How to Write When You Know Nothing About Your Topic

8713536236_b78418ba99The beauty of the Internet is its ability to connect people to the information or product they need. As a modern writer you may be called upon to craft copy about a plethora of topics of which you may not be familiar, but for which you might be expected to produce expert level work.

So how do you magically become a subject matter expert on orthopedic prosthetics when you’re barely even sure what that entails? Here’s what I do when a client asks me to write about a topic with which I am unfamiliar.

Communicate With the Client

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the client is expecting from the finished product. Obviously, they shouldn’t be looking for you to produce an academic journal on cold fusion if you don’t have a background in that area, so don’t be afraid to ask additional questions.

Ask your client if he or she could produce some examples of work that they would like you to emulate. Are there specific industry topics you should focus on? Ideally these things would be communicated to you; however, especially when work is outsourced, it’s easy for company insiders to forget that you aren’t as up to speed with the business as they are. Asking questions in the beginning saves time for both parties.

Research

Now that you’ve hopefully gotten some more information on what kind of work your client is expecting, it’s time to do some research. Check out websites from other leaders in the industry. It’s a bonus if they have social media sites such as Twitter because then you can see what kinds of topics they are  following or talking about.

If your client has a website, glean as much information from there as you can. If your client doesn’t have a website, you should turn to Google to find more information on the topic. Be prudent when using Google, make sure where you’re getting your information from is a trusted source.  Just because a site is first in the list of search results on Google doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Sometimes you have to research your research.

You Won’t Be an Expert – Do Your Best

You can’t be an expert in just a day or week, but you can do your best in your area of expertise: writing. You were hired because you can write and make things sound good, so do that as best you can. Don’t spend too much time researching. If you’re really unclear on what to write, research as much as you can then give your best work quickly so that you can at least turn something in. Edits or revisions can be made later on.

Don’t let an unfamiliar topic stop you from the practice of writing. It’s challenging to take on new subjects when writing, but with some reading comprehension and confidence in your abilities things should fall into place.

What steps do you take when you are asked to write on an unfamiliar subject? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Photo Credit: Keegan

How to Quickly Create an Awesome Email Campaign

If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter”

With only seconds to impress your reader, it’s imperative to include only the most pertinent information, especially when you are creating an email campaign. Here are some tips for creating an email  that your users will actually want to read. I’ll be using a newsletter I received from Anthropologie as an example for this post.

Have a Theme

A theme is especially important if you send out several campaigns a month. People want to know right from the start what they’re getting themselves into by opening your email. You can be playful with the title, as long as there is some idea of what the newsletter is about.

Anthro Subject Line

In our example, we can see from the subject line (“Rooms, refreshed.”) that the email is going to be about new items that have been added to Anthropologie’s home decor.

Use Familiar Idioms

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 4.40.25 PMDon’t shy away from using familiar forms of speech to aid your story. Readers like to catch on to witticism, and familiar phrases create connections for your readers.

“Turning over a new leaf” connotes positivity and fresh starts. Notice the subtle switch in how the idiom is written though, the title is simply “new leaves” – this alone hints to the old saying, but, in the subtext, we see that the company is “turning over” their decor.  In this example, the word ‘leaves’ also coincides with the literal floral print on the chairs in the picture. This union of words and image is a perfect way to truly give your reader a story.

Tease

This is not the time to be overly descriptive. Not only does an email full of copy deter the average online speed reader, but it also takes away intrigue. Remember, your ultimate goal is sales, which means they have to at least get to your website, and they’ll only want to go to your website if you “flirt” out your most seductive information, tempting them to click your links. Sexy, right?

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“Handles, hooks, and hardware” – Well, I see handles, what are the hooks like? What kind of hardware? The handles in this picture are pretty, maybe there’s other things I need to see. Click. See how this can go?

Add Related Content

What else can you offer the reader that might interest them? Advice? A free e-book on the email’s subject? Subtly place a link to related content and you can bring in the clicks.

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Anthropologie added a small link for their related content – “wondering how to put this with that? shop by room”, but what an impact it could have on their potential customer!

All of this decor can be overwhelming for your average Jane trying to spruce up her abode, but clicking on this link could supply her with the inspiration to take her dwelling from drab to decoupage! Pretty brilliant.

Stay on Topic

It would be annoying if this email tried to “sneak” in a picture of one of the store’s new sweaters at the bottom. Even if the sweater was decorated with “leaves” – it still wouldn’t be conducive to the overall subject: new home decor. Placing additional products in the email would cheapen the company’s excitement for its new home products.  Remember to always stay on topic.

What are some tips you keep in mind while crafting copy for an email campaign?