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Content writers share challenges with journalists, in that they have to get material from people who have spent years, sometimes decades working in a particular area inside of a project that may only have a week or two to complete. It’s not simple – even if it is at the core of content delivery. And with more and more firms focusing more resources on owned content for social media and direct distribution, hitting that right tone is more important than ever. 

At Cognito, we have the benefit of focusing exclusively on financial services and technology. This helps, but I have learned over the years that finance is a series of hundreds of specialities rather than the single corpus that can be memorized. And that’s fine – it’s the reason after more than a decade in the industry every day remains different. 

But this represents a challenge for myself and for those colleagues and friends in the industry who must not let the unfamiliar stand in the way of a good product. I’ve tried several different methods to familiarize myself with a concept. The end result isn’t a strict system but rather three approaches that sometimes are successful in drawing out your level of knowledge. 

I present them here if useful.  

Approach 1: Find the voice of your subject

Typically content writers are brought in because an expert either doesn’t feel comfortable with their written work or simply doesn’t have the time to present material. This can make it challenging to figure out how they would speak and translate that to the written word. I find an interview always helps, which usually should be recorded to pick out certain phrases in addition to gathered material. If this isn’t available, it’s sometimes possible to find speeches on Youtube or other industry sites to see how the person likes to talk in their own words. In a pinch even an email should give clues about their phrasing and way they describe the market. 

Approach 2: See how everyone else is speaking 

If you can’t figure out what level of knowledge your subject should have, look elsewhere. One article from another source what say much, but several pieces should help triangulate the appropriate level of information to present in a piece. A successful piece should be in dialogue with other pieces of presented material, even if it is not agreeing with it. Look at how much time is spent explaining a piece of regulation or how much specialized vocabulary is defined or spelled out. This is how your target audience is used to consuming information and the right response will also work in this meter. 

Approach 3: Throw stuff against the wall 

I sometimes find even very smart people can have trouble articulating how they want their piece of writing to be. But usually these are the same people who have no trouble providing feedback about what they don’t like. I, like everyone who writes for others, have had to develop a strong skin. It’s imperative that people are able to express what they don’t like about a piece. And typically people are about to express through the red pen what they were unable to do in a brief. I am not saying do not strive for perfect copy, but also understand that especially when given less than perfect information, it can be useful to revise. Build in additional time in the drafting process to make more changes and you’ll still deliver a sterling final result.

No one is a perfect ventriloquist when speaking in someone’s voice. But with the right routine it can get easier over time. That’s why the best content relationships are ones that last for years, where the writer and expert can grow together. It’s something that’s possible with the right way of writing for another. 

Jon Schubin is a director in the London office