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 Duff
Warren is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at SendGrid, specializing in email and content best practices, he develops many of the new guides you see SendGrid release as well as other pieces of content, including blogs, videos, case studies, and emails.