How to Write Killer Content for Industries You Know Nothing About
Imagine this: You show up for your first day at your new writing job, clothes pressed and eager to impress. Your supervisor wants you to get right to work, and explains your first assignment. Suddenly, all of that newly-hired confidence dissipates and you’re left dumbstruck and directionless. You replay the words in your mind. Wait, what? They want me to write about an abstract mathematical theory called the Reimann hypothesis? Do they know what grade I got in high school pre-calculus? If you can imagine the panic that you would feel in that scenario, then you can probably sympathize with me: this is the actual topic I was given for my first story at my current job.
It’s a situation public relations professionals often find ourselves in throughout our careers, especially when first starting out—you know you have writing skills, but the subject matter can feel completely alien to you. How do you write something that will actually sound intelligent and coherent to those within that field? While you may not be asked to write about advanced mathematics research, it’s likely that at some point in your career, you’ll be given a client or topic that is a little out of your comfort zone. Fear not; here are my rock-solid tips for gaining the knowledge and confidence you need to make yourself sound like a genius on any issue.
1. Read, read, read
Before you start writing, you need to read everything you can find about your topic. (In my case, my supervisor actually had a book about the hypothesis for me to dive into.) Don’t feel like you have to internalize every detail about the topic or understand it completely, but make sure you know enough about it that you could, to a reasonable degree, clearly explain it to someone else. Familiarize yourself with the language and jargon used surrounding the subject; this will help when you eventually interview experts about it. Here are a few great questions to ask yourself to gauge your baseline knowledge:
- In one or two sentences, what is the topic?
- Who or what does the topic affect?
- Why should the affected people care about the topic?
- Which aspects of the topic does my story need to address?
- To whom should I go next to get more knowledge?
If you can answer those questions, you’re ready for the next step.
2. Consult an expert
Once you have your basic research done, an industry professional will be an invaluable source of direction for you. If you’re unsure about whom to contact, the client themself is a great place to start. Not only can an expert fact-check your current knowledge of the topic, but they can also clue you in on important implications of the subject that you may have missed while reading. Take a moment to explain the topic to them so they can correct or refine any statements that aren’t fully informed. While you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, make sure you’ve done as much research as you can so they don’t have to waste time filling you in on the basic premises of the subject at hand. Treat your resource like royalty; if they feel unappreciated or undervalued, they may not want to help you again in the future.
Use this time to get as deep into the topic as you can. Take advantage of your resource’s expertise to get as many rich details as possible. Ask to record the interview to get some killer quotes for your story. (Hello, credibility!)
3. Plan, proofread, and follow up
Whether a topic is second-nature to you or brand new territory, you should always be intentional about your writing. Once you feel like your knowledge about the subject is solid, create a strategic outline for your story. Think back to the questions from step #1: what does your story need to cover? Make sure all the points flow together and that your bases are covered. Once you feel like your task is properly outlined, write away!
Before publishing your story, you’ll need to proofread. Go over your story with a fine-toothed comb for any grammatical errors or gaps in the flow of your writing. Once your draft is fairly polished, reach out to your new industry connection to have them ensure that your writing is both accurate and understandable. If you want to sound like a pro, you need to use the industry jargon in a way that won’t make readers roll their eyes. (Hint: This is why establishing a good relationship with those you interview is so important. If they feel valued, they’ll be more likely to help you out again!)
Depending on the length and purpose of your story, you may not always need to follow all of these steps exactly. As you spend more time at your new job, you’ll hopefully find that the process becomes easier and less alarming with each new story you’re assigned. Just remember to do your due diligence, establish strong connections with industry professionals, and make your writing sound as natural and informed as possible. Soon you’ll have everyone impressed with how knowledgeable you are about quantum mechanics or number theory… even though you’re basically just bluffing. Write on, smarty-pants!