A good article is more than just words on a page. At Hardie Grant Media, we’re in the business of producing content that is genuinely useful and relevant to our audiences, and there is a ton of work that goes into making sure that happens.
The very first thing we do, before we even think of writing, is consider what it is our audience needs. Where and how can we add value? What stories haven’t already been told that need to be? Where does this piece of content fit in the brand’s overall strategy?
Then, our team of writers, editors, account managers and designers get to work. Here’s how it happens.
Articles are either pitched by a writer to an editor, assigned to a writer by an editor or written in-house by a staff writer or editor.
Although we receive our share of pitches from eager writers at Hardie Grant Media, the bulk of our work is in response to client briefs, so the articles we produce tend to be conceived of and assigned by the editor in charge of that publication (in collaboration with the account manager who understands and represents the needs of the client). The story will then be written either in-house or by a freelancer.
Editors will have a ‘little black book’ of freelance writers they know and trust, and who they reach out to will be determined by the topic and the level of expertise required for the story. As Sophie Knox, a managing editor in our Sydney office eloquently puts it: “With specialist content, it comes down to the writer’s experience in that field, then distilled down to how well the writer’s work matches the topic area.”
A writer’s availability is another (very!) important factor: “Before I commission anything, I’ll send the writer an email to check on their availability, because I want to make sure they can meet my deadline,” says Emily Tatti, assistant editor in our Melbourne office. “I always have a back-up writer in mind in case they’re out of the country or bogged down with other assignments!”
Once a writer is locked in, the editor will send them a detailed brief. It’s really important that the writer is across all the information, including what the story is, an up-to-date style guide and tone of voice document for that publication, article word length, whether it’s for print or online, who the audience is, potential interview subjects (and their contact details) and more.
Before we can start writing, we need to do our research. This means finding and reading or listening to a range of material and making sure we’re completely across as much information as possible and not rehashing existing ideas.
It will likely involve interviewing sources close to the subject. While chatting to, in some cases, multiple sources, writers will often choose to record the interviews so they can transcribe the interviews verbatim afterwards. Although this is a time-consuming exercise, it means that no details are missed or misconstrued, and so is an important step even if direct quotes from sources aren’t used in the final piece. For the time-poor, there are transcription services available, though they’re often expensive and, as Emily says, there are advantages to doing it yourself: “I find that when I have to revisit a conversation and write it all out, then the article starts to take shape in my head.”
After the story has been thoroughly researched and interviews conducted and transcribed, we can begin to write. While the writer will bring their own personal flair to the story, they also must understand and adhere to the publication’s specific style and tone of voice. They also need to stick to the brief.
“I’ll have the brief open for the whole time I'm writing an article so that I can refer back to it along the way,” says Georgia Lejeune, a managing editor based in Melbourne. “Or, in the case of a pitch, I will constantly refer back to my original pitch idea.”
The first edit a submitted article undergoes is known as a structural edit. The editor will look to see whether it meets the brief, whether it reads well, if it’s in the brand’s style and tone of voice, if there’s any awkward phrasing that could be fixed, whether the introduction is engaging enough, whether there are bits that could be left out entirely or whether any information is missing.
Then, it’s copy-edited. The copy editor (or subeditor) will look for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors and will also fact check. Although our writers work hard to ensure that what’s included in the article is accurate, occasionally things slip through the cracks – this process ensures that any errors or mistakes are caught.
If an article is going to be published in print, it’ll need to be typeset by our design team in a program like InDesign. If it’s going to be published online, it will need to be laid out in a format appropriate for the website it’s going to be published on.
The final step in the process is proofreading. Ideally, an editor who hasn’t had much to do with the article so far will read the piece in its final form with fresh eyes and check for any errors in typesetting or catch any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Often, if time permits, there will be a few rounds of this process with different editors so we’re confident that the piece is perfect.
Finally, it’s ready to be published.
Anna Webster, editor