?
  11. What’s the expected lifespan of this piece?
  12. Are there any keywords (for SEO purposes) that should be included? Are there any SEO guidelines on where and how those keywords should be used in the piece?
  13. Is there a house or brand style guide that must be followed? If not, do we use one of the standard style guides – AP, Chicago, etc.?
  14. Will there be any significant legal or compliance reviews? What will the reviewer be looking for? Are there any advance guidelines available to help us avoid regulatory problems up front?
  15. Are there any disclaimers, boilerplates or other standard pieces of text we need to include?
  16. Who will review it after I write it?
  17. What will the review process look like?
  18. Who will approve it?
  19. Do those reviewers have any known ‘quirks’ about what they like and don’t like in copy? For example, does one of the decision makers hate contractions or dislike certain words?
  20. What’s the deadline?

Some of these questions you might answer yourself. Others may require input from a client, boss, editor or someone else. In any case, the more of these you can answer, and the more detail you can get, the better off you’ll be when you start writing.

Do you have questions you like to ask before starting to write something? Please leave them in the comments below.

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