You’ve just landed an assignment from a new-to-you editor. Congrats! Pat yourself on the back, do a little happy dance, bust out the champagne, whatever you do to celebrate. But before you dive into the writing, there are a few … "/>

5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Assignment

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You’ve just landed an assignment from a new-to-you editor. Congrats! Pat yourself on the back, do a little happy dance, bust out the champagne, whatever you do to celebrate. But before you dive into the writing, there are a few questions you should get answered first. Many editors will include these details in your assignment email, but not all do. Ask these questions to minimize revisions later and ensure that your article hits the mark.

1. What types of sources should I interview? You might be surprised by some of the quirks you’ll run into with different publications. For instance, if you’re writing for a website that’s published by a credit card issuer or an insurance company, they probably won’t want you interviewing anyone who works for a direct competitor. Would they prefer professors? Or can the editor hook you up with an expert who’s affiliated with that company? Many companies are entering the content marketing space so it’s not unusual to have restrictions like this. Even on the traditional publishing side of things, they may have sources who’ve recently appeared in the publication and they’d want you to find other experts.

2. Is there a style guide I should follow? Does the website or magazine follow Associated Press style? Do they have a house style guide? Few technical writers worry about these nuances, but I’ve had editors thank me for asking because it shows attention to detail and a desire to meet their needs.

3. Do I need to gather photos? Some magazines have their own photo staff, but many websites expert freelance contributors to turn in photos with their assignment. Often, this is as simple as asking the PR person for photos or downloading them from the company’s online press room. But it’s easier to request photos as you’re gathering information than it is to email your source months later when they’ve all but forgotten about you. Oftentimes art directors can “make it work” with what you send them, but sometimes there are more specific requirements about size or resolution, so it never hurts to ask.

4. What’s the fact-checking process? Nowadays, many publications expect writers to fact check their own stories, so if that’s the case, you should spend the time to cross-reference job titles, geographic locations, spellings of names and companies, and any other information. If the publication has a formal fact-checking process, you’ll want to know that upfront so that you can give your sources a heads-up and be ready to send in your notes along with a source list.

5. Any pet peeves I should avoid? Writing styles and pet peeves vary from editor to editor so the sooner you know your editor’s preferences, the quicker you can become her go-to freelancer. Some editors hate excessive exclamation points or over-use of quotes, others despise anecdotal leads or paragraphs longer than three sentences. They’ll usually tell you these preferences if you ask, so be sure to follow their advice to the letter.

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