Writers – how to tell the good from the bad

You have a product to promote, or a report to produce, and you need a writer.

But how do you tell if a writer is any good, and whether they will do what you need them to do?

Like editing and training, writing is a credence good: something with qualities that cannot be observed by the consumer after purchase, making it difficult to assess its utility. And if you need the services of a writer (rather than being able to do it yourself), you may not be best placed to assess the quality of what you pay for.

What are the ways that clients can tell if a writer has done a good job, and that they (the client) hasn’t been cheated? Here are some thoughts:

Do they have previous written work that you can look at?

Ask for links to previous work, or to the writer’s blog or website. Do some reading, asking yourself if the writing sounds like something you could associate with the work that you want done.

There are some things to note here: writers may do work for corporate clients where they don’t get a credit for their work, so don’t be overly suspicious if you are sent links to articles or other content that doesn’t display their name.

And someone who is starting out may not have a website, or a blog. The absence of those things is not a reason to dismiss a writer altogether. But then you are going to have to look for other signals of quality.

What does their social media look like?

Do they have any active social media accounts? Do those look professional and well-written? That’s a good sign.

Do they have previous clients that you can ask for a reference?

Just because a writer is not publicly displaying their client list, that does not mean they are not writing up a storm. As mentioned above, there are many clients who prefer their freelance writers to remain firmly in the background. But a good writer should have some people on hand that you can contact privately.

Do they belong to any professional organisations?

Not all writers will belong to professional organizations, but if they do, that’s one extra marker in their favour.

Do they ask for a brief?

If a writer says they will take your job but asks no questions about what you want, walk away fast! All writers should have a list of questions they send you to narrow down what you want. This “brief” will typically cover areas like the intended audience, the tone of writing that is required, the desired length and the subject matter to be covered.

Do they specify how many revisions they will or won’t do?

The process of writing and editing typically involves a series of sets of changes to the text – these are called revisions. An experienced writer will specify in the quote or contract how many revisions they are prepared to do. At first this might seem limiting, but it is for your and their protection. Lack of clarity about revisions can lead to unpleasant uncertainty about when a job is finally done, and when it should be paid for.

Run a grammar test over what they send you (or over any emails they send to you)

If there seem to be reasons to be doubtful about a writer’s competence, and you are not an expert in the language in which the text is written, find an online grammar checker and run the text through it. If there are a few minor mistakes, raise those with the writer: they may have had good reasons to break the rules. But if many errors are found, you’re going to need an editor to fix this particular piece of text – and it’s best not to use the services of this writer again.

Do you yourself understand and like what they have written?

This is an acid test. If the text is well-written and competent, but just doesn’t work for you, pay for this one job and find another writer. But if you understand it and like it, you’ve found yourself a writer!

Does the text do the job you need it to do? What feedback do you get from your customers?

The second acid test: the brochure or blog post or report should do the job you wanted (based on the reasons why you commissioned the writing, and explained in your brief). Good feedback from your audience is a sign you are doing this right.

How to tell if an editor is any good
How to tell if a trainer is any good

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).

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Main picture: LinkedIn Sales Solutions, Unsplash

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