content marketing, copywriting, digital copywriting, technical writing, writing tips

Writing tips – how to master technical writing

Technical writing requires both an in depth understanding of technical concepts, combined with an ability to transform highly jargon ridden instruction into clear, concise and easy to read copy. As the world of content production changes, there is a growing demand for skilled technical writing across a range of industries. You want your content to exude authority and expertise, but, you still want people to understand it. The fact is, when you learn to create engaging technical content, you are gaining a better understanding of your product or service.

From our years working with technical wizards, engineering doctorates and mining authorities, we’ve picked up some tips for getting your technical writing right.

Identify your purpose

This may seem obvious to some, but it is surprising how many times people start rambling before they bed down what it is they want to say. Because technical writing requires such sophisticated knowledge and expertise, knowing your purpose becomes crucial. Technical experts often get caught up in the detail, the functionality or the system itself and consequently lose sight of what this content is meant to achieve.

Why are you creating this document? Where is it going? What do you want this document to achieve? At every stage of the writing process, come back to these questions and ensure that your content continues to address your overall purpose.

You’re the expert – your audience may not be (understand their level of knowledge)

Whether you’ve been creating compelling copy for 20 years, or you’ve never put pen to paper with any confidence, your audience is your number one priority. When you understand your audience, you can effectively cater your writing to meet their needs and capability. This is especially true for technical writing. Your content will often be filled with complicated explanations and functionality breakdowns and by knowing your audience, you can aptly adapt the level of explanation your content requires.

There is no doubt that you are the expert in your field. You need to understand the level of technical knowledge your audience has to ensure you are neither too simplistic nor too complicated.

Strip away that jargon and ambiguity

We often extol the virtues of stripping away your jargon to create effective content. No matter what you are talking about, getting caught up in the industry lingo will only serve to limit the value of your content. If you work in a technical industry, chances are, you’ve spent the better part of your career building your technical vocabulary and learning to understand the hundreds of complicated phrases and definitions that are specific to your industry.

Your audience will likely not have done the same thing. Where possible, simplify your language, and even adopt Plain English. Even other experts in your field will appreciate the clarity of your content.

Table it

Use visual representations to complement your explanations. Tables, charts and graphs can be an impactful way to illustrate your point and show your audience more clearly. You are likely dealing with highly convoluted concepts or practicality and it can be very easy to lose your audience as a consequence. Don’t put your audience to sleep with paragraph upon paragraph of heavy text. Don’t just tell them, show them.

Give credit where credit is due

It is critical that any technical writing you publish in your industry is referenced properly. Know where you got your information, and back it up wherever possible. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that many incredibly hardworking experts spent a lot of time researching, studying or creating compelling information, and just as you deserve the credit for your hard work, so do they. Acknowledge, reference and credit your sources in a valid and tangible way – don’t throw to a Wikipedia link because you can’t be bothered to find the publication details of their book.

The second is purely self-satisfying. When you reference your sources properly in technical, as with academic writing, you are illustrating your knowledge, expertise and credibility. You will build trust and loyalty with your audience.

Give your content context

Many technical writers spend so much time explaining their concepts that they forget to give any context. Particularly when dealing with something that is highly confusing or convoluted, give an example. Show your audience a practical illustration of your explanation and you will find they connect with your content on a deeper level.

Ask for help

The interesting thing about technical writing is the added value of consulting both technical experts and objective communicators. You’ll naturally consult with other experts to ensure the technical specs are accurate. It is equally important with content, to engage a non-technical reviewer, writer or editor. Their objective eye can help pull out the salient points, clarify the complexities and check your overall language.

content marketing, content production, copywriting, digital copywriting, editing, storytelling, writing tips

Why should you invest in content marketing?

Whether you’re curating the best of the best or creating sassy, original and valuable content, content marketing is now a crucial part of any successful business. Sure, we’re peddling our own service here, but for good reason. Traditional advertising has transformed so significantly over the years that even advertising agencies have had to widen their own definitions of what is an ad. We know now that human beings connect to one another through storytelling. We are seduced by an emotive tale, sucked in by a controversial anecdote and sated by a juicy saga. We love the journey, and as it turns out, we want our service providers to take us on that journey before we are willing to part with our well-earned dollars.

What does content marketing even mean?

