Steel shipping containers, corneal surgical instruments, lubricated ball bearings… not exactly your run-of-the-mill marketing topics. But just like any other firm demonstrating thought leadership within its industry, businesses who produce and sell these types of products need to create optimized educational and entertaining content in order to attract new customers online.
So how does that happen? Well, it’s not necessarily about making the unsexy sexy. Sometimes, that’s next to impossible… (unless lubricated ball bearings is your thing). It is, however, about making information interesting, understandable and valuable. Website copy, product descriptions, blog entries, social posts, eBooks and other downloadable resources all require a skilled technical copywriter in order to articulate the intended message to the target audience and start enticing prospective buyers.
With that said, not every writer has a natural flair for the technical. To get to the bottom of copywriting for more scientifically influenced readers, I consulted a PMG teammate with years of experience generating content for clients from various industrial fields. Check out these Q&A style technical writing tips below from our fantastic in-house specialist Denise Locke!
What sets technical writing apart from other forms of copywriting?
What’s ironic about technical writing is that it generally goes against the conventional wisdom given to writers to “write what you know.” Usually, technical topics are highly specialized and they generally require a fair amount of research, fact checking, and lots of questions asked of subject-matter experts. Writers need at least a working knowledge of their topic in order to be credible. Hence, there can be a bit of a learning curve at first.
What writing and editing techniques do you keep in mind when composing a new piece?
The goal is to always know your audience and tailor your marketing message accordingly. You need to ask: What is their day-to-day like? What challenges and problems do they encounter? What are their primary concerns and hot-button issues? And finally, how can your product or service help them overcome these challenges?
The key is to “match your message” to their pain points; members of your audience should feel that you understand their concerns – and have the solution. But this is also an audience that does not want to be “sold to.” Instead, good technical writing educates and presents solutions to complex concepts without an overly promotional message. Utilizing the right tone is critical.
How do you approach researching topics with which you are unfamiliar?
This is the part of my job that I really enjoy! I love to explore the nitty-gritty details of a new technical topic! I’ll read industry blogs, follow industry thought leaders, subscribe to relevant newsletters and follow related companies on social media. An important objective is to know the jargon of your audience, and find out what makes them tick. And of course there is the “alphabet soup” of acronyms that you often need to learn when writing for any new industry.
Is personal writing style still an important part of technical writing?
With technical writing, there is generally less creative freedom than in standard copywriting, but that is not to say that this style is devoid of personality. Ultimately, you are writing for people, and volumes of dry, boring text do not appeal to anyone in any business. The goal is finding the right balance between factual and fun, persuasion and personality!
What 3 things should a technical writer avoid doing?
- Underestimating your audience – Learn about their challenges, and create a connection by writing to the appropriate technical level. I can write on the same topic for both engineers and purchasing agents for example; and they both have unique needs that must be addressed. SEO is important, but always remember that you are writing for people first!
- Overlooking topic organization – An outline of your topic is the best starting point, and often a challenge/solution approach works very well; particularly with application stories and case studies. Explain the challenge, present the process, and document the solution using inverted pyramid style; which presents the most important information first.
- Ignoring visuals – As a writer, it can be easy to get caught up in the content, but good visuals are the yin to the content yang! Charts, graphics, bold CTAs, photos, etc. are incredibly important to break up the monotony of long text blocks and add interest! And they help facilitate effective SEO.
In what industries are technical writers in higher demand?
Virtually every high-tech industry with an engineering or scientific audience has a need to convert complex text into compelling marketing! Healthcare, medical manufacturing, computer hardware/software, IT, communications, etc.
I work with a client who refers to this form of writing as “voodoo,” which always makes me laugh! I assure you there is no witchcraft involved in technical writing, no magic tricks or hocus-pocus; just stating the facts in concise, memorable text!
What advice do you have for any technical writing newbies just entering the field?
I think the first step is to find a good mentor and connect with other writers in your field; build a support network. I’m incredibly fortunate to collaborate with a host of copywriters at PMG who all have unique abilities and are very generous in sharing their knowledge. LinkedIn is a great resource for those just starting out. HubSpot forums, college alumni pages, industry-specific resource, etc.
If readers could take away one major technical writing tip, what would it be?
I’d say that it would be to never underestimate the importance of a compelling headline or title. We are all inundated with “new” information, and let’s face it, our attention spans are getting shorter. So a compelling, benefits-driven title can be the difference between a click-through and a bounce. Particularly when so many of us are obtaining information from our mobile devices, brevity is especially important. This formula works whether you are writing lighter blog posts and emails or more technical white papers and other resources. And sometimes the best titles are not formed until the content is complete! I’ve found that I’ll often employ “working titles” until the first draft is finished. Often, a good title will present itself naturally as you go along.
So there you have it, folks – insider advice from our very own technical writing specialist. Whether you’re new to technical writing or you just need a boost in the right direction, consider these tips when researching and crafting your next technical masterpiece!
Denise Locke began her marketing career with a publisher of college engineering texts, later moving on to develop CME courses for medical professionals. She then spent several years in marcom with an international medical device manufacturer before launching into technical writing, where she has focused her efforts ever since. Denise has always loved writing and considers herself extremely fortunate to work with the talented PMG team!