Usually, technical content’s written by a technical copywriter, but, unfortunately, not everyone has the resource or budget for that luxury.
So, whether you’ve got a best practice template, cheat sheet, policy, pathfinder or tutorial on the horizon, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to consider to create technical content that’s engaging, insightful, and understandable.
1. Know your audience
Before you think about putting pen to paper have a clear understanding of who’ll be reading the content.
Let’s say you’re GDPR compliance company. If your audience is IT Managers, odds are, they’ve already got a very good understanding of all things GDPR and they won’t need their hand-holding. If you’re targeting your content at, say, CEOs who are already wearing umpteen hats though, you might need to strip your content back a bit and cover the basics in more detail.
And if you want to target two or more wildly different audiences with the same topic, consider creating a few different variations - after all, there’s no use investing time into something that doesn’t connect with its reader.
2. Strip out the jargon
When you’re writing something to do with your own product or service it can be easy to start dropping in lingo no-one else knows, so keep this mantra in mind throughout: just because you know what you mean, it doesn’t mean everyone else does.
To sense check what you’ve written pass it over to someone who’s slightly more removed from the topic and ask them if they understand everything. If it’s a no, get them to highlight which areas tripped them up and think about revising them accordingly.
3. Write in the second person
In an ideal world, technical content would be replaced by speaking to your audience first-hand, but no-one has the time or manpower for that nowadays. So, make your words the next best thing by talking to your readers.
You, your and yours are go-to words for this.
4. Make it visual
Talking people through complex processes can be tough to simplify, so, if you’re struggling to find the words use screenshots and images instead. They’ll break up your copy, make your instructions easier to follow, and remove any risk of misinterpretation.
5. Keep it simple
Even if you identified your audience as advanced that doesn’t mean your content can’t be simple - we all like an easy read, don’t we? If someone’s going to be reading your document after a long day, or in between meetings, or over their lunch, the last thing they want is to have to really concentrate on the words; so make it as easy as possible to take in.
Here are some tips to keep your writing simple:
- Write like you talk. Because that’s what you’re doing at the end of the day.
- Use casual alternatives. For example, instead of saying ‘converse’ say ‘chat’, ‘talk’ or ‘discuss’.
- Focus on your sentence structure. Too many long or short sentences can be exhausting and jarring.
- Use examples. They can be easier to apply.
Remember to keep your writing on-brand too. If you normally talk to prospects and customers in a friendly and informal style don’t turn into a robot all of a sudden - you’ll alienate your technical piece from your brand and give people mixed signals.
6. Break it up
Long paragraphs can be intimidating to look at and that’s not exactly the impression you’re going for. To make your technical piece a little easier on the eye:
- Try and stick to around three or four lines per paragraph;
- Use subtitles to break up chunky clusters of content;
- Differentiate your H1, H2, H3 etc. tags to create a clear hierarchy;
- Where applicable, turn your content into lists by making use of bullet points (images, letters or numbers); and
- Insert tables to make clunky info easier to scan.
7. Stay on topic
From start to finish ask yourself “what’s the point in this?”. If you’re writing something that doesn’t add value or answer the question, scrap it. It’ll tighten up your core message and get rid of any waffle that distracts from it.
If you find yourself going off on a tangent that’s interesting but just not relevant to the piece, add it to your list of ideas and explore creating something else with it.
8. Decide on what to capitalise
Now this point will vary depending on your business’ brand guidelines, but, before you get going, set out which words will and won’t be capitalised.
Entities that are commonly capitalised include:
- Company name,
- Product titles,
- Job titles,
- Campaign names, and
You might also want to capitalise and/or italicise navigation buttons and instructions. For example, instead of directions looking like this:
- Once you’re in the portal go to the my profile tab and click save and continue.
You could format them to look like this:
- Once you’re in the portal go to the My Profile tab and click Save and Continue.
It just separates the action words from the rest and helps create a bit of clarity.
There’s no right or wrong way with this, but one thing we’ll reiterate is consistency is key.
9. Add a contents
If you’re producing a particularly long piece of technical content it might be worth adding a contents to the beginning. This, along with page numbers and your clear headings, will allow readers to quickly and easily jump to the sections they’re most interested in.
10. Proof, proof, and proof some more
Last but not least, as with any piece of content, make sure you proofread what you’ve written. Here are some tips to make sure no typo goes unnoticed:
- If you can, proofread with a fresh pair of eyes - i.e. the day after you’ve finished writing;
- Bump up the font size to make mistakes easier to catch;
- Whack your words into something like Grammarly; and
- Ask a colleague to give it a once over too.
And remember to keep an eye out for:
- Grammatical errors,
- The general flow, and
- Confusing sentence structures.