How in the world am I going to write this so it makes sense? It's the question I asked myself when I was working on my first assignment for a tech website -- one that I still find myself asking from time to time whenever I take on a job from a brand new client. I'd even go so far as to rate crafting content for software and technology blogs as one of the most difficult writing skills I've picked up during my career.
Unlike more basic topics, where solid writing ability is enough to take care of most of the heavy lifting, working for tech blogs often requires both an ability to comprehend material from disparate focuses that can sometimes become complex and an ability to relay this information to individuals who might not be so tech-aware in a way they can understand it (among other things).
The experience and tips I've gathered over the years, some of which I'll share here, should be of use to any younger writers looking to make their first forays into the tech blogging sphere and should also provide some value to tech companies looking to undertake some content marketing who might need direction on how to create more readable blog posts.
Breaking It All Down
I already mentioned how writing for tech topics often involves breaking down complicated concepts into easily digestible language. Understanding and relaying the material effectively, I feel, requires three main elements:
- Time to read and comprehend
- A passion for the material
- A grasp of how to "make it make sense
The first two elements are self-explanatory, so I'd like to take time to expand on that final element a bit more. Two of the finest tips I ever received for writing for not-so-tech-savvy tech audiences came by way of Lifehacker:
- Make the content matter on a personal level.
- Explain concepts using easier, already understood concepts.
I'll illustrate that first tip with a brief quote, from the article:
"We tend to learn best when we're interested in something and we're interested in topics when they relate to us directly. When you're trying to explain a complicated topic to someone, it's best to play on that egocentric behavior and show what's in it for them. For technology, you can usually play off of people's desire for security, privacy, or simplicity."
In other words, it's a value proposition. By stating "what's in it for the audience," tech writers stand a better chance of crafting content that's engaging. When writing about a new gadget, for example, I won't just blather on about features and specs, I'll explain the utility those elements confer and why that product might hold an advantage over another. When going in depth about software on behalf of a client, I'll explain how using that software might help the average user save time or accomplish a task more easily. The list goes on, but relating it all back to the reader is the essential takeaway here.
As for the second tip:
"The idea of connecting ideas to what someone already knows has been a common teaching technique since Socrates, but it works because it's one of the best ways to explain ideas. Essentially, as the BBC notes, you want to find related information people already know and expand on that."
While it might require a few assumptions on the part of the writer, being able to explain one concept by way of another is one of the best ways to broaden the reach of tech post, as it cuts through the jargon and strips away the layers of technical mystery.
Note that these are but the two finest tips I've received in regards to writing about tech. The list goes on, and I'd urge anyone interested in improving their tech blogging skills to also check out this post from TechRepublic, which delves into another important facet: not talking down to the audience. It's a practice that almost always takes the fun out of reading, so I'd avoid it at all costs. There's a balance to strike between informing and making content accessible; I like to achieve it by making explanations neither too complicated nor too simple for the audience's tastes.
Keeping Up to Date on What Works
To stay effective as a tech writer, reading the work of other talented writers is a must. It's one of the first lessons I learned when I started working on assignments at TechVoid and other tech-centric outfits.
The sources of inspiration are numerous, but there are three I read on a consistent basis: Wired, Futurism, and Recode. They've got the essentials for writing tech concepts for a broad audience down to a fine art, and each offers a slightly different perspective on how to approach topics from a unique angle with a unique voice (another key facet in trying to break into writing or establish a blog that stands out from the pack).
A good example can be found in this article, Alexa Is Coming to Wearables Thanks to Amazon's New Developer Kit, from Futurism. In addition to striking quickly at the heart of the matter, the article takes time to implement some of those key tech writing tenets, like touching upon how the news might affect consumers down the road.
Bringing It All Together
My overarching advice, for both new writers and tech companies, is to keep the audience in mind at all times. In the end, the content is written for them, so taking time to understand and incorporate their point of view is essential to creating tech blogs that will gain readership and provide value.