Writing On Something You Know Nothing About

As an agency, we’ve written about a lot of different stuff in Black Mountain’s short life. From serious corporates to small, cheeky startups, we’ve written content about office space. Logistics. Pizza. Electrical compliance. Perfume that goes in your pocket. Educational outreach programmes. Online car auctions. Hedge funds. Jewellery. Haircare products. Seafood.

You get the picture.

While it’s interesting work, there’s no argument that we could possibly be experts in all these areas. So how are we able to write about something like an online car auction with no knowledge or expertise on that specific topic? Here are our top 8 rules to follow when writing about something you know very little about:

1. Know your strengths. We know we’re writers, not subject matter experts, and we tell our clients this – every single time. If you’re honest about this from the beginning, it’s easy to be upfront about the fact that you need all the information from the client, rather than trying to fudge it and look clever (which you won’t).

2. Be experts at information gathering. Don’t limit yourself when getting your source material. Explore all avenues like holding formal interviews, calling clients up for a chat, requesting marketing material and brochures, looking at old websites and viewing competitors. Ask your client for anything that can help you get the picture.

3. Go straight to the source. If you’re writing about life insurance, the best place to learn about this is not from the marketing department of the insurance company, but the actuary who designed the different life insurance products themselves. Get to them and you’re golden.

4. Be a great interviewer. Be annoyingly persistent and ask hard questions. For example, “How would you explain this to your grandmother?” or “What makes your product or service different to the rest?”. Don’t be afraid to ask the really basic questions to get the valuable information you need.

5. Work in drafts. For each rough draft that you do, include your client so that you can be sure you’re on the right track. There’s nothing worse than working on something for months at a time and then giving it to the client only to be told that what you’ve written is actually completely unusable.

6. Put yourself in the mind of the target market. This may seem obvious, but this helps you to ask the right questions of the client and then to write simply. If you understand the offering from the ground up and can distill its core idea, it becomes a lot easier to write about.

7. Avoid jargon. In this way, you always ensure that you write about something you understand rather than using complicated words that don’t resonate with potential customers anyway.

The truth is, you can’t be good at everything. We’re good writers, not good jewellery designers or hedge fund managers. And the sooner you realise this and acknowledge it, both to yourselves and clients, the sooner you can deliver a piece of work that they’ll really love.

Black Mountain
info@black-mountain.co.za
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