What To Ask Before Accepting a Writing Assignment

When you're just starting out as a freelance writer, you may be eager to accept every assignment that comes your way. That may not be such a bad approach, since it can lead to a variety of opportunities. However, you should know some basic facts before accepting any assignments.

Pinning down the details of a job will avoid conflicts later on and make it easier to meet your client's expectations. It also shows that you are a professional.

Here are five simple questions to ask before accepting any freelance writing assignment:

1. What is the expected word count?

Clients may give you a word count as a range (e.g. 400 to 600 words) or as a set count (e.g. 500 words). If you receive a range, stay within it. If you receive a set count, get as close as possible to it without going over. When working on an assignment that includes anything beyond the article body, such as sidebar information or a sub-header, clarify whether that is included in the word count.

2. What is my deadline (or the writing deadline)?

Always confirm the deadline and check your schedule before accepting an assignment. Sometimes the initial offer will have vague language, such as, "Could you finish it by the middle of next week?" Get a specific date. If other people will be involved, such as an editor and/or fact-checker, be sure you know your writing deadline as opposed to the deadline for the whole project. (Your deadline may be earlier to give the others time to work.)

3. Are there writing guidelines for the assignment?

Publishers may have their own style guides, which they expect freelance writers to follow. This could be anything from a detailed, multi-page document to a brief statement like, "AP Style, family friendly." If you are given writing guidelines, follow them. Writing for a client means tailoring your voice to match their style.

4. What sources are required?

This is another area where the requirements can differ greatly from one client to the next. Some clients have strict guidelines about sourcing information, including a list of sites which they do, and do not, want you to use. Others may ask for inline citations only or not require sources at all. (It's good practice to document your sources for your own records even if they are not required.)

5. What will I be paid?

While payment is likely to be at the top of your list, assignments are sometimes offered without mentioning your compensation. You are a professional and have a right to ask about payment before accepting. Ask if you will be receiving a byline or if the article will be ghostwritten, and nail down the legal aspects of the contract (i.e. the rights being purchased).

Freelance writing can often be feast-or-famine, but don't be in such a rush to accept every assignment that you overbook yourself or otherwise agree to a project that you will not be able to successfully complete. Asking a few questions upfront can help you choose the assignments that will be best for you and your career.


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