John John Wright
5 min read, February 2022

The vast majority of organizations that hire freelance writers pay these writers by word written. This incentivises writers in the wrong way, leading to poorly researched articles with unnecessary fluff just to pad out the word count. Here, experienced online publisher John Wright puts the case forward for paying writers by the hour rather than by the word.

The standard practice among companies that hire freelance writers is to pay them by the word. The logic behind this is that the amount you pay is directly reflected in the quantity of work that you get.

All too often, however, employers who hire freelance writers and pay them by the word are underwhelmed by the quality of writing that they receive. This is because paying writers by the word implies that all you value as an employer is the quantity of writing done, rather than the thought and attention to detail that goes into producing a quality article.

If you value the quality of work being produced by your writers, you are therefore better off paying your writers hourly rather than by word count. Here are some of the reasons why writers are better incentivized by hourly pay, rather than being paid by word count.

Paying writers hourly encourages deeper research from your writers

When you pay writers by word count, writers are incentivized to think that the amount of time that they spent researching your article should be kept to a minimum. As the research stage of writing does not produce any final copy, this is seen by a writer as non-billable work and therefore of significantly less value than time spent actually writing.

This completely misses the point of what makes a good piece of writing. An article is only as strong as the research that goes into it. Therefore a payment structure that places no value on the research stage of writing an article will inevitably lead to writers producing articles that clearly only have a surface-level amount of research put into it.

Paying writers hourly not only tells the writer that the research stage of writing an article is as important as the final write up, but it also appreciates the fact that for some topics the research phase will actually be more time-consuming than the writing stage. This allows writers to produce consistent quality across a wider range of topics and therefore should lead to a much stronger portfolio of work from a writer over time.

Paying writers hourly discourages padding out your articles

Paying writers by the word tells the writer that the main way you assess their work is by the quantity of words written. It is no surprise then that this leads to writers padding out their work with unnecessary sentences.

This, combined with the fact that paying by word count disincentivizes your writer from ploughing time into researching your article, means that writing that is paid by word count often contains sentences that state the obvious and that repeat ideas made earlier in the article.

Although recommended word counts for article briefs are important (assuming that they are well informed recommendations), these word counts imply the amount of research and non-overlapping points that should be made in an article to do the topic justice. This, again, means that the research and planning stages of writing an article are at least as important as the writing stage. Compensation for writing should reflect this fact, and paying per word count fails to do this.

Paying writers hourly allows the production of a wider range of articles

Longer articles are not necessarily more difficult, and therefore more time consuming, to write.

A data-led piece, for example, may require a writer to trawl through databases and spreadsheets and compile it into tables to complete their article. The article in question may not have a high word count, as the information in it is given through the tables of data, however the time taken to do this well may be equivalent to a much longer article on a simpler topic.

Paying writers by the word count means that the former type of article (one which is heavy on research but relatively light on word count) is near impossible to produce, as no writer paid in this way would be willing to take on the job.

Paying writers hourly allows you to adapt the amount of research and writing time that you can give your writer. This means that writers can produce a wider variety of content, making them a more valuable asset to your company.

How to manage writers on hourly pay

One of the biggest barriers to employers paying freelance writers on an hourly basis is that they worry that writers on this pay structure will claim that they are spending more time writing an article than they actually are in order to pad out their paycheck.

We have developed a few techniques to make sure that this does not happen, and to get as much value for money as we can from paying writers hourly. These techniques are:

  • Assign an amount of time to the article based on its complexity and importance to your company. Have the writer spend this amount of time on it. If they finish early then tell them to research more into the topic and add more insight to the final piece.
  • Train your writers on how to do proper research and emphasise that this is as important to article writing as getting the final words down.
  • Track the writer's time using time tracking software. Where possible monitor how much time is spent on research vs writing and use this information to inform how much time you allocate to future similar articles
  • Offer bonuses to writers based on article traffic and engagement metrics. Create a culture at your company where these types of metrics are what article quality is judged on, rather than word count.

Final thoughts

Paying writers by word count completely neglects the fact that the write up is just the final part of writing an article.

Paying writers hourly, on the other hand, demonstrates that you value research and planning of an article. This leads to a much higher quality output from your writers.

This article was written by John Wright. John is the CEO of affiliate marketing software company StatsDrone

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