As a writer, I’m often tasked with writing about topics in which I’m not exactly versed. (One thousand words on the impacts of the gout? Sure, you got it!) My inherent curiosity leads me through finding out everything I can about the topic, then I write about it as best I can. Afterward I’m left with the added knowledge that gout affects about three million American adults, and eating certain foods can cause or worsen it. Who knew?

When this happens, some people may think their lack of knowledge is a bit disheartening — a sort of reminder that they don’t actually know anything about anything. I personally take it as an opportunity for an adventure.

You know how on CSI, the detectives start off with nothing but a body, and no idea how it got there?

Well, by the end of the episode they’ve tracked down every minute detail of the victim, the perpetrator, and the crime itself.

Here are my steps to becoming an expert in an industry, I hope they can help you too.

Collect and Analyze all DNA Evidence

The first thing detectives do on CSI is make note of every single piece of evidence. The idea is to paint a picture of the crime so they can solve it later. They collect every single hair, blood speck, and thread of fabric, and later when they still don’t understand what happened will look for more. They continue to ask more questions and generally leave no stone unturned while they piece everything together.

Much like the detectives, marketers should collect everything they can to establish the identity of their victim. This will lead them to their killer.

Start by using sites like Topsy and ISOOSI to get a finger on the pulse of the industry. Click around to new keywords and make a list of jargon and common themes. The worst part about being a novice is sounding like one.

Check Alibis

Just as a homicide detective needs to identify and eliminate suspects from the case, marketers need to first identify the target audience, or customer base of their clients. Then they can cater the campaign to those demographics. No matter what the product or service happens to be, this should be among the first steps.

Once you’ve figured out who it is you’re trying to reach, you can figure out how to go about doing that.

Don’t stop when you have a broad idea of your audience, “Females… younger than 60,” really paint a picture. What job title does your target audience have? What keeps them up at night? What makes them happy? The more you know about them the more you can meet their needs.

Put it all Together

After they’ve gathered all the information the investigators need to retrace the steps of both the victim and their suspect. Detectives can decipher fact from fiction, and definitively say who done it. It’s downhill from there.

Oftentimes learning the ins and outs of an industry is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to meet deadlines but can’t learn everything overnight. Similarly, special agents need time to crack the case, but the trail can grow cold in a matter of hours.

Next time you find yourself taking on a client that you’re not very familiar with, take a page out of CSI’s playbook, and immerse yourself in the case. You might surprise yourself and learn something new.