Tips to catch CTOs’ attention—they prefer stories to jargon
Maybe you’ve been dreading it. But the inevitable has happened. Your company’s technical writer is on vacation, and you’ve been asked to fill in for an emergency project. You need to write a case study for a product that uses artificial intelligence to monetize usage cycles for companies embracing 5G technologies.
With the ever-increasing pace of technology acceleration today, chances are good that you’ll be tasked with researching or even writing about some form of technology. In fact, technical writing is in very high demand and any knowledge worker today can improve their marketability by showcasing this skill. The problem is that for most people, writing is challenging enough, let alone producing technical content. Must it always be this way? Is there a way to face our fears and write technical content more seamlessly? Fortunately, there is hope!
Here are seven reassuring tips that prove you don’t need to be a “rocket scientist” to write interesting and engaging technical content.
Show don’t tell
Technical content is not about using fancy jargon or flinging around highfalutin sounding acronyms. Think of your piece as an opportunity to tell a story about why this topic matters. If you’re discussing an innovative technology such as the future of edge computing and 5G, don’t say:
The emergence of 5G will transform the way enterprises manage their networks and meeting these new challenges will require automation as a critical component of any network management strategy.
Instead, be more descriptive to draw your readers in:
Thanks to ultra-fast speeds and massive data capacity, business leaders will soon be using live images to communicate with teammates remotely. Interactive holographic broadcasts via mobile devices will soon be at your fingertips.
Do your research
You don’t need to write a PhD thesis to seem authoritative. However, you can start with a high-level overview of the topic areas and use Wikipedia to get the essential facts. Google is also your best friend when it comes to key word research. For example, if you search on artificial intelligence and 5G, you’ll find this helpful article. Extract the essential high-level elements and then drill down as you go. Highlight any questions you’re unclear about.
Connect with subject matter experts (SMEs)
Now it’s time to bring in the experts. Schedule some time with your SMEs to gain perspective and fill in gaps in your understanding. The purpose is not to become a cloud expert overnight. Rather, you’re gathering essential information to connect the dots and provide fodder. In case you need a primer, here are some useful tips on interviewing a technical SME.
Start with the answer
Most common approaches to writing start with some kind of claim or thesis, support that premise with facts, and end with a conclusion. The Pyramid Principle flips this paradigm and advocates starting with the answer or recommendation. You then bring in arguments that support your answer and the last tier is data that supports your arguments. The Pyramid Principle is a mantra at Audienz that heavily informs our approach to B2B storytelling.
Less is more
The Pareto Principle states that 20% of your effort produces 80% of your results. The same point applies to technical writing. Don’t major on the minors. Get the big picture and then fill in the details as you go. Your audience does not want to read a dissertation on global, load-balance cloud computing. They want to understand why it matters to them – now.
Make the complex simple
Elizabeth C. Haynes, digital marketer, author, and managing editor at RentPath, argues convincingly that the best technical writers are not techie at all but are those who have mastered the art of good communications. They have a more intuitive sense of how the non-techie’s brain works. This is especially important when it comes to explaining things. Haynes tells the story of her high school physics teacher who, for all his knowledge, couldn’t make the subject matter intelligible to her non-scientific brain. She went away vowing to never take a physics class again – and didn’t!
Keep it short
Research shows that between the years 2000 and 2015 the average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8.25 seconds. This means you have precious little time to engage with your audience at a meaningful level. Make what you say as impactful as possible by thinking about what appeals to you as a technology user.
Good writing can be challenging enough without making it technical. With these seven simple principles in place, anyone can put on their technical writing mojo and develop clear content that gets read and applied.