Writing foreign topics

For freelance writers, especially newbies, getting writing assignments and winning bids at freelance job boards can be quite a task. In fact, it is an uphill struggle most of the time to get enough to pay the bills, at least in the beginning.

So, for me, I usually put in a bid on as many projects as I possibly could. However, some of the topics are not something I am familiar with. So, what do I do? It is time to break out the research skills and lots of creativity!

Here are some of my tips on what to do when it comes to writing about things we are not familiar with:

1. Even before you put in a bid, do check out the details of the project and what is needed. Is it a long or short article? Or is it an ebook? A blog post? A press release? Then, look at the topics on hand. Is it something you have never written about before? Note all these down and work out how many words or how much facts are required. But why before bidding? Simple, it is so that you will know how much time you will need to put into it and be able to place a bid that covers the time you spent on it.

2. Armed with the initial requirements for the project, you conduct a simple research into it. Then you find out if :
a. it is a topic you could easily understand (not too technical and beyond your understanding that you find it hard to grasp the concept without reading an article about it three times)
b. it is something you could comfortably write about once you have the facts without having to struggle over the technical terms
c. it is something you could complete within the timeframe required with time to spare
d. it is something you could easily find the facts about

3. Once you feel that you will be able to complete the project, then submit your bid. If you win the bid, do bear in mind that you are in for a lot of research before actually starting on the project. However, you have already got your basics covered as you had already done the initial research before placing the bid. This time you will have to do thorough research on the topic. If it is something that relies on facts and figures, you better make darn sure you do your research well! This means really thorough. You can't just go to Wikipedia and extract the information from there.

3. Make full use of all three major search engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN. You can even go to Ask and About. If the topic is about local issues, check out the local media and look for local sites. It is important that you get as many references as possible and double and triple check all your facts to be sure that the facts are right. Sometimes, facts gathered from a site may differ from another site so it is best you check at least three or four other sites for more accuracy.

4. Use specific keywords and phrases in your searches. If the topic is about 'breeding of St Bernard dogs', then try searching for the whole phrase and from there search some more. Possibly, you could start with St Bernard and if it comes with too many unrelated sites, then try to narrow it down with more specific phrases such as St Bernard dogs or the whole phrase. Otherwise, you could also look up 'Pets' or 'Dogs' and from there you can search through pet sites and dog sites for more information on St Bernard. This exercise may take hours to do but the preparation is well worth it.

5. The writing starts. I could not really tell you how to start writing except to let your creative juices flow and use the facts as the skeleton of the project. It you are still stumped, do drop by for help at writers' forums or better still, go get some inspiration by reading articles by others. Get a feel of how others write it and perhaps you will somehow manage to get your article in motion. Now, please DO NOT do the unthinkable of copying and pasting! It is called plagiarism and your buyer may end up not paying you or worse, you could be sued for copyright infringement!

6. Double check the facts and compare you work with others on the internet. This is your own editing and proofreading process to ensure that your work is no less professional than others. You also do not want to sound too green about the topic even though it is your first time writing about it. So, the best way to see if your article is on par or not is to compare it with others.

7. Deliver it and offer one or two rewrites. Since you are new to the topic and despite much checking and cross referencing, your article may come out different from what the buyer wanted. So, do be professional about it as to offer free rewrite of up to twice but not more. I usually offer one rewrite.

8. When rewriting it is best to first ask the buyer specific questions as to what is really required so that the rewrite will be according to what the buyer wanted. You do not want to waste more time doing a second rewrite. Usually the buyer have no qualms answering whatever questions or uncertainties you may have. The golden rule here is, ask when you are not sure. It is better that you get the rewrite done correctly this way than trying to work it out on your own.

Of course we never aim to do rewrites as it would take up more of our time and at the same time create a really bad first impression on the buyer. But of course, most buyers are understanding and will not decide to drop you just because the article does not suit their taste. As long as the article is written articulately, presented in a format required by the buyer, is factually accurate and does not contain any grammatical mistakes, you are quite safe.

Again, these tips are gathered from my own personal experience so it may work for some people and not for others. Whichever it is, I do hope it helped! Happy writing.

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