In my first job out of college, an agency hired me to write content for companies that sell medical and scientific equipment. As I tried to write product descriptions and blog articles on ultrasound machines and centrifuges, I felt the imposter syndrome coming in. I didn't even know a single thing about how these equipment work, let alone sound like an expert giving tips and advice to researchers and medical professionals.
However, if you're in the world of content marketing, businesses will expect you to churn out everything from pop culture listicles to thought leadership blogs, from tourist recommendations to in-depth software reviews. It almost doesn't matter if you are an actual expert on the topic all they want is for someone to speak for them and appeal to their audience or customers.
So how can you project authority when you don't actually have expertise on the topic at hand? Here are a few writing tips that may help.
Research is, of course, an important step when writing just about any topic, but even more so when writing about something you are not an expert on.
The internet is the obvious place to start. Find news articles, journals, studies, and other reliable secondary sources of information. This is critical: if you are not an expert on a topic, you should avoid citing Wikipedia and unknown websites like the plague. You may use the links to the actual sources on these pages, but make sure you do your due diligence by actually reading the linked material.
If you're in need of books or journals, try using Google Books and Google Scholar to get resources that would otherwise be impossible to access immediately.
You may not be an expert, but you need to be an expert at fact-checking. To ensure that your article cannot be faulted for inaccuracies, cross-check your information against other sources. Also make sure that the facts and opinions you state are clearly communicated as such.
There are many useful tools for fact-checking like Snopes, but even just a quick Google search of a quote or statistic may already be helpful. If there isn't any other source of your information on the search results, take that as a red flag for fake news.
To add value and credibility to your article, you need to include quotations from actual experts, researchers, and specialists on the topic you are covering.
The best way to go about this is to contact and interview experts personally (primary sources will always top secondary ones). It might feel overwhelming or intimidating to do this. However, consider that being a non-expert is a great place to interview from because then experts will try to simplify the information so that it's easier for you (and eventually your readers) to understand.If you are unable to get personal interviews, then quote the experts' findings or insights by citing their studies or articles.
An excellent way to go about writing on a topic you're not an expert on is to 'learn out loud'. Learning out loud is documenting your journey as you learn something new and in the process teach any readers who may also want to learn about it.
There are a number of topics that you can learn-out-loud, such as learning how to cook, growing microgreens, starting a small business, or even going on a new diet. You simply treat the learning experience as an experiment or immersion where you get to ask the questions, find answers, and provide firsthand insight. Be comfortable to discuss the challenges you experience and how you try to overcome them — your readers will appreciate your honesty and even benefit from it.
In his book The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris talks about how if you read even just three books on a topic, then you'll already know more about that topic than most people. This tells us that you don't even need to be an expert to discuss anything. Simply put in the time to research and learn about the topic you need to cover, then you can most definitely, expertly write a piece about it as a non-expert.
Nicole Mendoza is a freelance writer and work-at-home mom running on sugar and caffeine. She's been trying to avoid the writer life for nearly 20 years now but still somehow ends up writing anyway.