Mastery of your subject matter is a basic requirement for clear writing. Weak writing and resulting reader disinterest will usually result from lack of subject matter preparation.
A two step process is involved here – acquiring knowledge of the subject, and expressing that knowledge clearly. But how well you perform the second step depends to a large extent on how well you have accomplished the first. You can’t write about a subject that you know little or nothing about, whether you are trying to educate the reader, advocate a position, or persuade the reader to your way of thinking.
Following the steps below will go a long way to satisfy your reader that you are knowledgeable about your subject.
Research Your Subject Thoroughly
In the first place, if you are writing about a subject you are not familiar with, research it thoroughly. This is where doing your due diligence really pays off. Take time to acquire enough background information to satisfy yourself that you can write clearly and with authority about your subject. This will pay enormous dividends for you. Otherwise, there is a serious likelihood the reader will simply conclude you don’t know what you’re talking about.
If possible, find someone to review your writing with you. One of the biggest challenges I faced as an attorney was to read enough cases on the issue being briefed to be able to intelligently answer any later question. After writing a preliminary draft, I would review it with someone else in the office and then make appropriate revisions. The litmus test of course was answering questions raised by the judge in court and responding to arguments made by the opposition. Thorough preparation before going to court was always the key.
As a writer you may not have the “luxury” of responding to questions raised by a judge and by the opposing attorney as a means of testing your preparation. You must therefore try to anticipate questions the reader may have and then answer them in your writing.
Use Effective Research Techniques
The creation of great content flows directly from effective research techniques. These typically include at least the following goals:
Understanding what you have read.
Looking for main ideas and supporting details.
Organizing your notes in logical sequence.
Avoiding the tiresome task of excessive note taking by summarizing as necessary.
Don’t get lost in the forest of too many words by extensively rewriting what you have read.
Make optimum use of your time in doing research. If you’re under a writing deadline, consider budgeting your research time to make sure you do not spend too much time in any one area and run out of time in another. Otherwise, some part of your writing may suffer.
Write With Authority on Your Subject
Once you have researched your subject and know it thoroughly, you must still write about it authoritatively. But it is useless to try to say anything unless you have something worthwhile to say. Robert W. Bly, a well respected and successful copywriter sums it up aptly: “[You] must have something to write about.” (See: How To Write And Sell Simple Information For Fun and Profit, Robert W. Bly, p.29, Linden Publishing, 2010). Bly’s talking about the content of your writing, i.e., to write well you need great content in your writing.
While Bly is absolutely right, there’s a fine line to be drawn between what he describes as the acquisition of information, knowledge, and wisdom – a three tiered hierarchy with wisdom at the top. That’s one approach. Another is to combine all three levels and just call it expertise. But the point is, you really can’t write with conviction on any subject unless you’re an expert on it. However you may describe the content of your writing, whether based on information, knowledge, wisdom, or expertise, your writing will suffer significantly if the reader doesn’t see it. Following the guidelines and techniques in my book, The Art of Clear Writing, available at amazon.com/kindlebooks and in print at CreateSpace.com, should go a long way toward improving your ability to express yourself with authority.
Copyright © 2012. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.