What exactly is a brief?

When you write materials for a publisher, you usually get a brief before you start. This contains information about exactly what it is you need to write. Briefs often have information about who the target users will be and how this might impact on what you are writing. For example, if you are writing materials for exam practice, you might be expected to create exercises which mirror the exam in question. If the materials are for a global market, you might have information about which countries you should select cultural references from.

Do all briefs contain the same information?

Briefs come in various shapes and sizes but here is a list of the kind of information you are likely to find in one:

  • Level of the materials you need to write
  • Number of units you need to write
  • Number of lessons in a unit and a unit breakdown
  • Word count for readings and audio scripts
  • Links to stock image or video libraries the publisher wants you to use
  • The number of items to have in an exercise
  • How you should supply your manuscript (as a Word doc), in a shared folder somewhere, etc.
  • A schedule you need to follow

What makes a good brief?

A good brief has everything you need to know to get cracking on the writing, and nothing superfluous which might confuse you. I mention this because sometimes one brief will be sent to various people working on a project, so some information might be useful to Person A but not Person B. This is never ideal. If you ever hear a writer or an editor complaining about a brief, it will usually be because the brief isn’t at all brief, in fact. It is instead pages and pages too long.

Briefs are useful

The most important thing to note about briefs is that they are useful. A good brief can save on endless to’ing and fro’ing of questions, answers and clarifications. Information and details in a brief are noted and referred to again and again as we get on with our work. If something important isn’t in a brief but is instead, buried in a chain of emails somewhere, it’s very easy to be forgotten.

What happens if I don’t get a brief?

Surprisingly, writers aren’t always provided with a brief. Sometimes a publishers sets up a video meeting and shares their screen to explain what they need and what they want you to do. In the best case scenarios, someone will take minutes and send you a summary but this isn’t always the case. So my advice would be: ask for a brief! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Or, if you feel it might be easier, write a brief yourself and send it to the publisher to ask if they can confirm that this is what they want you to do. I’ve done this more than once and while it has had results, nobody is paying for this extra work.

What if my materials aren’t for a publisher?

Lots of teachers write materials for their own classes or to share with other teachers. If this is you, then you are unlikely to have ever received a brief. But that’s not to say you can’t write your own. This isn’t as strange as it might sound. The act of writing a brief makes you stop to consider all of the important stuff about the materials you’re about to create. You can keep things to a minimum but by writing down details that are important for you, you are less likely to forget them later. You can then refer to your brief as you write and then look back at it when you finish, to make sure you’ve done everything as you’d intended, like a checklist.

What about you? What information do you think is essential to include in a brief?


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