When The Reader Is The Expert:
4 Tips For Writing About The Unfamiliar
August 17, 2018
Tender, juicy and flavorful. Custom cuts. Thigh meat. Bone-in or boneless. I was recently tasked with writing about products for a meat supplier. I wrote about filets and flavors with language implying in-depth and first-hand knowledge of Western culture’s favorite protein. I love writing and I loved writing this. I ate it up, so to speak. And I’ve been a vegetarian since 1997. Copywriters often need to find a balance between feigning expertise and simply doing the right research. I didn’t have to sample each of these carnivorous delights to complete the task, just as I haven’t needed to learn how to haul a trailer to write about the trucking community. “Write what you know” is excellent advice and a commonly misunderstood phrase. It’s certainly a great place to begin writing but it can become an excuse to insert oneself into the narrative. A piece of advice I was once given is to remember that Memoirs of a Geisha, a popular novel about a geisha in WWII-era Japan, was written by a Jewish man from Tennessee. Research is vital. But so are emotions. There’s a chasm of difference between a traditional classified ad in a newspaper and crafting a story around your CTA. Author Nathan Englander says that writing what you know is about emotions. Do you know what it means to have a passion? To care deeply about a cause, a community, and yes, even a product? Then you have it in you to write compelling ad copy. Below are 4 tips for writing about subject matter outside of one’s own personal scope or experience: Research and research again. To compel the reader to take an action when you’re unfamiliar with the subject, read what you can. Challenge what you read and follow up on those challenges. Ask questions. The answer is often hiding in the research. Don’t let ignorance keep you from writing skilled content. Listen to your audience. Say you’re writing blog content directed toward a niche community or fanbase. Start by asking the obvious (i.e. where do they live?). Then listen closely to them: What are their values? What is the vernacular? Use the right tone. If you write about auto repair using the correct terms but sound like someone who’s never set foot in a garage, you’ve missed the mark. Worse, you may have pushed the reader away for good because you’ve lost their trust. Give them cause to trust you and they’re more likely to trust the content. Tap into a common emotion. Details are necessary to support your cause (correct terminology, up-to-date statistics, etc.), but details are not necessarily what makes content compelling. I don’t personally know what it’s like to be on a search for the best poultry products in the Midwest, but I do know what it’s like to be frustrated with trying to track down the right products to provide your customers. I want to help this audience by showing them that I have the answer they are looking for. Remember to forget. It’s easy to take your own experience too far and insert yourself into a narrative. It’s only human. One of my personal challenges in writing is that I tend to essentially write to myself. Sometimes writing this way works, but ask yourself if you are in the target audience. If not, remember to forget yourself a bit. Bon appétit.