Four Myths of Technical Writing

“All my customers are nuclear physicists,” said the company owner, “so our marketing materials have to sound like they come from a nuclear physicist.” That company owner has bought into one of the four myths that prevent technical companies from communicating with their customers.

The first myth of technical writing is that you have to write up to your audience. This myth overlooks the fact that customers don’t know your product or service. In your field, writing about your product or service, you are the teacher and they are the students. A good teacher speaks as much as possible in everyday language and slowly builds the student’s knowledge. Consider how you would explain your technical information to a brand new customer standing before you. Then write like you talk.

The second myth of technical marketing is that repetition is terrible. The fear of repetition has led some writers to call a keyboard an operator interface on page 1, a human machine interface (HMI) on page 10 and an input device on page 20. Changing the names for products, services and procedures is like spontaneously changing the names of towns on a map; the map is certainly livelier but your audience is completely lost. Instead of wondering whether the HMI on page 10 is the input device on page 20, your customers should be focusing on your technical message and value. Allow yourself to repeat standard words and phrases.

The third myth is that adjectives and adverbs convince customers to buy. Every company in the world offers exceptional customer service. Just try to find one that boasts about lousy service. Every product seems to be “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” But no one searches online for “exceptional” or “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” Those words take up room that should be devoted to details. What makes your product or service unique? What industry standards prove that your product is state-of-the-art? Try writing your marketing copy without adjectives and adverbs. The copy that results will be stronger and will set you apart from competitors.

The fourth myth of technical writing is that only the people who created the product understand it enough to write about it. Unfortunately, creators are often myopic: they market their own excitement about features and not the benefits and value to the customer. Celebrating an achievement is fine, but every customer asks, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the question your marketing materials have to answer—and answer first.

If you are bogged down in those myths of technical writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll give you the words you need to connect with your audience.

Technical Writing Lessons from Marketing

Unlike many marketing writers, I started my career as a technical writer. After dozens of years as both a technical and marketing writer, I’ve found that certain writing maxims apply regardless of the type of writing:

  • Clear, everyday language is key. Yes, your technical audience understands what fractionation means; that is no excuse for pummeling them with unnecessary 50 cent words like utilization (when “use” will do) or simple wordiness like “it is during the process of fractionating that…” (“while fractionating…”).
  • Pictures are more useful than words. If you can show a procedure, show it. If you have a photograph of your client, office or staff, use it. If a table or diagram or other graphic will get your point across, let the graphic convey the information; don’t repeat it word-for-word in the text. Hire a professional graphic designer or photographer or illustrator. Professionals are worth every penny.
  • Know your audience. Often a website, for example, is written for someone with a very strong technical background but meant to attract C-level or financial visitors with fairly weak technical background.
  • Give your audience a break. Include step numbers for instructions; break up large blocks of text with headings and subheads; control the cross-references so the reader isn’t forced to constantly flip back and forth from one paper or online page to another.
  • Answer the reader’s big questions first. In a technical proposal, the reader’s first question will likely be: “Can you solve my problem?” Save  for later your list of reasons why your company is outstanding; first tell readers that you understand their problem and can solve it.

These five rules for writing apply equally to technical content and marketing content. Clear writing directed to the audience, broken up with pictures and headings, and speaking to the reader’s primary interest is writing that communicates.

TWP Marketing and Technical Communications is dedicated to helping you reach and engage your audience. Contact us today.

Three Reasons Why Good Grammar Pays

So you thought your 5th grade English teacher was kidding when she said good grammar is important?

  1. Bad grammar can send your customers running from your emails or enewsletters. Recently, the founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911 gave consumers advice about how to detect (and avoid) online scams. One of his top clues to identify fake emails was the use of bad grammar. Because many online scammers and phishers are from outside the US, their grasp of English grammar is usually poor.
  2. Bad grammar can change what you meant to say into something entirely different. The US government once changed the taxes on all fruit and all trees by placing a comma in the wrong place–legislation meant only for “fruit trees” instead covered “fruit, trees.”
  3. Bad grammar signals unprofessional service, like a lemonade sign written in crayon. It might be charming in 8 year olds but not in grownups running a professional, reliable business that pays attention to details.

Online grammar checkers are worthless. If you aren’t confident in your grammar, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to review and edit your marketing or technical writing. Make sure your message goes out the way you intended and encourages potential customers to buy.

 

What Is TWP Marketing & Technical Communications?

Confession here: Sometimes when I write this blog, I inadvertently omit the most important words people will search for. I must nudge myself to include “marketing writing” and “technical writing” in my blog posts; to mention that TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is the name of the company and that it is based in Peterborough, NH; and to mention my successes with website, newsletter, blog, brochure, user manual, proposal and report projects.

Part of the reason is that the information is obvious to me; I forget that anyone searching on line doesn’t know what I am a business writer. Part of the reason is that I become so enthusiastic about sharing information that I forget my own marketing drive behind the sharing. And part of the reason is simple oversight–coulda, shoulda, woulda.

I really ought to know better because that sort of mistake is one I regularly fix for my clients. So now it is time to fix it for me: TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, founded as a sole-proprietorship in 1999, provides copywriting and copyediting for small local businesses in New Hampshire and major corporations throughout the U.S. What makes TWP unique is the combination of technical writing and marketing writing expertise. Because I concentrate on writing, many marketing agencies, website developers and graphic designers rely on TWP to fill that technical/marketing writing gap in their services, whether for an entire website or one article. They know I’ve been around to handle their writing needs for 14 years, and I’ll be around for years to come.

With 25 years of experience and publication credits in a variety of industrial and business magazines and journals, I can truthfully say that at TWP our words means business.

And that’s what TWP is all about. Contact me today if you need a professional writer. I’m ready to help you.

 

A Customer Walks Into Your Company….

A customer walks into your company and is greeted by two sales people.

Sales person A says, “We offer quality custom parts, specialized design, and professional project management services that provide dependable product solutions to meet customer needs. From simple products to complex cross-functional projects involving a variety of materials, functions and teams, we deliver quality products, on-time, backed by world class customer service and support.”

Sales person B says, “How may I help you?”

Which sales person do you think the customer will relate to?

Yet, website after website, brochure after brochure, success story after success story, and newsletter after newsletter sound like they were written by sales person A. The marketing content overwhelms (or underwhelms) the customer with long lists of vague claims that could apply to any industry from space station manufacturing to organic farming. The customer, in effect, doesn’t exist.

At TWP, we answer your customer’s most important question: “How will you help me?” Our solution-driven content differentiates your company from the competition and converts inquiries into sales. For marketing and technical writing that connects with customers, contact TWP today.

 

Add Wow to Your Marketing Message, Part 2: Advice on Adjectives

Does your company offer state-of-the-art products, best-in-class service in a proactive environment focused on delivering cost-effective, timely projects in a collaborative environment?

Join the group.

Millions of companies turn themselves into clones by relying on well-worn adjectives in their marketing copy instead of explaining what they do and how they do it. What makes a product state-of-the-art: what benchmarks has it met, what awards has it won and what techniques does it use? What makes service best in class: what do customers say? Are statistics available to prove cost-effectiveness and timeliness? Will company biographies, success stories and general tone testify to the collaborative environment?

No one ever writes marketing copy to brag about poorly built products and lousy customer service delivered weeks late in complete chaos. If they did, the opening statement of this blog might serve as a differentiator. It doesn’t.

When you search out strings of vague adjectives in your marketing copy, you can begin to truly differentiate your company by substituting details on when, where, how and why you do what you do. I’ll talk about that more in Part 3.

For marketing copy and technical writing that help your company to stand out from the group, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.