Writing on Things You Know Nothing About
We all have moments in our writing lives when we’re assigned a topic that sounds like a never-before-heard-of foreign language that we are tasked with learning to speak in a laughable amount of time. Sound familiar? Welcome to a typical day in the life of a content creator, especially one that is just starting out in a new business or field.
When you don’t know much about the topic over which you’re writing, it can be easy to find yourself spinning around in your office chair, lost in the midst of distraction and procrastination. And when you’re writing on a time limit, that procrastination is something you’ll invariably regret later in the workday. We understand that writing on unknown topics is quite a labor, but any good writer knows the value of being able to create something that is authoritative even when there’s no time to actually become an authority.
So with this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ways to help you write better content when you don’t actually know much about your topic. Because even if you know a lot about a lot, no one knows everything about everything.
Figure Out Who You’re Writing To
A large part of being able to write something good is first figuring out who is going to be reading it. Identifying your reader’s exposure to your topic, and their level of knowledge about it is the first step to determining the tone your article can and should take. If you know the persona that you’re targeting your content towards and know it well, you’ve opened an entire additional avenue of room to express your ideas (however limited they be) on your topic.
Small things like catering your vocabulary to your reader’s comprehension level and employing witty, stoic or expository tones when necessary are easy ways to start strong down the path of writing to your audience, and thus creating something that will resonate, even if you aren’t an expert on the topic.
You’re Not an Expert; Don’t Masquerade as One
Remember: there will likely always be someone out in cyberspace that has devoted much of their life to sniffing out content that was written by a writer that doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t want to find yourself on the receiving end of such a cyberspacer’s wrath. Avoid said wrath by not overextending yourself when it comes to communicating your level of knowledge about your topic; fluffy, ineffectual information and the grand packaging of cursory knowledge within fancy language is the easiest way to out yourself as an amateur.
Instead, find ways of delivering your limited knowledge in the most succinct possible way, and always remember your audience. If you know they’ll appreciate a laugh, throw in a joke or two. Your tone and ability to connect with your particular reader will be the difference between your content and the dryer content of someone else who doesn’t know much about the topic.
Do Your Best Research Now
When you’re assigned a topic you have limited knowledge of, it’s time to bring out your research big-guns. We know that most content creators are working within deadlines, so reading a book on your topic or spending all day perusing numerous websites is probably not within your means. Limited time to research means you have to do better research; this means not wasting your time reading websites that are unaccredited and therefore only stand to increase the level of amateurism in your content.
A short list of websites that are no-gos for your research quandary? We’ll start with Wikipedia, eHow and eZine and round it out with about.com and Yahoo! Answers. These websites are not reliable sources for information, especially on a topic that you’re already gun-shy about. Easy ways to tell if you can trust the content on a website include but are not limited to: the website represents a well-known and accredited company or brand (i.e., MayoClinic, Forbes, The New York, et al), lists an author as well as their credentials (try Googling the author’s name if you want more meat), and don’t ignore the suffix on the website’s address. Here’s a key if you don’t exactly know what the website suffixes mean:
When it comes to writing about something you have limited knowledge of, the best piece of advice is to prune your research, taking the meatiest parts and figuring out a succinct and compelling way to re-package them. You don’t want to seem pretentious, but you also don’t want to write something that is so unsophisticated that your readers get bored or feel condescended to. It’s all a matter of knowing your audience and providing well-researched nuggets of information within crisp, refreshing language.
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