Home > Write What You Don’t Know: A How-To Guide

Write What You Don’t Know: A How-To Guide

2668339622_72f0c52fd8In the past, I’ve advised you to “write what you know“. It’s certainly great advice and I stand by what I’ve said but at some point, you may find that your writing ambition stretches beyond what you know to a subject that you’re not completely familiar with. Researching, expanding your knowledge and then disseminating that new knowledge through the written word can be an empowering exercise for writers.

Today I’m going to share a few simple tips for lensmasters interested in pushing beyond the boundaries of their existing knowledge.

1. Collect, organize and absorb your information

Once you’ve chosen your subject, it’s time to start learning. You’re trying to fill in the gaps between what you already know about your subject, so start with what you DO know. Consult multiple sources as you search for information. Never trust just one source to be accurate. Any claims or facts you will share in your lens should be backed up by multiple sources. If you can independently verify something, do! For example, if you’re writing a lens about substitutions for baking, try them yourself and tell your readers which ones worked best for you.

Never take anything at face value, no matter how “reliable” the source. Always verify that the information you’re seeking out during your learning phase is as correct as possible before sharing it with others.

Organize your information in one central place for easy access during the writing process. You can try bookmarks, “clipping” with Evernote or Pocket or copy/pasting into a blank text document.

Before you begin to write, absorb your information through careful, analytical reads (and re-reads!). Look for contradictions between your sources and find ways to resolve these conflicts lest you share inaccurate or confusing information.

2. Be frank about your background

Early on in your lens, inform readers of where you stood in relation to your subject at the beginning of your writing. It’s important to be yourself –  show your personal journey as a writer by weaving your own story of discovery in with the content. Readers want more than just information on the topic at hand – they also want to be able to engage with the person sharing that content. The best way to allow this to happen is by consciously providing glimpses of what type of writer you were then, are now and want to become in the future.

3. Show your work

As you share more information, tell readers about your beliefs, background and knowledge. What were your pre-conceptions about your topic before you started writing? What do you know now that you were ignorant of? How have you been changed through the research you’ve done? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

Strive to come across in the work as yourself – both pre-research and as the present day, more informed self that’s writing for your reader.

4. Provide resources for continuing education

The research and information gathering you did at the beginning of this process isn’t just for your own benefit. Always share these resources with your readers through links to outside sites, relevant names and dates, books, magazines and whatever other resources you consulted when expanding your knowledge. You can also take this opportunity to engage with your readers by offering comments, criticisms and observations on the quality, scope and accessibility of the information available through the various resources you’re providing. Tell your readers what you liked and disliked about each resource, share what learning styles you prefer and tell them what they can expect to find in each place.


There you have it – 4 easy steps for writing what you don’t know. I hope they’ve cleared up some of the mystery and made this type of writing less intimidating. I hope these strategies help you improve your range as a writer and empower you do to write with greater clarity and insight. I will leave you with this one thought that’s at the core of all these tips.

You can’t write what you don’t know – but you can write what you’ve learned.

Photo Credit: mpclemens via Compfight cc

  • flora-crew

    That’s a great point! I am a lifetime learner, and only beginning to learn about a lot of things. Thanks for the tips!

  • Colin323

    Yes, excellent last point, Tom. And the writing reinforces the learning.

    • Tom Maybrier

      Very true. The act of writing what we’ve learned helps us retain and understand the information more fully.

  • 2enjoylife8

    Writing is discovering! What a wonderful way to be involved in a learning community and each contributing to the knowledge of others. After all who does know it all? ;)

    • getmoreinfo

      Yes I think when we become writers we are in a constant learning phase.

  • tonyleather

    I write what I don’t know all the time! If I didn’t, how could I refer to it as creative writing?

    • Tom Maybrier

      Never thought of it that way!

    • angsiuta2

      Yeah, Well said! I also love to write on what I don’t know, that makes me even more creative every time. :)

  • kiwinana71

    Thanks. I like the quote above, I do it all the time, as I am learning something new everyday even in my old age. Even things I have known for many years are totally different these days. Squidoo has helped me learn far more in the last couple of years, so many great writers, that are teaching me all the time the right way in the 21 century and I love reading their lens.

    • angemari

      I completely agree with kiwinana71.”Things I have known for many years are totally different these days”

  • drbilltellsexcitingstories

    Excellent recommendations. Learn something new every day. Write about it. ;-)

  • RenaissanceWoman2010

    I especially like tip #3. I love it when a writer gives me an assessment of what they would have done differently. If a post is all about what went perfectly right, I think it fails to tell the whole story. It’s more interesting to read about the reality of learn and adjust.

  • esmonaco

    I learn more everyday, and everytime I read anythink form the squidoo community. When I found Squidoo I wasn’t sure that I wanted to even try. After reading many lenses and pulling from my own knowledge I have just published my 48th lens. Thanks for the continuing advsie.

  • grammieo

    Great points, at sometime we all did not know what we know today!

  • ruthiedenise

    I am hoping to learn how to do research and do it a more organized analytical way.

  • luggnutz13

    And so it goes…Nice point sir. I feel like I have to tell someone about the lessons I have learned… And finding the medium to do so (squidoo for example) is a learning process in and of itself. Great encouragement!

  • escortsindelhincr


  • Reaching_Apex

    Great idea for newbies like me to help practice our writing skills. Awesome!

  • thisismelrose

    Great post! I write ebooks for Kindle, and with mild success, and they’re on topics I usually know little about – but the cool thing is that I can research it and still provide good information as well as teaching myself.

  • Papiers

    Nice way to put this, decide what you want to learn, what you know, and the steps you take to get there. That nicely rounds out your prior guidance to write about what you “know.”

  • Donna Barrett

    Gives me the incentive to learn something new everyday. Thanks for the great advice!

  • ProjectResolute

    I certainly love to learn, it’s one of the many reasons I love to read and write online!

  • Steve Burgess

    about what you don’t know will not only help you in learning the topic, but also masters you on that topic while researching on the subject matter. It all depends upon the level of understanding and learning difficulty of the product and about the end-user whose knowledge-level you need to increase through your product guide.

  • manlalakbay

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I love it! :)

  • colibry18

    Good advice! I will certainly try this! Thanks!

  • Carlsvegas

    Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!

  • poemsthatdance

    Thanks for sharing these tips, particularly the one about being frank about your background. Writing about a topic as one learns empowers their readers to believe that they can do it too.

  • christian-reese-5209

    Great article. I’ve been writing for some time and really needed to read something like this.

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