Writing for others about the unfamiliar

“Write what you know.”

It may seem like good advice. Except when you’re writing for others on topics outside your comfort zone.

While this advice may work for some writers, as an article writer or ghostwriter for business blogs write what you know has limitations. Instead, you write about the unfamiliar.

Freelance writers like myself often take on writing projects outside our sphere of influence. We can’t be experts on every subject. So, writing for others requires well-developed research skills.

This means knowing where to look for information, but also how to judge it. You want to know:

  • Is it trustworthy?
  • Is it relevant?

Writing for others and research

Collins English Dictionary regards research as a “systematic investigation to establish facts.”

A writer collects facts from trusted sources. While it seems easy to  jump on the ‘net and type in a couple of search terms, the results may not be reliable.

Keyboard with search button
Some search results are unreliable.  Source: CCO Creative Commons niekverlaan | Pixabay

Reliable sources include verifiable information from:

  • The client.
  • Books (authored, edited and published by industry experts).
  • Research papers.
  • Online tutorials conducted by tertiary institutions.
  • Peer-reviewed journals.
  • Industry journals.
  • Industry experts and associations.
  • Customers.
  • Suppliers.

The client as data

At the start of a new writing project query the client. After all, they are the experts in their field.

After receiving a scope of works, I Skype with my clients. We discuss the aim of the article, background and resources. I might ask questions like:

  • What’s the topic?
  • What area on the topic do they want you to cover?
  • How do they do it differently from their competitors?

I also put myself in the reader’s shoes. What sort of things does the reader / customer want to know?

Your client is a rich data source. No one understands their products and services better than them.

Always read through the material a client provides. This includes links to suppliers to verify and discover new information. Review the data on a client’s:

  • Website.
  • Blog posts.
  • Articles.
  • Press releases.
  • Shop.
  • Social media presence.

But don’t rely on this data as your only source of information. Use it to check facts from other reliable sources. How does it compare?

Books & Research Papers

You may need to source industry, cultural and historical information from books. Seek out books written by industry experts and with exceptional reviews. If you’re not sure of the author’s reputation, verify their background.

Writing for others about the unfamiliar, may involve searching for information in a library
Research data sourced through a library.  Source: CCO Creative Commons Stock Snap | Pixabay

Research papers are another valuable source for data. Like books, you need to verify the claims and validity of the content. Is it reliable? Do other industry experts verify it?

Online Tutorials

Online tutorials prepared by registered educators (such as universities) promises a rich source of information. As with books and research papers, information gathered from online tutorials should be verifiable and reliable.

Never accept opinion as fact.  Know:

  • Who is saying it?
  • What’s their reputation?
  • Why are they saying it?
  • When did they say it?

Peer Reviewed Papers

Peer-reviewed papers go through a rigorous validation process before publication. Experts assess the research and data against strict requirements, while the paper must also conform to publication standards.

You may find it challenging to discover peer-reviewed papers online without a university membership. But you can find some papers with a free JSTOR membership or directly source them from their publisher.

Good data sources include:

  • PLOS One.
  • Journal of Communication.
  • Art Journal of the National Gallery of Victoria.
  • Industry Journals, Experts & Associations.

While peer-reviewed papers offer an acceptable measure of quality for a university paper, readers don’t hold online blog articles up to the same standards. But that doesn’t mean you should write waffle.

When writing for others, read industry journals, listen to experts on the subject and source reliable information from industry associations.

Customers & Suppliers

Customers and suppliers are also give a rich source of information for your writing. While access to both maybe limited, you can:

  • Review your client’s social media activity for customer feedback.
  • Read customer reviews on your client’s website.
  • Search supplier’s websites for manuals and product information.

Alternatively, with your client’s permission, customer surveys and interviews also provide rich information for blog articles.

What about Wikipedia as a source?

Wikipedia is a collaboration of writers who write about the unfamiliar. That’s one of the reasons Wikipedia requires referenced facts. It doesn’t focus on whether the writer is an expert on the topic. It cares about verifiable information from other sources.

Wikipedia on a mobile in front of book shelves
Wikipedia may not always be reliable. Source: CCO Creative Commons geralt | Pixabay

However, information on Wikipedia is often immediately accessible, whether it’s referenced correctly, factual or not.

If you use Wikipedia or similar websites to gather data for your online writing, look up any notes and references to check facts. Information published online doesn’t always reflect the original source.

How to use references in a blog article

Universities expect students to reference articles. It’s a little different when writing a business blog article. However, while you don’t need to reference general information, providing links to factual sources adds credibility.

Furthermore, including quality links in an article also adds value to the search engine optimization (SEO) of a page. You should avoid linking to a page with the same keywords as your article. It can hurt your article’s SEO.

Rather than using a formal referencing style in blog articles, I recommend using a journalistic writing style to reference factual sources.

Writing for others

When writing for others online, there’s an expectation the information you produce is factual. Most of all, facts should be:

  • Verifiable.
  • Reliable.
  • Relevant.

Start your research by confirming your client’s needs and purpose. Use the information your client provides. Then follow the data trails to reputable sources.

Person planning with research pinned to a noteboard.
Collect your research data, then plan how to use it.  Source: CCO Creative Commons Pexels|Pixabay

Once you’ve collected the data, your next step is to plan your writing. You might use an article template or your own unique writing process to structure your article.

If you do your research first, you will have plenty of data to produce an original, trustworthy article.

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