There is no getting around it. It’s down to the writer to make sure he understands the brief. Often, the client has no idea what he wants. Sometimes, the editor hasn’t thought it through either. On these occasions it behooves the writer to recommend an approach, clarify the brief and make sure everyone knows what to expect.
And this should be done before the first word is written, or you risk a lot of wasted time and rework. Here’s a list of what to check at the outset:
The purpose of the piece: Is the primary objective to inform, educate, sell, influence or entertain?
The audience: what do they want to know, what do they need to know, how do they want to find out?
The technicalities: what does the editor want, when does he want it, how does he want it?
The outline: what is the lead, what info should be included, what questions need answering, what tone, approach, treatment should be used?
Then: circulate the outline! Get agreement from everyone, your boss, your client, his boss, the editor, everyone.
Research: what facts, news, voices can you find that would add to the story? Are all your questions answered?
Finally: the easy part, write it! It should practically write itself, since you’ve been organised and done the necessary legwork upfront.
Don’t forget: have fun! Writing is one the best things about our jobs.