How to Write About Unfamiliar Subjects


At ProEdit, one of the most common questions we receive from prospective clients is how our writing team can tackle topics we know little to nothing about. To add to the challenge, the content we create must sound as though it came from an expert.

Unfamiliar subjects don’t need to stifle good writing. While we might lack prior experience with the clients’ products and procedures, we’ve mastered the art of coming up to speed on new projects. It all starts with primary research.

Gathering Information

Starting a new project begins with a kickoff call. Subject matter experts (SMEs) explain the project, which gives writers the opportunity to ask questions and gain important details. This is also when writers collect any written reference material. 

When approaching an unfamiliar topic, writers read… a lot. Learning and researching the subject matter develops the foundational knowledge needed to get a complete picture of the project. In addition to client-supplied materials, writers use a variety of search terms to find the right mix of references to meet the project’s parameters. 

Depending on the project scope, writers may visit client locations to experience and capture unwritten procedures. In addition, some on-site contractors may shadow cross-functional teams to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. 

Making Connections

Once a writer has gathered sources to research the topic, it’s time to make note of common points and terms. Writers must be able to figure out what language is repeated, important vocabulary terms, and consistent conclusions made about the topic. This is what frames the writing process. 

Once writers complete preliminary research, it’s time to identify what points are most important based on the intended audience. A diverse team of writers has experience developing content across industries and disciplines. Writing to diverse groups is a learned skill. As a result, experienced writers can adapt their approach to clients’ intended audiences. 

Writing about unfamiliar topics is not simply regurgitating someone else’s words. An effective writer can present common information in new and interesting ways by adding to the conversation—not repeating it.

Confirming Details Along the Way

Writers confirm details about unfamiliar subjects throughout the project. This is often achieved through reliable resources, but not every question can be answered with an internet search. In some cases, writers must reach out to the SMEs for clarification. Whenever possible, writers batch their questions for the SME to streamline communication. 

Writers use several strategies depending on urgency and importance. For instance, writers may leave comments in a document, ask questions during scheduled weekly meetings, or contact SMEs directly.

There’s another important way to confirm project details. Project managers often organize revision cycles to allow clients to review intermediate drafts. It works like this:

  1. Writers and editors prepare a draft and send it to clients.
  2. Clients and SMEs then review the draft and offer feedback.
  3. Writers integrate feedback before completing the final version.

This approach allows clients to verify the scope and details of the writer’s work at key stages of the project. Asking questions and exchanging revisions are proven ways for writers to develop unfamiliar subjects into accurate, compelling content. 

Going Deeper

Some projects require deeper knowledge, experience, or daily access to SMEs. In these cases, recruiters can find talented professionals to join your team on a permanent or contract basis. ProEdit specializes in business communication staffing for writers, editors, instructional designers, and related fields. We can help you organize a project plan using whatever resources you have, and our team of experienced writers can become familiar enough with the topic to sound like an expert.