Imperative to Success: Setting Goals and Objectives Before Writing

The first step to take before writing your next direct-mail piece or article – even before you do any research or interviews – is to set your goals and objectives.

You usually have multiple objectives when you’re writing. They could be to increase sales, generate revenue, educate consumers on a new product, increase name recognition, strengthen a relationship with vendors, or any combination of these. So clearly defining your copy’s purpose before you start can make the difference between average copy and phenomenal copy.

Most copywriters don’t take the time to write down their goals and objectives. If you don’t take the time to write them down before beginning, you can easily focus too much effort on one objective (which may not be the most important one), or unconsciously bounce back and forth between objectives, thereby confusing your reader.

Here’s an example of objectives a hospital may have for a direct mailing: The marketing director wants to increase sales. The COO wants to increase name recognition and build relationships with vendors and suppliers. Stockholders want to generate revenue immediately. And physicians wish to educate consumers on what they do and what they have to offer.

Here are specific steps to take to make sure you clearly identify your objectives – and follow through on meeting them:

  1. Ask everyone involved with your copy – editor, client, whoever – "What do you hope to gain from this piece?" Write down their answers. Even if you think you know what they’re going to say, DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING.
  2. If you’re writing an article and not a sales piece, what are the requirements of the publication? What do its readers want?
  3. Analyze the way the identified objectives interrelate. Is it possible to meet everyone’s objectives and still create an effective, polished sales piece? If not, what do you drop or modify?

A good acronym to adopt in setting any objective is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Let’s take a look at how this can be applied to writing copy.

SPECIFIC: A specific objective covers at least one of the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why.

Who does this target? What do I want them to learn? Where is it going to be published? When will it run? Why am I doing this? A general objective for a DM piece is to increase sales. A specific goal is to increase sales by getting 50 new leads per month.

MEASURABLE: Measurable objectives allow you to be sure they’ve been met.

You can easily measure the specific objective of getting 50 new leads, for example. It’s more difficult to measure an objective like educating your target audience about a new product … but still possible. You may need to use follow-up phone calls or other evaluation methods to see if the objective was met. ACTION-ORIENTED: If your objective is to get 50 new leads a month, what action will you take to meet this objective? What will you do to ensure that you meet the marketing director’s needs with your copy? Who will you interview to make sure you cover all your bases? Where will you do your research?

REALISTIC: Setting realistic objectives means creating objectives you’re willing AND able to work on. If you don’t have enough time or the necessary resources to complete the project, your objective isn’t realistic and you need to revise it.

TIME-BOUND: Set a timeframe to finish the project and to accomplish major steps along the way. For instance, set dates to complete your research, to write the lead, to complete your first draft, to edit and rewrite, and to submit.

Setting objectives before you begin writing is crucial. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting, knowing who you’re writing for and what they need to get from the copy is your key to success.

[Ed. Note: Kelly Robbins is a healthcare copywriter and marketing coach/consultant. She publishes The Healthcare Marketing Connection, a free e-zine on healthcare marketing tips. You can reach her at]

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Published: December 19, 2005

3 Responses to “Imperative to Success: Setting Goals and Objectives Before Writing”

  1. Hi,

    The article has helped give me clear direction for the daily practice of writing copy.

    Since there isn't going to be any client/customer involved, the reason for writing will be self - generated.

    Thanks Kelly (:-


  2. Thank you, Kelly. Against my better judgment, I have spread myself thin over several courses I'm taking. Yes, a newbie, and always feeling as though I'm working behind the clock. Therefore, it's necessary I work a few of them simultaneously. This article is most helpful as to how I shall approach organizing myself for this multi-endeavor. It will also be applied with each assignment. I love organization! A tremendous thanks to you to for helping me.

    Guest (Brenda White)

  3. Thanks Kelly for your very valuable gold nuggets.I now realize that the further reading at the end of each section of the copy writing course should not be skipped at all.It is an extremely important part of the course.You have taught me something very important here which I will incorporate as part of my learning.Thank you Thank you


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