As a copywriter, I’m often asked to write in-depth about new technologies that, initially at least, I might not know a whole lot about. This, of course, goes squarely against the conventional wisdom given to writers to “write what you know.” Over time, I’ve realized that through interviews with subject experts, some good, old-fashioned research, a bit of sweat equity, and—did I mention research?—breaking down complex, technical ideas into educational, engaging copy becomes a standard part of the writing process.
While the primary goal of technical writing is to educate, I believe that good technical writing also marries the technical specs to the marketing message; it delivers factual copy that informs, yet sells your solution. It speaks to an engineering or scientific audience, in their language, in great detail, on the nuances of a hot trend or technology. It should connect with the reader, often by presenting a bold concept or idea that will solve a challenge he/she may not have even realized they had. And it should do all of this seamlessly and ideally, succinctly. See an example from a Precision Marketing client.
Some tips that I employ to develop engaging technical copy:
1) Know your audience
Perhaps this point is obvious, but it bears repeating. By truly understanding your audience, you can tailor your message more effectively. What are their concerns, challenges, hot-button issues? How can your product or solution address those head-on? Be aware of this information and address it in the first few paragraphs of your document. Readers should feel understood.
2) Present an industry solution in your title
Let’s face it, we are inundated with solutions and “breaking news” in our inboxes; our attention spans are getting shorter. This is why a smart, relevant title in your technical newsletter, white paper or similar can dramatically increase your hit rate. Some examples include, “How (INSERT PRODUCT NAME) Outperforms Other Solutions,” or “Three Easy Steps to Solve (INSERT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE HERE).” By presenting a short, yet content-rich title—using keywords—you’ll gain good will and credibility in your message. Did you note the title of this blog entry?
3) Simplify complex concepts
Break down complicated information into short, memorable points that readers can retain. And follow inverted pyramid style; presenting the most important information in the first few paragraphs. Readers value brevity, especially with a complex subject, so topic organization is important.
4) Less truly is more
OK, so this is a bit of a cliché, but readers do benefit from visual white space; blank spots on the paper where they can take a virtual “breath” and process the information you are presenting. This is particularly important with highly-complex technical information. Long, flowing blocks of never-ending text becomes chaotic and overwhelming, and is much less likely to be comprehended.
5) Add visuals through charts, renderings, text blocks
This idea goes hand-in-hand with tip #4. We all process information differently, and those reading technical papers are, by nature, conceptual folks. Flow charts, component schematics, renderings, photos, graphics etc., not only add visual interest, but demonstrate solid representations of your subject matter. Text should be treated similarly. By adding call-outs, subheads, bold and italics, you can emphasize your key points so they stand apart. This copy treatment helps readers navigate and scan information more easily, yet still glean your key points.
With the right balance of information, organization, graphics and style, dry technical information can engage an engineering audience!
Tell us about your experience with technical writing. Share your experiences here.
Denise Locke is a copywriter on the PMG team, and provides copywriting services through Locke Creative, a sole proprietorship located on the North Shore.