By Joe Dyton
During my the first semester of my freshman year of college, I took a English composition course. I wrote my first college paper in that class; I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember I got a D, and my professor said I could rewrite it. That was almost 16 years ago, and I haven’t been asked to rewrite anything since.
Until this morning.
Last week, I wrote an article about how the product development process worked that was slated to appear in the U-T San Diego. This morning, I received an email from my editor letting me know the paper was asking for a rewrite. Before I go any further, let me just explain; I don’t deal with the U-T San Diego directly. One of my freelance gigs is writing for a company that is hired by papers like the U-T to provide content. My editor works for the company and is a liaison between the paper and me. So, she let me know that the paper wanted me to address some other issues that weren’t mentioned in my story.
I’m not going to lie; I was ticked off when I read this email. I didn’t get much information about what my angle I should have taken. In fact here’s the info I did get when the story was assigned to me:
Product development is the process by which a company does one of two things: 1) creates an entirely new product that either adds to an existing product line or occupies an entirely new niche; 2) modifies or updates an existing product.
That was it. When my editor let me know the U-T wanted a rewrite; she included the kind of information it was looking for. I let her know I’d reach out to my sources to get this info for them. I also had to let her know I wished the paper had given her this information the first time. If I had had it then, the rewrite would not have been necessary.
I didn’t stew on this too long because as much as I wanted to blame the paper for not letting me know what they were looking originally, I realized something; this was on me. I’m the writer, I should be asking for the information I need to write the story. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with the little bit of info I was given, but I tried to make a story out of it anyway. That was my mistake. I’ve been doing this too long to not ask follow-up questions and/or request more details.
So, that was the lesson I learned today, and I ask you not to make the same mistake. If you get an assignment and you’re not exactly sure what you’re client is asking for; speak up! Most clients will welcome a lot of questions up front; that will help minimize the amount of edits and changes later (most likely). Do you think the U-T San Diego is happy they have to wait for my rewritten article? Do you think I’m happy about having to rewrite this article? Everyone’s happier when things are done correctly the first time.
Yes, I’m bummed that I was asked to do a rewrite, but 16 years without one was a heck of a run.
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Joe Dyton (@dyton99) is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.