How a “mission brief” makes your writing much easier, part 1

Why write yourself a brief for an important writing project? Are you “the client,” all of a sudden? No, but just as you wouldn’t cut out fabric to make a dress or suit without using a pattern, you shouldn’t approach any major writing project without a very clear plan outlining how you’re going to reach your objectives. In this first article, we look at some basic issues you need to address…

There’s one pretty obvious but important point we need to consider here and I quote US writer and speaker John Butman, with whom I co-authored an earlier book on business writing… “if you don’t know what you think, you won’t be able to write it down.”

Of course it’s not just about what you think.  Not normally, anyway.  It’s what your boss thinks, your line manager thinks, your project team members think, your CEO thinks, your engineering people think, your production people think, your HR people think, and so-on.

If only it were that simple, huh.  In the context of a business or organization, messages are nearly always composed by lots of people, or at least on behalf of lots of people, and then, often, they’re received by lots of people as well – or by individuals who represent lots of people.  This paints a very much more complex picture.

But this series of articles is not about the message that ultimately gets transmitted.  You can’t compose that until you’ve done your homework – and composed your mission brief and content, studied the audience and the ways in which it receives your message, and decided on the right style and approach to use. In other words, what your project needs to achieve and how it’s likely to do that successfully.

The mission brief

All the same you need to get the ball rolling – so start by writing down not the message, but a statement about the message.  This becomes the brief for your writing project and it acts as a kind of mission statement or credo.  Although it may seem to be overkill in some cases, even for the simplest of writing projects the time spent is well worthwhile.  It’s also important to get everyone who has a say in the exercise to agree the content of the brief.  It will then act as a non-negotiable blueprint for the composition and structure of the message – particularly useful when your message is to be given over a long period, e.g. a 2 day conference, customer or staff communication programme, sales promotion campaign, etc.

Many people will tell you that your mission brief should define what the message must consist of.  This is wrong.  The job of your mission brief is to define what your message must achieve:  your desired outcome.  “What it consists of,” is the vehicle you use to make the message achieve what it must achieve.  In other words the message content is the means to an end, not an end in itself.

Hidden agenda

This may seem glaringly obvious and totally sensible, but there are times when it doesn’t work out that way.  One good example of this is when an organization decides that “we should have a website,” or “we should have a corporate brochure.”  In these cases the decision is usually driven by the “me-too” syndrome (our competitors have a website/new corporate brochure) and those in the know will acknowledge that the cost of it should be put down to experience and the CEO’s ego.

Creating a clear, strong message and writing it well normally doesn’t enter into this type of communication “mission,” and usually the whole thing hinges on an incredibly elaborate and expensive creation of graphic design.  The words are most likely to be lifted straight from the organization’s Annual Report and Accounts.  The fact that the words for the new communication in effect have been written by a zoology graduate recently recruited by the company’s auditors, doesn’t matter.  No-one will be able to find, never mind read, the words among the powerful logos, emotive visual imagery, imposing white space with tasteful orange stripes and in screen-based versions, the screaming animations.

Happily we are now into rather more cost-conscious times and fortunately, fewer organizations can afford to embark on communications projects without at least the hope that their messages will achieve something useful.  So you don’t see quite so many monsters like those I described above.  But they’re still around – especially online.

To read the whole of this series of articles, go:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

More ways to make your writing much easier:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

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  1. […] How a “mission brief” makes your writing much easier, part 2 August 18, 2011 By SuzanStMaur Leave a Comment Tweet Why write yourself a brief for an important writing project? Are you “the client,” all of a sudden? No, but just as you wouldn’t cut out fabric to make a dress or suit without using a pattern, you shouldn’t approach any major writing project without a very clear plan outlining how you’re going to reach your objectives. In this second article, we turn the whole idea around … (If you haven’t read part 1, click here.) […]

  2. […] we take a short, sharp reality check … (If you haven’t read the early articles, click on part 1 and part […]

  3. […] of honesty, simplicity and focus … (If you haven’t read the earlier articles, click on Part 1, Part 2, and Part […]

  4. […] desired outcome helps to keep you on the straight and narrow not only in the development of your mission brief, but also in ensuring you don’t start giving birth to its brothers, sisters and […]

  5. BizSugar.com says:

    Writing effectively for business: how a “mission brief” makes it much easier…

    Writing: why write yourself a brief for a major business project? Save yourself a lot of time and effort by creating a plan outlining how you’re going to reach your objectives. Pro bizwriter Suzan St Maur shows you how to do it……

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