I frequently hear digital marketers describe themselves as a “Jack of All Trades.” Heck, that’s how I describe myself. We know a little about some things and a lot about others. I know the most about writing, social media, and content development, a little about web design and SEO, and virtually nothing about graphic design. Cory, the founder of this fine company, is most experienced in website design and development, is a connoisseur of the pen tool, and rather adept at writing copy – but SEO is an area in which he’s still growing, personally (he’s always “had people” for that).
No matter how much we learn, there will always be some gaps in our knowledge – especially regarding our client’s expertise. It turns out that a degree in writing and public relations didn’t exactly teach me the engineering knowledge required to write a helpful technical design guide, but that’s our lot in life. Every day, we have to write and work with industries we know little to nothing about but still convey the expertise and knowledge of a professional.
Starting the Process
The ability to write effectively on a subject you don’t fully understand sets professional writers apart. You could be writing an SEO-optimized engineering guide, social posts, or copy for a client’s site – either way, the people reading your content are usually the true experts in the field.
Bridging Gaps Through Research
The first step to becoming an expert yourself is research. It’s the first step in SEO, and it’s the first one here because it’s vitally important that you have a good base from which to work. There are a large number of different research techniques to follow, but what’s important is that you get your feet wet. Get some real exposure to what you’ll be writing about and see where those holes are in your knowledge.
Recently, I was involved in a project writing a design guide for a plastics manufacturing company. I put my pen to paper to write down what I knew and drew a complete blank – no surprise. Sometimes, you start with nothing, and that’s okay. Start your search on the internet and type “Introduction to…” and get the brief intro to what you need. Keep searching the web and the other works of your client till you find the terms and phrases you don’t understand. I always find it helpful to read up on those until I can explain them back to front, but more importantly, in lay terms. You’ll know you have fundamental knowledge when you can explain a concept in multiple ways and answer questions without repeating the same answer over and over. Remember – just because you can use fancy jargon doesn’t mean you actually understand.
Once you have the basics down, you can move to understanding how your topic works in relation to others. I’ll take you back to my design guide now. After realizing I knew zero about plastics manufacturing, I started with the basics – what is this plastics manufacturing technique and its process? It turns out the manufacturing process brings us mannequins, garbage cans, and plastic paddle boards, among other things. From there, I learned how to manufacture parts, what sets each molding process apart, and how it’s changed over time. It felt good not to be such a novice.
Writing to Learn
Writing down everything I was learning helped a lot. It helped me to find the keywords I needed for SEO (cha-ching!) and helped me see what I really knew vs. areas that I was still lacking. By this point, I had several pages of notes, which were very detailed but had hardly any order – other than the natural progression of my research. Fortunately, when you have any information, you can craft a narrative. The human mind loves stories. We learn stories and remember, creating an organized progression we can understand.
Use the Experts to Judge Your Knowledge
Your own research is vital, but you should add even more to it by talking to your client and sharing your progress. After all, their success rides on how well you’ve written just as much as yours. Get your stakeholder’s stamp of approval or learn more from them when they feel like you’re “almost there, but not quite”. This will also put you in good graces with the client and stakeholders because it demonstrates how important their product is to you and helps solidify the SEO words and phrases with which they want to be associated.
It’s One More Arrow in Your Writing Quiver
By this point, you’ve written everything you know, found it accurate, and told a great story – making writing an SEO-optimized article, social post, or jargon-filled technical design guide much more straightforward. You may come across more information or terms you don’t understand, but with your newly gained base of knowledge, understanding how the new information fits in and integrating it into the content will be much easier.
The whole point is learning. We want to know as much as possible because it will open up even more opportunities for us. Expertise in a complex area in your resume or portfolio shows 1) That you’re talented, 2) You are ready to learn to produce the highest quality product for your client, and 3) That your expertise is broad. If you learn that, why can’t you learn this?