We are thrown so many buzzwords a business quarter, it can be a struggle to keep up. One minute you’re trying to prove your business cred by sprouting the latest word mash up, the next you are erasing any mention of the newly established pretention indicator from your communications. Those of you unfamiliar with the idea or practical realisation of content marketing might be wondering if this, too, is just a phase that is going to drain your bank with little or no return.

For those doubters out there, we hate (ok we kind of love) to burst your bubble, but this approach in some iteration or another is here to stay.

According to the Content Marketing Institute,

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Basically, it’s a way of taking your audience, clients, partners and customers on a journey through useful, insightful and engaging content.

I’ve been doing it old school for years, why change now?

You’ve followed the same tried and tested path for years. Why would you want to change your approach? Well, for starters, we the consumers, expect it. We don’t want promotions shoved in our face with nothing in return. We get bored when we realise we’ve been tricked or pushed into a sale. We want relationships and we want something from you in return. We want you to show us you’re invested in us. Content marketing is the way to show your investment, while simultaneously showing off your own skill and value in the market.

What will I get out of investing in content marketing?

When you show people you have something of value, they will invest in you. There are countless benefits to spending the time and money on creating and curating great content. We’ve plucked our top ten:

  • Position your brand as an expert/authority in your field
  • Increase your digital traffic
  • Boost your reputation
  • Help you reach a new and untapped audience
  • Give you insights into your audience
  • Reduce your costs (cheaper than any traditional methods)
  • Improve brand awareness
  • Often yields better results than traditional methods
  • Widen your sales pipeline
  • Develop genuine lasting relationships with your audience
  • Leads to audience/customer/partner trust and loyalty

Where do I begin?

The key to content marketing is getting it right for your brand and industry. Following a blind path set out by the thousands of ‘experts’ can often be more harmful than anything else. There is a lot of shoddy content flowing through our inboxes every day. Don’t create for the sake of creating.

Work out what you want to say and find the best channel through which to tell that story. Is it a blog, a video, a gallery? Is someone already saying it better than you could

Work out who you want to tell the story to. Who is your audience? Are they current clients, customers, potential partners? Understand your audience and your story will flow from there.

Work out a way you can be consistent. Is your chosen approach sustainable? If not, why not? What can you change to ensure that it is?

Do you need help? You are the expert in your industry, but you may be unsure how to communicate that knowledge. If you don’t have dedicated content experts on staff, invest in content experts who will get to know you, your brand and your ultimate message.

Content marketing can be a scary concept if you’re starting from scratch, but when you invest in great content, engaging stories and valuable assets, you’ll no doubt connect with your audience.

 

copywriting, editing, proofreading, research, typos, writing tips

Research my old friend – the key to credibility

Well, that was embarrassing! By no means the most embarrassing thing to come out of the White House in recent weeks, but for us lowly Aussies, it’s a pretty blatant slap in the face. It just shows how a simple mistake, like not knowing someone’s name can wreak havoc with your credibility (although having said that I suppose that would have to assume Mr Spicer had some to begin with, which is up for debate). As a writer, it just reminds me how critical it is to have exemplary research skills.

What’s in a name?

While we all may take issue with some of the decisions our Prime Minister has made (or not made for that matter), Spicer referring to Malcolm Turnbull as ‘Prime Minister Trumbull’ has put a bad taste in our mouths. Is it that he deliberately got it wrong and is trying to make a statement that we don’t matter? Or is he so grossly incompetent that he can’t check his facts before addressing the media? Either way, it doesn’t sit well.

As a writer, I am always thrown new and bizarre topics and ideas. I am tasked with creating something engaging in any number of industries and fields and write it in the name of the experts. If I muck up the facts, not only I lose face, but so do my clients. What’s in a name? Your credibility that’s what.

Finding credible sources

Don’t get tarred with the unpleasant brush of ‘alternative facts’. Much like we all need to start investing in the validity of the news put in front of us, when you are producing content, make absolutely certain you know where your facts came from.

Don’t take my word for it. I cannot emphasise enough, the need to find credible sources. A little reminder, Wikipedia might give you your quick facts to get you started, but you know anyone can edit their pages, right? Whether you are writing news articles for major publications or editing a bit of content for someone’s website, if you use someone else’s content, please check it first.

