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.

English as a Second Language

For budget reasons as well as for expertise, companies may hire marketing writers, technical writers, SEO specialists, and others who speak and write English as a second language. As someone who understands only one language–English–I am in awe of those who communicate in several languages. But writing English as a second language is difficult.

One of the services offered by my company, TWP Marketing & Technical Publications, is to review content written by those who learned English as a second language. I revise the content to match professional standard English. The companies who take advantage of this service range from corporations with an international staff to local business owners who have hired offshore sole-proprietorships to handle specific tasks.

In the course of helping companies, I’ve discovered four main areas where writers who learned English as a second language may run into problems:

  1. A misunderstanding of the subtleties of English, where there are many synonyms for a concept (for example, using “chattels” as a synonym for “assets”).
  2. A tendency to choose words for their proximity in sound or spelling to another word, whether or not they share a meaning (for example, assuming that “fixative” is the same as “fixture”).
  3. The substitution of the writer’s native grammar for English grammar, leading to a dropping of words (such as “a” and “the”), a reversal of sentence structure, and similar issues.
  4. Lack of knowledge of the culture, leading to assertions that are not appropriate to the company or its customers.

The result is a sentence like this one: “Depending on desirable taste of clientele, our team adorns living space with new trends, modern or rustic.” The writer meant to write something like, “Our team designs your living room to match your tastes and the latest trends, whether modern or rustic.”

That’s why TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps so many companies make the transition to clear, passionate, accurate and professional English. Contact us today.

Marketing Audit: Reaching the Right Customers in the Right Way

In a constantly changing marketplace, marketing content can easily get out of synch with reality: your products and services, customers, mission and reach may be quite different now than 10, 5 or even 2 years ago.

When I first started my sole proprietorship in New Hampshire, I thought I would be writing user manuals full time for software development companies. I still write user manuals, but now my main business is marketing writing. My marketplace has also expanded to both technical and nontechnical companies, including a manufacturer in Texas, a university in Massachusetts, a resume writer in Atlanta and a management consultant in New Hampshire.

Has your business also shifted? The only way to be sure you’re reaching the right customers in the right way is to conduct a marketing communications audit.

I recently conducted such an audit for a company considering an upgrade to their website. Among other problems I found inconsistent information on the website pages and related downloads; grammatical and spelling errors, clearly introduced when someone made quick fixes; listings for products that no longer exist; and links to Facebook and Twitter accounts that had been abandoned long ago. On one page, three identical links called up three entirely different pages.

Problems like these with marketing content, whether website, brochure, success story, blog or newsletter, arise naturally as a company tries to keep pace with changes to their customers, products and services. In a marketing communications audit, I examine your marketing content, page by page, with a fresh eye for inconsistencies and opportunities (what could you be saying that you haven’t said?). Then I produce a report that details problems and oversights and what you can do to make sure your customers receive a correct, consistent, clear and compelling marketing message.

If you haven’t examined your marketing content in a long while, a marketing communications audit is a cost-effective way to make sure your message connects with the right customers in the right way. Contact me today for more information.