Materials writing: more on samples

This is a quick follow-up to my post on how I approach sample writing. Here’s the original post.

I just wanted to add one more thing – and it’s something Kath Bilsborough touched upon in her post about briefs.

Kath says:

‘Use the brief as a reference throughout the writing process, as a framework, a reminder, and a checklist.’

I second that. Especially if the brief you get is quite detailed, meaning there’s lots to consider in your sample.

Approaching the brief

When I get a detailed brief, normally the first thing I do is panic. Then I get highlighting.

I pick out all the basic info re: markets, aims, etc. Then I delve deeper – picking out all the stuff about the flow of the resource, activities to include, instructions about things like text length, vocab lists, whatever. It’s hard to say exactly what as it depends on the brief, but my point here is that I highlight the important bits!

Then, I make a checklist based on these. Mine normally looks something like this (just a snippet):

(Note: not real criteria, just quick examples for the post!)

I usually star/colour-code priority items, or draw attention to items where the publisher has requested more of my own input. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes publishers are like ‘do this’, but then other times they are like ‘we need tasks related to XYZ, but as yet we haven’t decided on a set approach for these. We welcome your input here…’ I think it’s worth singling those items out – they might take a bit more thought, plus they are a chance to help shape the resource more!

The checklist supplements my rationale

So, as with Kath’s comments, I do make the brief into a checklist. In addition to that, my checklist also forms part of my rationale. I mentioned before that I always include a rationale for my sample. See my post here on rationales if interested.

(Something to add re: rationales is that, in some cases, publishers have actually requested a rationale along with the sample. It hasn’t happened to me that often, but I like it!)

Anyway, I complete the checklist and send it to the publisher. In the ‘Met?’ column. I normally use Yes/Partially/No. There will be times when some items are more optional or desirable, so you don’t have to see it as a ‘must cover all bases’ thing.  In this column, I also add HOW I’ve met the criteria, if relevant:

In the ‘Comments’ bit I sometimes suggest alternatives, considerations, etc. I often mention the target learners in this section, and might draw attention to ways I’ve related the content to them. If the criteria relate to text writing (like in this example), I might add a screen shot of the ‘text level profile’ here for quick reference, or links to sites I used to research the text. That type of stuff anyway.

Sometimes, I include references to academic research here if relevant. It really depends on the criteria as it’s often pretty broad!    

In recent checklists I’ve added this (see comments column):

I want to encourage dialogue with the editor from the outset. I figure that it’s better to see the sample as the start of the process rather than a trial.

Does it work/help?

I find one benefit of making the ‘brief checklist’ is that if I do get the gig, this a pretty good doc for recapping what the writing will entail. Another benefit is that I get a pretty good idea of the stuff that frequently occurs in briefs – useful if I need to write one in the future. Who knows.

So, basically the samples I write include three additional bits these days. There are the in-doc comments, the rationale, and the checklist. Since switching to this checklist approach, I’ve had a 100% success rate with samples, woohooo! Before that I was at… maybe 85% or thereabouts? I can’t say it’s definitely the checklists that have made the difference. That said, I do think they’ve helped me be a bit tighter/more focused during the process.

I’d love to hear how you approach sample writing. Any tried and tested methods, or words of wisdom?

Categories: General, materials writing

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