How to Write an Article on a Subject You Know Nothing About
If you’re a content marketer or freelance writer, chances are you’ve had to write about topics that you know nothing about. For some people, being able to write about a variety of topics for a range of publications is one of the interesting things about content writing. For others, being pushed outside their comfort zone in this way doesn’t come naturally. Don’t panic! It might seem difficult, but it is possible to write an article on any topic. Here’s some advice:
Do your Research
Working as a freelancer or for an agency is different to working in-house. The pace is quicker, you have to manage your own time and be able to jump between projects, which can be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. One minute you could be writing an article on the importance of sunscreen, the next minute you can be turning out 800 words on why drains should be cleaned annually.
Don’t rush through the research phase. In fact, researching an unfamiliar topic might take longer than the actual writing of the article. Online, people don’t shy away from telling you when you’re wrong so it’s super important that you get your facts straight or your work will lack credibility.
Wireframe your article before you start writing. Decide on a list of headings by using research tools such as Answer the Public. This lets you see the types of questions that people are searching that are related to your keyword. Let’s say I was writing an article on nightlife in Berlin. I simply type ‘Berlin nightlife’ in and I’m then presented with a visual representation of related search queries. Knowing what people are searching will make it easier to know what to include in your article.
Ask for help
If you’re writing an article or blog post for a client, the chances are they have some experts on board – so if you need clarification on something, ask for it! It’s rare that they will think any less of you for asking for help – if anything, your client will be relieved that you are taking the steps to get your facts right and create a well-researched piece.
If that’s impossible, try and look elsewhere. Some places you can find additional information on your specific subject-matter includes:
- Content or journals that are written by experts, either at the library or online.
- Websites such as Quora where you can ask experts for advice.
- Get in touch with Universities and ask a professor for advice or a quote.
- Find subject-matter experts on social media and reach out.
However, research and wireframe your article first – that way you won’t be asking experts questions that you could have easily found answers to online after a bit of research. Then make a list of any points that need expanding or explaining.
Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is key if you want your writing to resonate. Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) ask your client who their target audience is. This can help you to build up a ‘buyer persona’, making it easier to visualise your reader. If you’re writing an article on home renovation, chances are your readers will be homeowners. If you’re writing an article on the 6-month sleep regression, it will be (tired) new parents. You get the idea.
It’s easy to write a piece, give it a quick scan and then send it off – especially if you’ve done most of the research yourself. However, don’t underestimate the importance of fact-checking and editing – once, twice, and then again! This is especially important if you’ve included a quote or information from an external source – don’t just take their word for it. As the author of the piece, it’s your responsibility to check all the facts are correct – even if they are from an expert!
What not to do
There are a few things you should definitely not do when writing about an unknown subject, and most of these go without saying. However, as the wise Shania Twain once said, whatever you do, don’t:
- Use Wikipedia as your only resource. Although Wikipedia can be useful for direction, it shouldn’t be used on its own.
- Plagiarize. I know it can be tempting to copy and paste when you find a paragraph that so perfectly sums up exactly what you’re trying to convey, but it won’t help anyone. Read it, take it in and then rewrite it in your own words.
- Add irrelevant images. To you, it might just look like a screwdriver. But to an expert, a picture of a Phillips head screwdriver and a slot head screwdriver makes all the difference. Make sure you get it right.
It can be tricky writing a long-form article on a subject you know nothing about. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You need to understand who you are writing for, wireframe an article, do your research and expand on your subheadings, get an expert opinion and lastly, read it through and fact check it. The more you do it, the easier it will get… in fact it won’t be long before people start fighting to have you on their pub quiz team.