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A good writer is hard to find. Just ask any business owner who’s ever farmed out a bunch of work to inexpensive freelancers from online marketplaces, only to find out that the freelancers’ command of the language is tenuous — or that their work has been plagiarized. Luckily, there are 13 questions to ask writers that can help you avoid this nightmare.
As a freelance writer myself since 2013 and having worked with and managed other writers, here’s what I recommend asking.
13 questions to ask writers before you hire them
Don’t assign anything to a writer before you’ve asked these 13 questions:
What’s your writing process like?
Can you send links to relevant writing samples?
Which style guides are you familiar with?
Have you ever been accused of plagiarism?
How do you prefer to receive feedback?
What will you need from me in order to do your best work?
How do you charge?
How do you handle revisions?
Do you have experience with SEO?
Which industries have you written about before?
What would you do if I asked you to write about a topic you’re not familiar with?
What’s your research and citation process like?
Would you be willing to do a paid test piece before we make a decision?
Keep reading to find out some of the answers to look for when interviewing freelance writers.
1. What’s your writing process like?
Experienced writers should have a basic process in place. They should be able to tell you what tools they use, how they conduct interviews and research, and how they work. For example, do they expect you to assign them articles or do they prefer to pitch? Will they ask you for outlines or will they outline the articles themselves?
2. Can you send links to relevant writing samples?
The answer to this should always be “yes.” If it’s not, either the writer isn’t confident in his work, or he lacks the experience.
3. Which style guides are you familiar with?
Most writers have a preferred style guide they adhere to, such as Associated Press (what journalists use), Chicago Manual of Style or Modern Language Association. Regardless of which style guide they prefer, they should be able to adapt to your organization’s style guide if it has one.
4. Have you ever been accused of plagiarism?
This can be a difficult question to ask, but it’s an important one. In my experience, subpar freelance writers are at risk of plagiarizing — as in, taking pieces of another person’s work and passing it off as their own.
If a writer has been accused of plagiarism in the past, do some digging to find out if it was substantiated and how it was handled. I would never recommend hiring a writer who has plagiarized.
5. How do you prefer to receive feedback?
Good writers will crave feedback, so they should be able to tell you how they like to receive it. Maybe they prefer comments inserted into their drafts, or perhaps they like to receive feedback during a monthly review.
6. What will you need from me in order to do your best work?
The answer to this will vary depending on the project and the writer, but the person might ask for your organization’s style guide, any relevant marketing collateral and examples of writing that you like and want to emulate.
7. How do you charge?
Again, this answer will vary. A writer might charge per word, per project or per hour.
8. How do you handle revisions?
Some writers include a certain number of revisions in their rates, or they might charge an extra fee per revision.
9. Do you have experience with SEO?
In this digital age, a writer with SEO chops is highly valuable. If you’re hiring a writer to create blog content, make sure he or she is well-versed in search engine optimization (SEO). If you’re hiring a writer for an offline project, a lack of SEO skills won’t matter.
10. Which industries have you written about before?
This will help you gauge the level of knowledge they have about your organization’s field.
While strong writers will be able to write about practically anything, it’s best if they have some experience working in your industry.
11. What would you do if I asked you to write about a topic you’re not familiar with?
Many writers are skilled at conducting the research necessary to write about any topic, even if they’re not familiar with it. But some writers might choose to only write about what they know well. Be sure to clarify this up front.
12. What’s your research and citation process like?
Some freelance writers don’t properly cite their sources. A strong research process and an understanding of proper citation are crucial for any writer you hire, especially if you’re hiring a writer for technical, academic or scientific writing projects.
13. Would you be willing to do a paid test piece before we make a decision?
Experienced writers are accustomed to completing paid test pieces before committing to a longer-term relationship.
The writer should be paid a fair rate for this — your organization doesn’t get a discount just because it’s a test piece.
I recommend always doing a test assignment. You can ask a million questions, but in the end, a writer’s work will speak for itself.
Now you’re ready to hire a quality writer
Armed with these questions to ask writers, you can be confident that you’ll hire the best writer for your organization.