How to Spot a High-Quality Writer

In today’s content saturated world, spotting a high-quality writer can seem like an impossible task. Everyone and anyone can label themselves a writer minus journalism school or training. The truth is the Internet is bursting at its cyber seams with people branding and labeling themselves as writers, copywriters, creative writers, professional writers, technical writers, and every other sort of writer on the most wanted list. But spotting the one-in-a-million, high-quality writer, that’s tough.

Seeing a high-quality writer is a lot like whale watching. You can watch all day long on your boat with binoculars firmly in grip and never see the whale you’re after. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be nearly impossible to catch even a glimpse of your white whale.

The Internet (the world even) is full of excellent writers hiding behind every corner. Some are rare raw talents, while others are classically trained technicians. The difficulty is spotting the one who best matches your needs. Which white whale is your white whale? How do you spot a high-quality writer and what advantages do they bring to the table?

The High-Quality vs. Mediocre Writer

Writers come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Some are brilliant at what they do, and some barely scrape by. What can you look for to separate the epic writer from the mediocre? What separates the Ernest Hemingways from the Stephanie Meyers of the world?

1. Communicating One-on-One Instead of Through an Agency

While third parties can be useful for filtering prospects, they aren’t always a benefit in the communications department. Think of it like a game of telephone. The client communicates what they want to the agency, and the agency communicates their interpretation (or what they thought they heard) to the writer. The more people you put on the line, the bigger the distortion of the original intent the writer will receive. Miscommunication of the intent of the client to the writer is a huge possibility with a third party.

A high-quality writer will generally (though not always) want to communicate one-on-one with the client, so the intent and aim are not lost in translation. This also prevents an unqualified writer from being assigned to the client’s job. The best writers aren’t afraid to say, “I’m not the best fit for this project, but I know someone who is. [Insert referral.]”

2. Willing and Able to do Extensive Research

A high-quality writer will take the necessary time to do any required research to present the highest quality of content. Even if the research isn’t absolutely required, they will still do it. They will take the time to learn about you, what you or your company brings to the table and your audience. One-on-one communication is crucial for making this an easier, timelier exercise.

3. Proper Planning Prevents Potentially Poor Performance

The best writers will ask the questions needed to plan the project properly. It cuts down on the unnecessary revisions that are the modus operandi of agencies and third parties with large staffs they need to keep busy. Asking questions on muddled, incomprehensible, or otherwise incomplete instructions as opposed to just grabbing and starting on a project is the mark of a top-notch writer.

4. Quality over Quantity

A writer, who cares more about the quality of his or her oeuvre than the length of it, is the writer you want in your corner. Quality writers will pick and choose projects, ensuring their talents best match each one to produce stunning quality. They are a far cry from content shops and “buy now” content vendors that may spin their advertising toward quality, but ultimately promote quantity in raw action.

Behind the scenes, these entities are deadline driven. At the end of the day, pushing a project out matters more than ensuring the highest level of quality; it’s much like shopping at Wal-Mart. We hit the supercenter for convenience and low prices, but we don’t expect our purchases to be of lasting value.

Spotting Your “Whale” of a Writer

So, here’s the thing: There are no definitive ways to determine writer quality, as quality is subjective. What John sees as extraordinary writing may not be Jane’s vision, which is why it’s so important to have strong communication with the writer handling your project. However, there are clues, guidelines, and hints of quality you can use like bowling alley bumpers to stay on the right track.

  • Ideas: Ideas are the meat and potatoes of content. What a writer chooses to write about, and how they choose to present it, is first on our checklist to determine writer quality. Do they enlist your assistance on topic guidelines? Are they encouraging you to be an active part of topic and idea brainstorms? Are they steering your content toward ideas your audience will find important, useful, and educational? Idea and topic generation should always be a two-way street.
  • Organization: Is their writing organized in a logical and effective manner? Does it flow well, or is it hard to follow? Does it have effective transitions between ideas? Flow and organization is a good way to judge writer quality. If their writing sucks you in, making even the most mundane of topics interesting, they are a rare talent. Most writers are active bloggers these days. Do some research and read their work. Request a sample if you can’t find any published work. It will tell you a lot about their style and attention to detail.
  • Word Choice: Good writers will use the right word in the right place at the right time. For example, a high-quality writer will know when to use the appropriate word (or phrase) to explain the idea to their target audience. They’ll know when to wield jargon or stick to plain English. They’ll know how to apply Mark Twain’s advice of, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”
  • Quality: Excellent writers understand the 10 elements of high-quality content. They know each element contributes to appeal to both the human and search engine audience. And they work diligently to incorporate every element into every project.
  • Focus: Top-notch writers are somewhat contradictive. They often lack PR skills. They don’t like to talk one-on-one with people. In fact, a lot of us (yes, I’m speaking like a writer right now) prefer dogs to people. It’s nothing personal. We’re just not the most social of people. But we understand the need to focus on you and your message to deliver quality. As such, we swallow our social anxieties, dial your number or enter your Skype ID, and have a chat. One of the telltale signs of a high-quality writer is their focus. Do they reach out to you with questions? Do they take the time to chat in your preferred venue? Are they free to contact you anytime with any questions? Are they able to hit you up with content ideas as needed? The last two questions are usually an automatic no with agency and content shop writers as they are bound by the limits of the agency—limits set based on what you buy.

Why High-Quality Writers Matter

Having a top quality writer onboard is important, especially today. The key to online marketing is visibility and search engine exposure matters. The best way to rank is through high-quality content. It’s what helps bring in high-quality clients and retains the ones you already have.

The fact of today’s market is that writing talent has become more outsourced than staffed. Finding a high-quality writer is crucial. Their hard work will ultimately boost your company’s credibility and authority in your field of expertise. Most importantly, in this line of work, you get exactly what you pay for. If you want William S. Burroughs, you can’t pay E L James money. Expecting to pay discount, Wal-Mart prices for high-quality copy is a deadly mistake.

Epic content is not forged in the fleeting satisfaction of the one-stop shop. It takes real collaboration and teamwork; teamwork that involves YOU as the client. Do not settle for less.

Additional Contributor: Carlo Solorzano

Feature Image Credit: Aleksandr Khakimullin via 123RF Stock Photo

One Comment Add yours

  1. mindyminix says:

    Great post! As someone who is not the strongest technical writer (ahem, possibly an understatement there), I tend to feel inadequate when applying for contracts. It is encouraging to read your list of “high quality” characteristics because I practice most of them! It might help that you threw some alliteration in there for the nerds, such as myself, in the crowd.


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