A Co-Writing Case Study

The Challenge

Recently, a client from the government sector came to me with a content problem. He had produced content for a specific target audience that was received with significant criticism. The message itself, while strong, was bogged down in poor content design.

While a long-standing government career had made him a subject matter expert, he had taken the tabula rasa approach to writing – start with a blank page and just let it flow. Time was definitely the constraint in this case, but the long-term effects of quickly written content could have been damaging to his brand credibility.

Our Co-Writing Approach

What I lacked in the subject matter, I made up for in content experience. This was to our benefit, as what we had together was the perfect co-writing package:

  • An underlying theme, and overall purpose and a clearly defined target audience.
  • Raw content in the form of a first draft that the client had compiled.
  • Brand and editorial style guidelines, including tone of voice.
  • An abbreviated production time.

The process itself was fairly quick. We each had our focus. I conducted a thorough analysis, then tossed the piece back to my client for another round. He, in turn, made sure my recommendations aligned with the subject matter and filled in the blanks as needed. We looked at all the basic elements of good writing.

Comprehension

I read through the raw content from a layperson perspective and highlighted areas that needed more context for comprehension. In other words, from a reader’s perspective, am I understanding what it is you’re trying to say?  In some cases, I did the research myself and built out the content. In other cases, I asked leading questions so my client could quickly provide more information during his writing round. He, in turn, provided the needed context.

Transaction

I evaluated for transactional value. I asked myself, “Am I taking the action you want me to take as a result of engaging with this content?” In this case, the content contained all conversion elements, but needed better construction overall.

Organizational Structure

Organized and logical thinking is a reflection of quality and credibility. Shifting the framework of the piece around to accommodate logical thinking allowed for seamless flow of information based on the way people think. I made sweeping changes, deletions and re-organized in the Word editing tool. He accepted my edits then validated them to be sure important elements weren’t stripped during the overhaul.

Sentence Construction and Grammar

Even the best writers worry about grammar last. A sentence can be written in many different ways – and we tried them all. Variation in the structure of sentences within the same paragraph is important as well, as writing is like poetry – there must be a rhythm to it in order to keep the reader engaged.

Copyediting and Proofreading

Last – but certainly not least – was the polish. We both conducted a number of read-throughs to be sure the writing was tight, there were no typos (even Word’s Spelling and Grammar tool doesn’t catch everything), and title case, em-dashes and proper nouns capitalization applied.

The Result

Together, it took us less than 24 hours to reproduce the piece. And it was well-received. In fact, it was so well received that we’ve decided to take a co-writing approach for all related content in the series.

While co-writing may not be possible in every case, a solid editorial review of all content produced is a must – even if you review the content yourself. It’s just good writing practice. And a little extra upfront work is a small investment for the long-term return you’ll receive.

Written by Kris Martin