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Check your facts

Not only do you need to ensure that your sources are credible but more important than that – have you checked your facts? Have you checked your names? Your dates? You may have gone out of your way to find credible sources, interviewed fantastic people and profiled some fascinating event or product. But if you’ve mucked up the nitty gritty, the whole content piece is totally worthless! I’m not even exaggerating. It’s one thing to have the odd typo (even us experienced writers must admit that every now and then something slips by), it’s another thing entirely to call the Prime Minister of a country by the wrong name.

Research can be fun – really it can!

You know the thing I love most about what I do? That I get to step into someone else’s world for a day. For the time it takes me to produce that content, I get to become an expert. And for that time, I do. The cool thing is that other people’s worlds can be amazing, especially when you get to step back into your own at the end of the day.

To make something interesting to your readers, you’ve got to be interested yourself. The best way? Get in and learn. Before I worked for a metal finishing company, I had no idea how cool metallurgy can be. I mean, seriously, check this video out. Science is cool!

Don’t proof your own work

Whatever you do, whatever you write, wherever you plan to publish, don’t proof your own work. Yes, of course, you can ensure you minimise mistakes and check and recheck everything you write. Please remember, you are invested in what you create and sometimes you will miss things. Sometimes significant things. Don’t embarrass yourself the way that a media professional never should. Ask for help.

There are so many things I want to say about research. I am a research fiend. I actually enjoy finding new and interesting ‘actual facts’.

You know what? The last few months have been pretty confronting for a lot of people. There is so much about recent events that if I am honest, I am not even sure how to react. But you know what? I can say this! Do your F$#@ING research!

content marketing, freelancing, storytelling, writing tips

Training your brain – how I found more hours in the day

A friend and I have conducted a little experiment over the last few months. The results were pretty eye-opening. I wrote the first draft of a novel. Yep, an entire novel. She has found time in her days to focus on her creative writing in a way she hasn’t done for years.

It may not be new to all, but for two young mothers, of boisterous and energetic toddlers, we are pretty proud of ourselves. The cool thing is we have realised it doesn’t have to be confined to writing. I want to give you just a teaser of the program we mapped out for ourselves that changed our perspective, our time management and our motivation.

Lamenting the time away

It is so very easy to stubbornly declare that there is no time. How could I possibly fit that in when I have a child, a job, a relationship? Yet somehow we all still manage to keep abreast of our favourite TV show. Why? Because they exist in 30-40 minute increments.

We went through this exact process. Wildly jealous and awed by the friends we have writing books, composing symphonies and running businesses on the side, we were caught up in our own lives and the excuses we created every day. How do they do it? They must never sleep. They must never see their children. They mustn’t have jobs.

We couldn’t possibly fit anything else in we lamented.

And then it dawned on me

While engrossed in the latest episode of Once Upon a Time (yes, I genuinely enjoy it), my thoughts were racing. My protagonist has that trait. Ooh, my bad guy could have a similar back story. My plot would be different for these reasons. If only I had the time to explore them. Then my rambunctious two-year-old would bound into the room, ready for some drawing and train track building. Yet, I claimed to be a writer? A creative?

Naturally, I had to complain to my equally time-poor mummy writer pal about this. All the while, logging into the ultimate time vacuum that is the social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the socials. I think their value in business and communication as whole is extraordinary. In fact, I will be addressing some of those values in an upcoming blog. But it certainly takes up a LOT of time.

It was amidst these laments that it occurred to me. A realisation that many successful people before me have come to. I don’t really need more time.

One episode at a time

In a world designed to appease the desperate impatience we’ve come to embrace, binge-watching, 24-hour news and instant gratification have become the norm. No longer can we wait week on week for the latest episode of our favourite show. Somewhere along the way, we lost the excitement of anticipation. We lost delicious seduction of a teaser, in favour of an immediate climax.

We’ve come to need that satisfaction now and in full. If we can’t have it all right now, then we don’t want it. This hugely short-sighted attitude is what led me, my friend and many of you to the inaccurate conclusion that we just don’t have time.

As Australian network TV finally catches up and fast tracks a handful of key shows, I have learned, once again the value of patience. I don’t have to write a novel in a day. I don’t need to quit my job and wait for my son to go to school.

An attitude shift

My mummy friend and I realised, that all we needed was 30 minutes. 30 minutes and a little bit of accountability.

The result was unexpected. Naturally, I thought I might achieve a little more if I approached my projects in a different way. What I didn’t expect was such a profound shift in my approach to everything.

