Managing expectationsNewsletters often depend on contributions from people within the company. But sometimes the information submitted needs to be significantly edited to make it as clear, informative and engaging as it needs to be for the audience. Obviously, you don’t want those who have worked hard on a piece to feel offended if changes are made to it. You can avoid this by carefully managing your contributors’ input and expectations throughout the process.
Sometimes when a colleague has spent time and effort on a submission, they may feel quite confident that it’s very good and ‘ready-to-print’. So if the article — to a communication specialist’s eye — is too long, complex, or woolly, this can create a tricky situation. These tips will help you avoid this happening, and make it easier to keep contributors’ feathers smoothed when big changes do have to be made.
Clearly define the parameters of the article, including the desired length, tone of voice and the essence of what needs to be communicated. Remind those writing from a specialised (scientific/technological) point of view that they need to keep it as direct and simple as possible if the audience is non-specialist. Should articles need to have specific layout characteristics, provide a bullet-point overview of what these are (e.g., include a headline and a sub-headline; provide an introduction of a certain length; use subheadings at least every couple of paragraphs). If these requirements are made clear to contributors at the start, they will be less taken aback if their piece later has to be adapted to adhere to them.
You can quickly see whether a submission is more or less fine, or whether it needs to be significantly modified. If it does (and it’s not feasible to ask the contributor to submit another version), officially thank them for their article: this gives you the chance to immediately communicate in a friendly way that changes are going to be made to the piece to make it fit the parameters. If possible, give them an idea of what these changes will be (e.g., you will be featuring just the results, not the study details; the language will be simplified; and you’ll be restructuring it to bring that interesting information to the top). This gives them a heads-up as to the changes they’ll see later, removing the possible element of unpleasant surprise.
Some contributors don’t care if you change their work — but that’s not always the case. Assure those who have a serious vested interest (professional or political) in what they’ve communicated that you want them to review the edited version. The key to making this step go smoothly is — again — providing clear parameters. Emphasise that you are asking them to review the piece for accuracy (you don’t want them to rewrite it!). Request that corrections be inserted using track changes for easy identification. Mention that if they feel strongly about including deleted information, they then have to indicate text that can be cut to keep the article the proper length. Continuing to give contributors this element of control (carefully controlled by you!) right to the end of the process can help keep even the touchiest ones satisfied, and your editorial processes running smoothly.