Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing what you don't know

What can you say on a subject you know nothing about?

And there it is. That assignment you've been putting off. You know the one. You know nothing whatever about the subject at hand but it's your job to get it done anyway. Maybe it's a private client. Maybe it's a writing site big dollar offering. Whatever the case, how in the world do you write about something you've never done and know absolutely nothing about? And the answer is, very carefully.

First of all, exactly what does the paying customer want?

If you're writing for a private client, ask for their input. How many words do they want? What type of format best fits their site? Are there any other special instructions? You want to reflect their style and fit into their venue. So, while it may sound biased, it's also important to know how they want the article slanted. I actually wrote an entire ghost op/ed piece once only to have to rewrite it because my opinion differed from that of the client. Oops!

Note: It was actually a fun re-write. I just imagined the guy raging at me to prove his point and it was done in the blink of an eye. Hey, whatever works.

Check out the website the article will appear on.

If this is a private client, their site will tell you a lot about what they want. It will show you what they didn't say. You may even find out that you don't care for their politics or personality. Normally, that's not an issue unless your beliefs clash loudly. In that case, you may decide not to work for them at all. Better to find out now, than later on, when you're in a heated argument over how things should be done.

There's no getting out of the research.

When you write what you know, as the saying goes, the article practically writes itself. You have all that personal experience and previous research to draw on. It's a snap. But when you tackle what you don't know, extensive research is absolutely essential.

Use multiple sources.

Don't be so quick to believe everything you read. Research from a single source may not reveal the big picture. So, read several articles before even typing a word. Don't just rely on one kind of source, either. Watch some videos. Go to the library for a little history lesson on the subject at hand. You know, that big building downtown with all the books? And then....

Talk to someone in the know.

Sure, you read about it online. You watched a couple of informative videos. You even took your happy butt downtown to the good old fashioned library. You have conquered the Dewey decimal system at last! Isn't that enough? Nope. Now, you need advice from someone who's been there. There's nothing like a little personal experience to reveal the facts. Advice from a professional or expert in the field fills in the blanks and rounds out your article.

Now you're ready to write.

Luckily, this part works out the same as any other article. Choose a title. Write an opening paragraph. Create sub-titles for all your major points. Fill in the blanks. Write a closing paragraph. Link to your sources, etc. etc.

Go back and double check everything you've written.

You will be judged on the accuracy of any information you put out there. This will impact the number of future assignment you're given as well as the pay that goes along with them. You can't possibly be too careful. Be sure to double check those reference links and list your sources in case questions come up later. If the client does not want or require links, they can remove them or request that you remove them easily enough. Better safe than sorry, though. They may want to know where you gleaned your information. This way, they don't have to ask.

Now, turn it in like this....

(Client's name): Here is a first draft of the article you requested. Please look it over and note any changes you would like me to make.

By doing this, you allow the client to inform you of any issues without feeling as if they're insulting your work. However, hopefully, since you've been so thorough, there will be no changes and you can get on with your life.

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