Our writing clients are often challenged by the time it takes to complete a writing project and the effort required to ensure the writers know what’s needed. And because these clients are often organizations, internal changes and review processes can also drag out a writing project.
As a process lover, I’m always looking for a better way to make a project easier and more efficient for everyone. As a quality lover, I’m always trying to improve the final results, even by a small amount.
I’ve long recommended video calls to improve communication and outlines to ensure we’ve captured all the right details. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been testing out some changes and I’m finally ready to roll out a more comprehensive process to our clients.
Whether you’re looking to us for writing projects or just want to improve your own process, this post will explain what we do and why we do it.
RTE 10% Brief
A writing project starts with an assignment.
In the past, we would trade emails and take meetings with clients to develop the parameters of the project, which would help us create a proposal or estimate (depending on the project). While those are informative tools, some details would escape the team, client, and vendor alike.
Missing information is best captured with a form containing cues for all the details needed for a project. Starting in January, all our writing projects will include either a proposal or estimate and the new RTE 10% Brief.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a form you fill out (unless you want to). RTE will complete the form with all the details you’ve given us across all communication channels. Your only task is to review it along with your estimate. This is our first chance to check whether we’ve understood your project—before any actual work is done.
The form will include details like:
- Target audience. The more details the better. Got a personal description? Share it with us!
- Project purpose. Why are you doing this? What outcome are you hoping for? Do you have specific goals you can share with us?
- Reader benefits. After reading this document, what will your audience learn to do or what information will they get from it? How should they feel after reading it?
- Call to action. What do you want the reader to do after reading this?
- Publication method. Where would you like to publish this project? For example, will this be printed or published online?
- Keywords. For digital publications, what keywords must be included?
RTE 30% Outline
I’m an outliner. It speaks to my editor’s heart to see the structure laid out so neatly. But not all outlines are the same. A few years ago, a client introduced me to the 30% feedback method, which they’d adapted to article outlines.
With 30% feedback, you get feedback sooner, when misdirections are easier to fix. Writing projects are particularly suited to this. Imagine putting in hours of researching, outlining, drafting, and revising an article on how a company’s software works, only to find out that you were supposed to write about how everyone should use it. You’ve wasted all that time and have to go back to the beginning to fix the article.
While that’s an extreme example, such mistakes can happen. An outline can make seeing that the writer isn’t on the right path easier (better directions can too; more on that below).
To find problems, the reviewer needs to know what they’re looking for. An outline clearly signals that wording isn’t final. Grammar and spelling are not concerns at this stage. Instead, you want to look at content and structure.
What’s in RTE’s 30% Outline?
All 30% Outlines have a thesis. The thesis states the main idea of the document we’re writing for you. It gives the bottom line of what the document is saying and therefore is the most important part of our outlines. If we get the thesis wrong, the whole document will be wrong.
The rest of the outline will vary depending on the type of document we’re creating. The more complex a document, the more items we include in the outline. An outline for an article may include a couple of headings and the main points to be included in each heading, along with evidence such as stories, data, and expert opinions. The outline for a training manual, meanwhile, could include items like ideas for sidebars, graphics, cross-references, and appendixes.
Generally Right Touch Editing’s outlines also include a writing sample of one to two paragraphs. Here the content and wording might not be final. We’re looking for your first reaction: does the sample sound like your organization? Do the rhythm and sentence structures support your brand’s voice? Could we make different word choices to better reflect you?
One hurdle organizations face when finalizing a writing project is getting internal approvals. The outline gives you the opportunity to get approvals before more time is invested in the project.
RTE 90% Draft
After we revise the outline based on your feedback, the writing begins. RTE’s 90% Draft is based on the revised outline. We’ll include placeholders for items to be included later, like images and other art. We’ll tag anything we’re still waiting for permission on. The writing style will build from your feedback on the writing sample.
Our internal editors will review the draft to ensure all the content is present, as well as for writing mechanics—like grammar and spelling—to give you the most complete, cleanest draft possible. This leaves you free to review the draft for completeness and writing style. We recommend reviewing your draft in two passes.
Reviewing for First Impressions
For the first pass, read the document straight through to learn what it says. This is the place for first impressions. Can you easily follow what the document says? Is the document accurate, or are there points to correct? Is the document clear in spots but confusing in others? Does the document work overall?
