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.

Easy Steps for Sharper Writing

Recently, I was asked to edit some abstracts for a large conference. A fun project, and also educational in a way I didn’t expect. It alerted me to some common writing problems and the easy steps that any writer can take to fix them.

1. Overdoing the present participle. What is a present participle? Think “ing” verbs: “Our company is making the most unique product in the world” or “Electric cars are going to become more popular as gas prices increase.” Those sentences sound much more compelling in the simple present and future: “Our company makes the most unique product in the world” or “Electric cars will become more popular as gas prices increase.”

2. Overdoing the adjectives. Consider how many products in the world can make the claim of uniqueness and consider how very little the word “unique” (or “state-of-the-art”) actually explains. Far more striking is a sentence like “Our product reduces CO2 emissions by 50% year after year, more than any other product in the marketplace.”

3. Overdoing the repetition: “If you are worried about the security of your home, contact our experts to learn about the latest in home security products to increase your home’s security.” Repetition may be necessary to clarify information or to increase the SEO of a webpage; but circular sentences like the example waste space and are annoying to read. If the entire phrase “to increase your home’s security” were dropped, the meaning would actually be clearer and the sentence would be strengthened (at least a little).

Those three steps (avoiding the present participle, cutting back on adjectives and rewriting circular sentences) are guaranteed to strengthen and sharpen your writing. At TWP Marketing and Technical Communications, our goal is to make sure that our writing–and your content–means business.

Writing Great Blogs: 5 Steps to Take Now

The owner of a custom construction firm asked me recently to take over writing his blog posts and I was delighted to do that. I realized that his earlier blogs had violated some standard rules I have for writing great blog posts. Here they are for your benefit:

  1. Be specific when writing your post. Drive down to the basics of your business and write about the details. How do you fix a gutter? What does a specific insurance term mean? What information should never appear on a resume?
  2. Think like your customer. If you were shopping for your company’s product or service, what would be your first concern? As the owner of the business, your concern may be to relate everything you do and how well you do it. The customer, however, is generally interested in the solution to a specific problem. Write each blog post around a specific problem and how you solve it.
  3. Tell a story. Case studies/success stories, examples from your work day or a single sentence about a customer problem and solution liven up a blog post and attract interest. You may not be able to write a story every time, but keep the possibility in mind.
  4. Choose one or two keywords or key phrases for each post and repeat them naturally. Rather than advocating mindless repetition, this step is a request to not use synonyms and to fit the subject of your post naturally into the content. For example, look through this post for natural repetitions of the words “write, post, blog, writing.”
  5. Write a headline that contains search words. While cute and clever headlines are fine occasionally, the best headline reflects the search words your customers are likely to use, such as “how to write a great blog” or “writing blog posts.”

My own experience as a blog post writer in the nonprofit, health care, construction and service industries has proved the value of the five steps above. Let me help you reach out to your customers with great blog posts.

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.

 

Taking the Pain out of Writing

The easiest way to take the pain out of writing is to have a professional writer–like me!–take over for you. But in the meantime, these hints are sure to help:

  1. Write first, leave the editing for later. Editing at the same time that you write is like taking a giant step back for every two steps forward–progress is real slow. First put all your ideas into words, then edit.
  2. Don’t get stalled on your opening sentence. More often than not, you’ll find your best opening sentence at the end of whatever you write, when your thoughts have coalesced–another reason to leave off editing until you finish writing.
  3. If nothing you write ever sounds organized, think in terms of structure: first to last, top to bottom, large to small, most important to least important or vice versa. Choose one structure and then (here’s the hard part) delete whatever doesn’t fit. You may discover 3 more blog posts, 2 more press releases and 4 tweets. That’s a good thing.
  4. If you can’t find the words to say what you mean, pull out a chair. Pretend the person you are writing to (whether your best customer or the customer you don’t have yet) is sitting in that chair and talk to the chair. Describe to the chair what you are trying to write. Make sure you record or immediately write down what you say–those are the words you want.
  5. If you believe every word you write is golden, put the finished piece away for at least 24 hours and then review it with a fresh eye. Look particularly for sentences longer than 18 words (no period, no colon), words longer than 3 syllables, strings of adjectives or adverbs and vague words (on time) when you could be specific (within 4 days). Shorter sentences, smaller words, prepositions to break up long strings of adjectives/adverbs and exact words strengthen your writing.
  6. Ask one or two people to review, not dozens. Multiple reviewers tend to edit each other, and you’ll be so demoralized that you’ll abandon the project. If you are part of a writing team and someone else is responsible for the final version, remember that you’ve done your part. Correct errors of fact; don’t start debates over synonyms or serial commas. Or in other words: know when to stop.

What approaches have you found helpful in easing the pain of writing? Please share them here or on Twitter. And if you would still like help, please contact TWP.