Turning Complicated Subjects Into Useful Posts

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blank flowchart I have a confession. I am not a subject matter expert.

I’m not an engineer, developer evangelist (aka genius), programmer, or product manager, and the last time I used HTML was on my MySpace page 10 years ago. Not only that, but before coming to SendGrid, I had no idea what happened to an email after you hit the send button.

So, how do I take technical subject matter and create content about it that is interesting or useful to a technical audience? Below, I’ve outlined my process for overcoming obstacles and getting content out:

Step 1 – Admitting I’m not as smart as I think

It turns out, when you’re writing technical content for a technical audience, you can’t “fake it ‘til you make it.” Writing about something I know nothing about takes a bit more work than spouting off about something I do everyday.

Step 2 – Getting some background

When I get a writing assignment about a new subject, I go to Wikipedia, I search for the top sites, and I find blogs that have been written about it before. Once I have some context about what I’m supposed to write about, I start asking questions.

Step 3 – Talking to someone smarter than me

I work with a lot of email experts who are more than happy to talk to me, so I corner one and ask them approximately 10,000 questions. I ask them to explain things like they’re speaking to 5 year old. I ask them for the blogs and websites they visit. Above all, I listen, pay attention, and ask for clarification if I’m confused.

Step 4 – Writing too much

If I’m writing a 400-word post, my first draft was probably closer to 700. I write everything down. Whether it’s an unfinished paragraph or sentence, I get all my thoughts onto the page and then start pulling it together so it makes sense. I cut and paste to create a better flow, and when I think I’m about finished, I go back through and chop it down so my audience can read it.

Step 5 – Remembering my audience

Who is this for? Are my readers going to know a bit about this beforehand? Thinking about my audience allows me to remove extraneous portions of text. Even though I just learned about the ins and outs of the subject, my audience might know more about than me. I give readers credit and eliminate the things I think they already know.

Step 6 – Going back to the smart person

I’ve never written a more technical piece that was 100% accurate after those first four steps. However, I do enjoy learning and the feedback I get always makes my final piece better. I send my (almost) final draft to the expert I interrogated earlier and ask them to review my work. Most of the time, they find places that need more explanation (even if I eliminated that part in the previous step), or they find things that are incorrect, and they give me even more insight.

Step 7 – Keep learning

When I started writing at SendGrid, I had to look up what an SMTP service is. After a few months though, I’ve written about SMTP for our Email Library and I’ve let senders know about changes made to the Yahoo and AOL DMARC policies.

Being a technical or subject matter expert isn’t what’s important when writing. It’s creating useful content that’s helpful to the readers that’s really important.

Warren is a Marketing Copywriter at SendGrid, specializing in email and content best practices.

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