In an ideal freelancing world, writers dictate what they want to write, but for those on contract or working as a copywriter for a larger communications team, anything and everything can get thrown at you.

One day you’re rewriting an entire website for a pet food company, the next you’re asked to create a monthly e-newsletter for a retirement home. Maybe you’re asked to turn a 10-page medical research paper into a blog post. Where do you start?

As a freelancer and full-time communications specialist, I often come across the task of decoding complicated subject matter for various audiences. Here are a few tips to give you a jumping off point and hopefully provide a speedy turnaround. 

  1. Start with your audience: Are you writing for doctors? Seniors? Parents? Once you figure that out, put yourself in their shoes. What are you telling me and why should I care. 
  • Gather as much background as possible: Get on their website, get a feel for who you’re working for. How is their tone? Have they written about this subject matter in the past? Get on similar sites. How do other people break it down? Fill your brain so you become the subject matter expert. What do you feel is important about what your writing about. Pick that point out of the pile of information.
  • Be straightforward: Working in Internal Communications, I often have to take complicated messages and simplify them for my audience. An example is working with the IT department. Something important is happening that is about to affect staff and I need to let the staff know, but often the IT department uses – well, technical language. When I’m writing, I often imagine myself explaining it to my parents or spouse or neighbour. How do you say it so they’ll understand. Break it down.
  • The five Ws – Who, what, when, where, why: Who needs to know, what do they need to know, when is this happening, where and why.

A quick example: “React User Authentication Logins are going to begin being rolled out through various staff groups over the next few weeks.”

So we know that some sort of login will be rolled out to staff in the next few weeks, but why? And why do I care as a staff member? How does this affect me? After reading     through all the material provided, here’s my suggested fix:

“In order to increase security for our database, React User Authentication Logins are being rolled out to groups of staff over the next few weeks. When using the database you will be required to sign-in using a company login, coupled with an additional personal login for added protection.”

It’s longer, but it covers all we need to know and why. The reason for the logins was buried halfway down the page, but by bringing up to the top, it leaves no room for interpretation.

  • Know your mediums: If you’re asked to turn a 10-page research paper into a blog post, know that blog posts are short. The tone is probably lighter. You might need to break text up with bullets so it’s easier to digest. Get in and get out before people lose interest. Just remember the five Ws.