Writing for the Web (Part V): Know Your Subject

Posted by Ben Schultz on Jul 15, 2015 9:00:00 AM

Know your subject when writing for the web

Bluffing Hipster Blues

Some of you may remember the joke that Jimmy Kimmel played on Coachella attendees a couple of years ago. He had a camera crew ask these people about a bunch of bands that didn't exist. The interviewees pretended to know all about these groups and how awesome they were.

It's a really funny bit. In a way, though, it's also a little painful. Some of you may have tried bluffing your way through a conversion on some topic you didn't know anything about. I've done it myself, so it makes me wince to see those folks get caught doing it.

My point is this: If you try to write content for a website without understanding the subject at hand, you risk looking like those Coachella-goers. It's important that you have at least some idea of what you're talking/writing about.

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All the Pieces Matter

There's a scene in Season 5 of The Wire where a newspaper editor wakes up in the middle of the night. He gets out of bed and calls one of his colleagues because he's worried he screwed up some information in a story. He finds out he didn't and lets out a sigh of relief.

That scene resonates with a lot of journalists. At its core, journalism is all about communicating accurate information (on city politics, events around town, etc.) to others. Whether you mean to do it or not, getting something wrong can undermine trust between you and your audience.

You can see a similar dynamic at work when you write web content. If readers catch something incorrect in your copy, they won't trust you. If you're writing for a client, the readers won't trust the client either. This can lead to you not just losing one client but losing potential clients--and their business.

Research, Research, Research

Now, does this mean you need a DVM to write content for a veterinarian's website? No. It just means you need to know enough about your subject to write about it in a reasonably intelligent manner.

Do a Google search on your subject and take some time reading through the sites that show up in the results. If you're writing for clients, get as much detailed info from them as you can. You might even check out competitors' websites and see what they focus on in their copy.

Time spent learning more about your subject will pay off down the road. At the very least, you won't get caught lying about how much you love Obesity Epidemic (though I do think that's a pretty good band name).

Ben Schultz

Written by Ben Schultz

Ben joined the Tribute team in 2014. He holds a B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara. In addition to writing content for Tribute Media, he is a regular freelance contributor to *Boise Weekly’s* music section.

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