Apr 27, 2011 by Aaron Rubman
When writing for a business, there is a temptation to turn writing into a solo affair. Why take time from several people when one is clearly an expert with all the knowledge you might ever need to include?
Unfortunately, it is also an approach that invites problems, from missed deadlines to reams of techno-babble, or worse still, it’s converse: a treatise so bland and accessible it seems to lack any genuine insight.
Injecting a second actor into the writing process speeds content generation, creates a more dynamic voice, and ensures the resulting text has both depth and breadth.
We have started using three different team-writing methods here at MB/I, each with its own strengths.
The Second Start
We’ve long known the value of producing two distinct visual designs early in the website development process.
- Each highlights a different approach to the content
- Both serve as an example of what could be changed in the other
- Together they create a context for evaluating what can (and should) be altered
Recently, we’ve started taking a similar approach to our other media efforts. For example, Scott Stiefvater and I recently collaborated on a series of MB/I postcards. He provided the themes and then we each took a few minutes to write our own copy.
Of course, since neither of us is a full time copywriter, we didn’t just set an egg timer and have at it. Instead we set a rough deadline (about two hours seems to work well for us) and trusted that the other would produce something in that time.
With two takes in front of us, we could draw the most dynamic and relevant elements from each.
The Inside Interview
MB/I is also in the process of introducing more voices from our “school of fish” into The Gold Mine, our ongoing business blog. This has led to the usual conflict of timeliness vs. originality. The thing is, that’s a false dilemma. Everyone in our team is already an expert, they’re just so immersed in their specialties that they don’t always realize what it is that they know.
When we were sending each team member off to write on their own this led to a massive loss in time as each looked to write on something that he or she did not already know, when what we should cover is what you, our audience want to know.
And so we’ve started a series of casual, inside-the-office interviews. By explaining our knowledge, interests, and specialties to each other, we’ve gained an increased understanding of its value and started putting the nature of that utility into words.
The Red Team
When working with a small team, it is tempting to get everyone to weigh-in when developing a major proposal.
Part of my job at MB/I is to cut myself out of that process when we are responding to a request-for-proposal (RFP). Instead I form our “Red Team.” By staying outside of the initial collaboration, I do not get exposed to the assumptions and compromises that are a natural outcome of merging several voices and perspectives. While I lose the context that led to some of the proposal determinations, I end up in a better position to evaluate how well our proposal actually meets the stated needs of our desired clients.
When I am on a Red Team, these are my priorities:
- Is the document clearly laid out and grammatically correct?
- Are all requirements from the RFP explicitly met?
- Has every cogent point from the RFP been addressed?
- If there are deviations from the requests or approach outlined in the RFP, has the reason for the deviation been clearly defined.
Once I have identified any inconsistencies between the requests of the RFP and the answers provided by the MB/I proposal, I’ll work up a quick suggestion on how the proposal can be modified to address the inconsistency.
Picking the Right Role at MB/I
It should be clear that I cannot author a second start and be part of the red team at the same time. Part of the magic at MB/I is that we each know the others’ strengths and weaknesses and can frequently determine the best interviewer, second-start authors, and red team member(s) based on past experience, but at some point all three roles are always considered, and we have found that as a team our writing has improved.