Trust, But Verify: How to Write With Authority

You’ve worked for years, building expertise and finding the confidence to start talking about your work. Yet here you sit, with a new blog and a blank page, scared that people won’t take your word for it. 

Will people show up and read? Will they poke holes in your arguments, and say you’ve got it all wrong?

“How do you know?,” they’ll ask.

It’s the terror of knowing what you’re writing about, while also knowing that others might not believe you.

So don’t go at it alone. Ask others. Get their opinions, work them into your writing, and lean on their expertise.

“All informational journalism quotes experts and stakeholders,” writes Katherine Schulten, editor-in-chief of the New York Times Learning Network. “That’s the journalist’s job—to gather information from a range of sources so that the resulting article is authoritative and balanced.” 

It’s your job as well when you’re writing non-fiction content for your blog. Don’t go at it alone without quotes.

Get others in your corner. Ask experts and quote them. Then you’ll have something to fall back on, a way to say “Perhaps, but here’s my research trail.”

Start in the Library

The easiest way is to start with what others have already said. Books, blog posts, podcast interviews, anything where experts are quoted. It’s the same game you played in school, finding facts in textbooks to write into essays. Only this time, it’s your credibility and business success on the line.

You can Google and find quite a lot, but to dig deeper, try:

  • Google Books Search, where you can search the full text of most published books and a wide range of journals and magazines. Even if you can’t read the full book, you can often get enough to pull a quote. For historic quotes (say, a quote about the first version of Microsoft Excel), click the Tools button and add a date range to your search.
  • Internet Archive, with both older versions of websites (to look back and, say, see what a website you’re writing about had on its landing page a decade ago) and scanned copies of books you can borrow and read online.
  • A real library, or your own. For all the wealth of information online, the most definitive writing still often lives in print. If it’s new enough, it might not show up in Google Books search yet. Your best bet is to be well-read, buying or borrowing books about your topic, and highlighting as you read.

Ask for Help

You’ve got the core idea, along with some early quotes. Now, it’s time to enlist the experts. It’s more work than the book research—but comes with a higher payoff.

It starts with a bit more research. Check for quotes you found online, and if you have any follow-up questions that’d fit your article. Then, look for other experts—people they quoted, experts in that field, people you may have worked with in the past who you think would have good input on this topic. List their names and emails or social info, then reach out.

Don’t ask for too much. Just tell them briefly what you’re writing about, and ask a couple questions that’ll help your piece.

Expect one out of ten to respond, perhaps a bit more. And that’s fine—even a couple sources can go a long way toward establishing your article’s credibility. Plus, you’ll earn an instant fan for your writing if you frame their answer well in your finished piece.

Pull in Statistics

You’ve got the story and quotes. All that’s left is some cold, hard data to flesh out your story.

It can be the obvious things, the number of people in the US who work in the industry you’re writing about, or the stock price of a company on the day you’re publishing. Or it can be tiny bits of detail that add color to your writing, like the weather in the location you’re writing about at the time the event you’re covering took place.

Google’s your obvious companion here, as are more fact-driven search tools like WolframAlpha (which powers many of Siri’s responses) and PrimoStats (which helps you quickly find industry-focused stats).

Then, with everything in hand, it’s time to write.

Bring It All Together

What matters most is the idea you’re writing about, the story you want to tell or the lesson you want to teach. Quotes and data points are part of that story, but not the whole picture.

So now it’s time to tie everything together, in your own words. Don’t just copy the quotes entirely. Use them to help craft your narrative, to build a story around the things you’ve learned from them and others.

In the New York Times’ style for quote-driven pieces, you’d start with a tip from an expert, follow up with background details and clarifications in the body, and close that section or piece with a particularly memorable quote. That puts the expert front and center, leaving you to relate the story and connect the dots.

That’s not the only way, though. You could also put several quotes together to show multiple perspectives, or use details from a quote in the intro of a story only to return to the full quote later on.

Along the way, you might end up with more quotes than you know what to do with. 

Perfect. Now you have the launchpad for your next articles, pieces in what The Good Place producer Mike Schur calls “the candy bag.” They’re research you’ve already invested the time to gather; next time, all you have to do is write.

It Takes a Community

With your completed post in hand, it’s time to spread the word. Typically, that means sharing it with your email newsletter list and posting it on your social profiles. But this time, you’ve got an ace card: Quotes.

One of the easiest shortcuts to distributing your articles is by quoting people. Promote someone else’s story, and they’ll likely share it. Quote them in your tweet, and they’re more likely to retweet.

So when you publish your article, email everyone you quoted—even those you mentioned from their blog posts or print books—and let them know you featured their thoughts in your article. 

When you tweet your article, tweet the actual quotes and tag their author directly. Odds are, the quotes are worth sharing anyhow—and you’ve got a chance the person you quoted will share the article as well.

Ready for Your Next Piece

Then back at it, you’ll write your next article with the bits you cut from your first essay. This time, you’ll already have the authority of the piece you’ve published before. Slowly but surely, you’ll build your confidence and credibility until you’re the one the new bloggers are quoting.

About the Author

Matthew Guay is the co-founder of Reproof, a new collaborative writing platform. Find him on Twitter @maguay.