Reviewing for Details
Now read the document again. Since you’re familiar with what the draft says, you can now focus on how it says it. Does something in the writing seem off, causing you to wrinkle your nose? Let us know in a comment. What works well for you, excites you, and makes you shout “Yes!”? Let us know that too. It’s easier to adjust what doesn’t work when we know what does.
Some more questions you can ask yourself as you read:
- Do sentences flow together?
- Do paragraphs flow together?
- Do the headings reflect what’s in their sections?
- Do the headings reflect the whole document?
- Do any word choices seem out of place?
Once you’ve reviewed the document, you’ll send us your feedback. It can also be helpful to have a brief chat by phone or video. Talking through impressions often brings up issues you might not have fully realized. And it gives us a chance to brainstorm the revisions.
Writing is a process. Sometimes you have to write something that doesn’t work before you can see how to write what does work (I’m looking at you, draft #12!). Don’t worry if the draft isn’t perfect. We call it a 90% Draft for a reason.
RTE 100% Draft
After we’ve received your input on the 90% Draft, we’ll apply the feedback, including anything covered in a meeting, to the draft. Then it’s back to our internal editors for a final review. We’ll check that we made the changes discussed and look one more time at the writing mechanics and style points.
No piece is ever perfect. Even after going through editing and proofreading, a writing project will still have mistakes. It’s just part of being human. Editing and proofreading help reduce mistakes, and we make sure that every piece is copyedited before it comes to you. These careful steps are taken to ensure that we’re sending you the cleanest manuscript we can.
Receipt of RTE’s 100% Draft marks the end of the project. Further changes incur additional fees.
Drawback or Benefit?
RTE’s process includes many items to review, which sounds like it would take you a lot of time and effort. But the opposite is true. Each review is designed to look for just a few things. That means you’re putting in a comparatively shorter time with each review than you would by reviewing just the final draft.
And because there are several reviews, you have more input on the final draft than you otherwise might. Each review is an opportunity to correct course and revise initial ideas. Something that seemed good initially might not work the way you’d hoped in the draft. You can also incorporate internal stakeholders’ feedback sooner in the process, when it can be woven in seamlessly rather than patched on later.
The reviews also help the writer, giving them time to step back from the project and process what they’ve done, an activity that Natalie Goldberg calls “composting” in Writing Down the Bones. When the writer sees the project again, with your feedback, they see it with refreshed thoughts and can improve the piece even more.
“Don’t Miss A Thing” Checklists
Even with all this, I felt RTE’s process could be improved further by creating more accurate outlines and drafts from the start. The more accurate we can be, the less work for you to review and for us to revise. That’s led to the creation of our “Don’t Miss A Thing” Checklists, which start with the RTE 10% Brief.
We’ll complete the 10% Brief checklist after discussing the details of the assignment with you and defining the process we’ll use. All you have to do is review the checklist: does it mention all the details of the assignment? Does it represent the process we discussed?
If you do have changes, just let us know and we’ll adjust the brief.
30% and 90% Checklists
Also starting in 2023, we’ll be sending you a checklist with your outline and first draft. Each checklist will include a description of the accompanying document so you know what you’re looking at. You can check items off the list or just use the list as a reminder of what to look for. You can also add your own items to the list so you don’t forget. Just think of how much easier it will be to hand the review off to a colleague with a list of what to look for already drawn up!
The Right Touch in Right Touch Editing
Part of our promise to clients is to adjust our processes to work with yours. Our process has been developed through years of work with a variety of clients, resulting in our ability to reduce the need for big changes late in the project and increasing the quality of the final product.
But that may not work for you or your team. So, as part of the discovery process, we’ll discuss what steps will work best for you. You can opt out of the 30% outline, if you’d like. You can add a review pass just for stakeholders. You can decide what to check and what not to check at each stage. What will work best for your unique situation?
Writing isn’t a box you can pull off a shelf. And while AI writing tools are improving, they’re not sophisticated enough to write independently of humans just yet. Writing well needs detailed instructions, clear communications, and the willingness to revise. We offer a flexible process that serves our organizational customers. We’re adding new tools to improve every next project. We’re booking now for 2023. Why not contact me today to talk about next year’s needs, and see how we can make your 2023 easier?
Let’s talk about how Right Touch Editing can help me.