Any freelance writer who comes from a creative writing background has likely heard the advice “write what you know” over the course of their career. What this usually means is “use your own experiences” in order to capture something true or authentic.
While this might be good advice for writing creative nonfiction or poetry, it’s practically useless for most commercial writers. Especially those who are just starting out. The truth is, as a copywriter, you’ll likely have to write about things you don't know, often and well.
So, how do you—a liberal arts major who’s never stepped foot inside a rubber parts warehouse—write a technical guide to rubber parts manufacturing that will be useful to someone who comes from that background?
Let’s talk about it.
Do Your Research
This should go without saying, but before you do anything else on this list, begin with a baseline of topical research. Start with a Google search and keep a collection of all the reliable sources you come across. This includes studies, surveys, data, comparable articles, and competitor resources.
At this point, you can begin drafting an outline or a list of potential questions to ask in a subject matter expert interview.
Explore Online Communities
If you’re writing for an industry that is completely foreign to you, it might be a good idea to explore online communities to get a feel for the audience and existing content. Browse hashtags on social media and check out forums where community members meet and discuss the topic.
This will give you a better idea of general opinions, ideas, beliefs, and other important information surrounding the culture of the industry you’re writing for.
Contact a Subject Matter Expert
A subject matter expert (SME) is someone who specializes in whatever topic you’re writing about. As a freelance writer, you can choose to source an SME on your own or ask the client to recommend someone from their company to meet with you.
The latter option is significantly better, as this SME will be able to offer expert insight into a topic, as well as the target audience, ideal client, and how the client’s products or services relate to the topic.
Depending on the scope of the project, you may need only one or multiple SMEs. Reach out to the client to ask them for an introduction to someone on the team.
If you choose to source your own SME, you’ll have to provide some sort of incentive for their time. Many professionals who are trying to establish themselves as thought leaders will do an interview for exposure and the opportunity to build authority, but others might prefer to build links back to their website or blog.
Before reaching out to an SME, it’s important to organize your thoughts and determine exactly what information you need. This will help you direct the meeting accordingly. Here are some things you should consider before planning a meeting:
The specific topic of the piece
The length, target audience, and purpose of the piece
The questions that will be covered in the interview
You don’t need to go into an SME meeting with a detailed outline, but having four to six open-ended questions is necessary to ensure you get the information you need.
Now that you’ve done the research, spoken with an expert, and drafted the article, you’re nearly done.
Before submitting it as a completed draft, it’s a good idea to get an expert to review it for blindspots and factual errors. This could be someone on the client’s team, the SME, or the client themselves.
No matter how much research you’ve done, there’s a good chance there will be a few minor factual errors in the piece. For this reason, articles and pieces about previously unknown topics may require more rounds of edits than you’re typically used to. Be prepared and price your services accordingly.
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Once you’ve resolved any suggestions from the expert editor, it’s time to send your final draft to the client. It’s possible the client will have further edits, but like we covered earlier, that’s to be expected.
As a copywriter, a large portion of your job should revolve around research and editing, especially when covering topics you aren’t experienced in. Personally, I love writing about new topics. It keeps me on my toes and gives me plenty to talk about at parties.
So, if you see me talking about the wonderful world of wastewater management at a party, mind your business.
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