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How to Write About Something — When You Know Nothing

“The interface hybrid system draws power directly from the hot aisle platform, allowing internal units to transfer efficiencies that create robust and responsive programs.”

To be honest, sometimes I don’t even know myself.

Look, copywriters can’t be experts on everything. We’re experts at writing—and there are times when we’re assigned a topic that we have absolutely no understanding of.

Complicating matters, the client may not always be very forthcoming with information: we’re just supposed to “get it”. So how can you quickly become an expert on an unfamiliar topic?

Get Acquainted With Their Website

This goes without saying. However, some websites are so short on content they offer no help; others have so much information it can be overwhelming, especially when the topic is unfamiliar.

Too little or too much can cause some writers to just throw their hands up, and that’s understandable. However, there is knowledge to be gained and you’re sure to find at least a few (or a lot) of industry-specific terms you can then research on your own to add perspective to the client’s sometimes confusing site content.

Snare a SME

Your client may not have time to sit down and explain all the nuances of their business, but they likely have a right-hand man or woman who can. Sometimes, you may not even want a member of the C-Suite explaining things; the people on the front lines of their business often have the most valuable insight into a specific topic.

That’s generally a Subject Matter Expert, or SME. If you’re able to secure a call with a SME, however, it’s important to be prepared; you may not get another chance.

Do your research prior to the call, come prepared with questions, and don’t be afraid to “look stupid;” they know you’re not an expert, and they expect to answer what you may consider silly questions. Many SMEs even revel in the opportunity to show off their expertise!

Read Reviews

Sometimes the best way to gain an understanding of an industry or topic is to hear what other people are saying about it. Online reviews give you the chance to hear what customers are looking for, what they hope to achieve, and their pain points.

This isn’t corporate copy that’s been pored over by the client; this is real input from real people. Not only can this help you to better understand the industry in order to write better content, but it can also generate ideas for future blog and web content, or emails that address unfulfilled market needs. Talk about a win-win.

Check the Competition

It’s possible that competitors may have much better information than you do and may deliver it in a much more understandable manner. If that’s the case, you’ll want to read everything they offer—but this is where it gets tricky. You want to learn from them, but not take from them. Your client hopefully has their own style and is trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.

So, learn what you can and then spin it your own way. Be sure to note what your client could be doing better on their site in the future; coming to the table with ideas always makes a good impression!

Get Social

When you really think about it, you probably know—or are at least acquainted with—someone in just about every industry. It’s just that, like many LinkedIn or Facebook “friends,” you haven’t connected in years (sometimes, you maybe never have).

But most people are willing to help if it’s a question within their wheelhouse; again, it’s an ego boost and human nature to want to spread knowledge. Just don’t be asking them to write your story for you and you’ll likely get useful input to help you write better content.

Reach Outside Your Network

There are many online forums on any given topic where you can pose questions to others either in the industry or interested in the topic. You can even reach out directly to experts (for a price) using sites like Help A Reporter Out (HARO), where reporters—which, in a way, we are—can ask those in the know for help, so long as we give them credit within our story.

Writing for a challenging client or about a complicated topic can be difficult and frustrating, testing the limits of our patience and our creativity. It’s no wonder us writers have acquired this reputation: 

Nic Cage

However, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to be an expert on everything—you just need to appear to be. Acknowledging this can make the writing experience much more enjoyable for you, and much more beneficial for your clients. That’s a lot less Nic Cage, and a lot more SJP. 

So kick off your shoes (or your Manolos) and use these tips to start blogging with the best of ‘em!


Brad Hadfield

Brad Hadfield

With 20+ years of advertising experience, I've written for many brands across all forms of media. Today, I put that experience to work for clients as an inbound marketer. A WMU graduate, I moved to Florida for year-round boating. When not on the water, I enjoy traveling (25 countries and counting).