There’s this myth that you have to be an expert to write a piece of nonfiction on a subject. It’s almost as pervasive as the myth that you become an expert when you write a piece of nonfiction on a subject.
When writing nonfiction, you need to write with authority in order to show your credibility. If you don’t, you’re likely to lose your readers’ respect and trust. But there’s a big difference between writing with authority and writing as an expert.
As an expert, you are expected to have a lot of intrinsic authority—you’re writing from what you know. As a writer, you can write with authority by acquiring the knowledge you need to share from sources—just be sure to give credit where it’s due.
Think of the journalist of today. An entry level journalist is likely to start on one beat and transition through several others by the end of his or her career. Imagine, then, if the journalist wasn’t allowed to write about their beat until they’d become an expert on it. We wouldn’t be getting much news, now would we?
Now, imagine that journalist decides to write a book about…pick a topic. Let’s say President Reagan. How much do you need to know about Reagan before you become an expert on him? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m betting you’ll be through more than one book’s worth of material before you reach that point. So, does writing about Reagan make you an expert? No. But you can still write about Reagan with authority by doing the research, citing your sources, adding something new, and presenting a clear, cohesive, accurate story of the man.
Forget becoming an expert unless you’re so impassioned about a subject that you want to immerse yourself in that subject over the course of a long, productive career.
Focus on demonstrating your authority on a subject by doing your research—which, by the way, should involve researching more than one or two viewpoints, just saying—and writing in a way that earns and rewards your readers’ trust.