Three tips on how to work with subject experts and avoid content by committee

How often have you written something for your company or organisation’s website, only to have to go through round after round of revisions until your carefully crafted copy reads about as clearly as a Donald Trump speech?

It’s a common problem. Subject matter experts – by their very nature – are the experts on the subject you need to create copy about. However, that doesn’t mean they understand what makes good website copy.

So you find yourself in a tricky situation, trying to get the expert knowledge that you need from them, while making sure your writing functions as a great piece of copy for the website. Tricky right? Well, follow these three tips as a starting point to help avoid creating content by committee.

1. Draw clear lines in the sand early on

It’s a partnership, not a dictatorship! Often in organisations, subject experts believe they have full jurisdiction over the website content as well. It’s best to nip this in the bud early on. Explain that you will take what they have written and from that craft some clear, engaging copy that functions well for the website. But reassure them too! They can review what you’ve created and check that all the facts and meaning have been retained.

2. Explain why writing content for a website is different from other mediums

Many experts in their field will have come from two ‘schools of writing’ – the academic path (lofty and inaccessible), or the business path (blustering and often completely nonsensical). Neither works well for a website, but often we forget to explain why. People need to understand that just like a news story and magazine feature involve different skills and use different writing techniques, so does website copy. It is created for a purpose (for the audience, NOT the subject matter expert creating it!) and in order to perform well it needs to follow certain basic rules. As soon as you see people’s eye’s glaze over when you start discussing SEO, you usually know that they’ve realised it’s not as simple as it seems…

3. Be polite and helpful!

Have you ever received heavy-handed feedback or criticism about your work? Maybe you’ve spent a week working late every night writing a great business report, only to have your manager shout at you over a typo? Sucks doesn’t it. So use your common sense. Of course you should own your area of expertise and give people feedback on their work, but just be nice about it! Explain to them why it would be better in a different format, or how you’ve amended it to be better for SEO. In my experience, people are open to new ways of working as long as they understand why.

And there you have it. Three simple tips that can save you a whole world of pain next time you’re working with stakeholders to create content for your website.

If you have any tips of your own or questions about anything mentioned in this blog, please leave a comment below.

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