About a quarter way through our first experiment, we started to see things we’d never seen before. Time was no longer our master, but rather we channelled the powers of the Doctor and realised we were our own time lords.

I know it hurts but I promise it helps

In a bid to encourage you, dear reader, to change the way you see time and consumption, I am not going to give away everything at once. As much as I would love to minimise the competition, if you’ve got a book, a symphony, a creation of any kind inside, this may just help you pull it out. If you, like us, are impatiently claiming that it is time that steals your great creation, tune in for Part II.

content marketing, content production, copywriting, digital copywriting, storytelling, writing tips

Create better content with these top tips

Create Great Content
Create Great Content

Australia has thrown itself into the pit of confusion with its latest election. The AEC are slowly determining who’s going to take charge of this fine country, while we all sit helplessly, twiddling our thumbs. Many Australians are disenfranchised, uninspired and unsure where to look to for great leadership. Don’t let your brand fall the way of our major parties. Understand your brand and communicate it with clarity and leadership. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better writer and communicator overall.

Know your message

We can all get caught up in what everyone else is saying and confuse our own message as a result. Much like some of the campaigns rolling around our screens and radios, marketers are seduced by the idea of pulling others down in order to big themselves up. This just pulls everyone into the gutter. It doesn’t matter what the other guy is doing. What do you have to offer? How is it unique or valuable? What do you want your clients, audience or readers to know about you? Answer these questions and you are off to a much stronger start.

Know your style

If your organisation has a communications and/or marketing team, you will likely already have a style guide. If you do not, I urge you to work with your team to create one. A style guide will inform your tone, your approach and your word choices. It can help even the most nervous of writers find the right path. If you don’t have a team to help design a style guide, I recommend you consider working with a consultant, such as Make it Peachy to design one for you.

Design a strategy ahead of time

As we know, there are so many different channels you can communicate through these days and it can be incredibly overwhelming. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the newest trends that you miss the chance to promote your service and product in the most effective way. Understand how the different platforms work, and design a communications strategy that is easy to follow. The Hub created a fantastic infographic outlining 25 great content marketing platforms for your brand. Don’t waste your time throwing your content in every direction, hoping for something to stick. Identify the platforms that best reach your audience and create a content adhesive that sticks every time.

Do your research

What is engaging your industry right now? What are they talking about? What are they debating? Do your research and understand where your industry stands. Where do your audience and clients stand? What are they interested in? How can you show that you offer this? If there is something newsworthy you want to comment on, make absolutely certain you have done your research. Making the time to do your research will keep you abreast of any developments in your industry and help you illustrate your knowledge to your clients.

Strip away the industry jargon

Whether you are designing a presentation, writing an email or creating original marketing content, remember to get rid of that jargon. I wrote a stand-alone blog on stripping away your jargon. As you know, you are the expert in your field, no one else is. The best way to engage people is to make your content as easy to consume as possible. Get rid of your technical lingo and shorten those sentences. Using jargon only serves to alienate people. You can show your expertise with far greater ease when you can explain your point using Plain English.

Don’t forget about your copy

Images and videos are fantastic ways to engage and seduce your readers. People love great videos, emotive pictures, and informative infographics. Make sure you use them where you can. They are a great way to grab your audience. In fact, while researching for this blog, I came across this amusing little video of a professor’s explanation of marketing.

However, ensure you back that up with some quality copy. Your choice of words explains your message and demonstrates your knowledge. Don’t flood your content with images and videos if you can’t back them up with engaging copy.

Educate yourself and your team

You may be the expert. You may have an extraordinary team and some socially progressive, financially sensible policies. The trouble is, if you don’t know how to get that across, you could end up with a hung parliament, or worse, not enough of the market share to actually affect change. If you don’t have the writing or presentation skills you need, don’t wing it – learn. There are thousands of courses around the country that offer up to date advice, tips and tools for you to become a better communicator. If you are looking for writing training, Make it Peachy offers a range  of courses and I can even design a personalised course for your team.

If in doubt, ask for help

If you aren’t confident that you can create engaging content, don’t do it. Talk to your communications and/or marketing team. If you don’t have one, engage a consultant. The only thing worse than not creating any content is creating terrible content. Don’t assume your clients will know you’re passionate and inspiring. Show them that you are.