I'm Matthew Setter. I'm a security researcher, privacy advocate, and a software engineer. I’ve been developing software since 2000. This blog is focused on helping you write more secure software and protect your online privacy.
3 Tips to be Expert Enoughwriting May 23rd, 2016
If you’re a writer or, actually, any professional, you’ll have had doubts about your abilities, about your level of knowledge, about your level of expertise — perhaps on a regular basis. It needn’t be this way.
You’ll likely ask yourself whether you know enough to be doing the job you’re doing, to be writing on a particular topic for a client.
These kinds of thoughts, self-doubt, and questions will often plague you — for some even daily. They’ll manifest themselves in the reluctance or inability to even begin writing.
You’ll find excuses for doing anything else but that which you should. You’ll make excuses for why it’s hard to start. You’ll make excuses for why it’s hard to finish.
You’ll make excuses for why it’s hard to submit a piece which you spent countless, likely unnecessary, extra hours writing, editing, polishing, and reviewing.
All this, despite the fact that you’re likely just as good, just as much of an expert as you need to be. If left unchecked, this will prevent you from being a true professional.
But are these concerns even necessary? Ask yourself for a moment: Am I expecting myself to know too much? Would I hold anyone else to that standard? Why are you expecting to be that good? Does it matter? Do you need to be that good?
Then consider the following questions: Who are you writing for? What level of expertise do they likely have? Do you have more expertise than they do? Do you know enough to share, enough which will help others improve?
What I mean by that, is that so long as we know just that bit more than the reader, that’s likely enough. We’re still able to help people improve. We’re still able to help people grow. We’re still able to help them learn.
Over time, we may become one of the acknowledged experts in one of our passion fields. But we don’t always need to be that. What’s more, we can’t be that right from the start.
No one can!
So if you’re suffering from this sense of guilt, doubt, then today I’m going to give you three tips to get past it. Let’s start with number one.
1. Give Yourself Enough Credit for What You Already Know
Did you study something at university (and I don’t mean to a Masters or Ph.D. level)? Have you spent countless hours analysing, researching, studying, or being involved in a given pursuit?
Are you actively involved in a community, say on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly basis? Do you provide feedback and critique of a given topic, or are you a sounding board to others with a specific subject?
If so, then you likely know more — far more — than you give yourself credit for. If you can identify with any of the questions above, the more, the better, then grab a pen and paper and brainstorm what you’ve learned, been involved in, are most passionate about, or do on a regular basis.
After about 20 minutes, have a look back at your list and put it in order of most to least knowledge. When you’re then finished, take a look at the groups your involved in, or online communities, and consider the questions which are regularly asked.
Are they questions you can readily answer, or if you gave yourself about 20 - 30 mins, could answer? If so, I’d suggest that you do know far more than you give yourself credit for.
If You Don't Know the Topic Well Enough - Learn It
Now for number two; the ability to learn. This is something which I find myself having to do on a regular basis. I know a lot about software design and development; whether that’s writing code, testing it, deploying it and so on.
But there are lots of topics that I don’t know either in depth enough or to a level of detail which, perhaps, I should. Additionally, while I’m proficient in a few software languages, there are far more languages out there than I’ll ever have time in my life to learn.
I don’t have to be someone who can rattle off the key points and discuss them in nuanced detail at a moment’s notice. But I do have to have:
- Enough knowledge and practical experience in related areas to draw upon
- The wherewithal to know where to look, how to research
- The diligence and commitment to spend the time to invest in learning that which I don’t know
- The ability to write an intelligent, well structured, well thought out, (and let’s not forget, technically accurate) piece
Sometimes we expect that we should somehow “just know.” And that if we don’t, that we’re “not qualified”. That’s all BS! If you don’t know a topic well enough — learn it.
There are these amazing tools called the Internet and Google. There are these things called books. There are these tools called online forums, chat groups, IRC, and friends.
There’s an old saying which goes:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
It’s pretty good advice; advice well worth remembering — and applying.
If You Aren't Expert Enough - Admit It
But what if you don’t know a topic well enough. What if, to attempt to talk about it, to write about it, you’d genuinely be well out of your depth?
Richard Branson often says:
Bite off more than you can chew, then chew like hell
There’s a time and a place for that. But there’s also a time and a place for knowing when to walk away; for knowing when you’re not knowledgeable enough. And that it’s ok, even professional to do so.
There are times when you just don’t know enough, or that to become knowledgeable enough, will take too much time. You have to know the difference, and you have to be willing to walk away.
So while you’re reviewing your skills, knowledge, and experience, take the time to be introspective so that you appreciate your current limits and weaknesses.
That way, when you’re next asked to write about a topic, one which is outside of your ability to learn about quickly enough, you’ll know it.
But don’t let that be the end. Assuming you’re motivated enough to continue growing your skills, set time aside to continue learning. That way, if you’re ever asked about it again, you’re ready to accept the challenge.
Over to You
I hope these three points have helped you put things in a better sense of perspective. I hope they help you approach writing, or whatever it is that you do on a daily basis, better.
I hope that you can take a step back, if even for just a moment, and be able to take stock of just how good you already are. I hope you can see that you are better than you give yourself credit for. I hope that you can use these three tips to be a better professional.
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