There are two kinds of writers.

First one says, “I’m not a subject matter expert, I’m only a writer. You tell me what to write, I’ll write.”

The second one says, “I’ll write what I understand and can teach others. I might not be the subject matter expert, but I know I am the translator of this message, and my understanding is critical here.”

Guess which kind of writer is the better one?

Writing is a pursuit of knowledge. Health journalists are responsible for the words they write — the accuracy and the clarity of it. Crime novelists are responsible for making sure that their murderer’s MO is actually plausible. Male writers are responsible for looking past women’s breasts.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to understand what you’re writing about. And be able to defend it. Yes, that’s what I said. You need to be able to defend your work. Things like, “that’s what the client said, I don’t know what it means, so I used it as it is” is lazy work. Hold yourself to a higher standard than that!

Here’s how I know that the writer doesn’t understand something or is not confident of her understanding:

Sentences get longer. Voice is unbearably passive. And the words mean nought. One would write, “the most important part of today’s careers is that it is entirely data-driven, in that every part of it is driven by data”. So, if you read a sentence and it sounds like bullshit, you know you didn’t understand.

Circular logic! This is so common among writers that you’d think writers are prone to circular logic. See what I did there?

Unnecessary repetition. If you’re saying the same thing over and over, without adding anything new the next time, you’re confused.

Creative obfuscation. One would write, ever so eloquently, “The world of data science is sometimes seen as unnavigable by those who come from milieus that haven’t fostered an acquaintance with the cardinal integer, which isn’t to say it’s unachievable as much as uncomfortable as the hard seas.” In essence, it’s saying, “If you don’t have a maths background, you might find data science hard.”

Listen, dear writer, stop dancing around the problem. Understand the subject matter you’re writing about — read books, watch videos, speak to people, do a little work yourself. And write from a place of confidence. 

Don’t bullshit the reader, they’re giving you their time, you better make good use of it.