Taking the Pain Out of Publishing

It's a challenge but it can be done: Coaching inexperienced office mates on how to write for group publications.Better to perish than publish? Giving birth to the quarterly magazine or an annual report can be a painful experience. Too often staffers for nonprofits and government agencies find publishing a chaotic and frustrating process, especially if everyone in the office is involved.

It doesn’t have to be. Use the publishing experience as a series of teachable moments about writing and print production. There’s more than one way to manage the project, but try these steps:

1. Set the ground rules
If the department head decides as many staffers as possible should be involved, make it clear not everyone has an equal voice. The designated editor – or lead copywriter – should listen carefully to others. But it should be made clear by leadership that the editors are the “deciders.” Too often this is not the case.

2. Select the messages
Determine what the key messages are for the publication. These become the backbone of most stories. Then determine a list of potential stories that can help carry key messages. Take a quick survey of staff and other contributors for ideas. Also, remember to stay relevant. For example, determine what questions the public may be asking about services and products and turn those into stories.

3. Convene a storytelling brainstorm session
Before the writing begins, help the contributors understand the vision for the publication by holding a brief brainstorming.

  1. Work for these outcomes;
  2. Decide what examples, people and case studies may be used to illustrate the key messages;
  3. Dream up visuals – illustrations, photos and charts – that instantly conveys the point of each story; and
  4. Make assignments and determining priorities.

4. Hold a mini-seminar on writing
You want the contributors to write short, memorable stories. The mission is to smash academic writing and describe the characteristics of journalistic-style prose. Emphasize that good stories stress benefits of a program or events, telling the reader why something is important. And, getting bogged down in describing process rather than benefits makes for deadly dull writing. The mini-seminar might be based on good and bad writing examples from other publications.

5. Empower the editor
Contributors need to understand “pride of authorship” should not be allowed to get in the way of a good product. Copy always can be improved. Often shortening and rearranging the material is necessary. That’s the role of the editor, who should be empowered to improve content no matter who the author is.

Making these steps a regular process may be difficult at first, but allow them to be part of the annual routine. The task will get easier and the final published product better. Also apply this approach to websites when a major update is planned.