Technical Writing 101: Writing content that actually gets read

Having written lots of good technical content that gets read, we feel we’re in a position to say – technical content isn’t your regular, Instagram-blogger-esque content.

But it’s not a hard nut to crack, either. Read on if you don’t believe us just yet, we’ll walk you through some important points that, if kept in mind, will help end your struggles with writing effective technical content.

First of all, what is the most important thing while writing? You’d think grammar, but that’s second. Empathy is what trumps it. Empathy towards your readers. And this advice isn’t specific to just technical content – it stands valid for any form of content you write. (Unless you’re filling your daily journal, and you’re the only reader.)

While not specific to just technical writing, the above advice sure holds slightly more relevance while writing technical content. It’s true that knowing how to write effective technical content isn’t something that comes naturally to all. But if you do it right, a little practice should get you settled for good.

Coming back to empathy – before you write even the first word, keep in mind the person who’s going to be at the other side of the screen. Knowing the user persona is as important while writing as it is for anything else.

Now, who all are included in the audience for your write-up? A college student? Business professionals? Tech gurus? Knowing this is important, so much so that it brings us to the first point:

Love thy neighbor reader

Love them enough to understand their thought process while they clicked on the link that redirects them to your content. Definitely easier said than done, this is, still, something that can be improved with practice.

If you’d like something straight from the horse’s mouth – while writing content for one of the leading Ed-tech platforms, we understood that the audience is largely comprised of people who have a fair bit of understanding of the topic. It’s not alien to them. But, they’re not experts, either. We leveraged this analysis by not explaining/expanding many of the jargons/acronyms in our pieces. But, the meat of the content had to be kept simple and understandable.

While writing for yet another such firm, we understood that the readers are mostly college students – with the attention span as long as two blinks of the eye. So, however technical the topic might sound like, it had to be kept simple, conversational, and reader-friendly. There was no chance we could assume knowledge.

Looking at the target group, using memes/puns and quirky analogies seemed like a good idea. Further, there are plenty of online resources like the good old r/explainlikeim5 which break down the most complicated concepts for even a toddler to understand. Such resources coupled with some YouTube tutorials on the subject helped us understand the topic well and truly.

We cannot expect our readers to understand the technicalities of the subject if we ourselves are clueless. This is what makes writing technical content a bit different (read: difficult) than the rest.

Technical writing requires you to really understand what you’re writing. For that, you need to research thoroughly. And that brings us to an important rule.

The “Three Times” rule

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The Three Times rule says that you should always find at least three reputable sources to verify your understanding of the subject. If nothing else, this will give you support should something written by you gets questioned by the reader or the client. Also, this will give you confidence to go on writing as if you own the subject. Only when you feel that way will you be truly able to make your reader understand.

The ITIL incident management page from Web Help Desk is a pretty neat example. Short for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, ITIL may sound like the name of a software program, but it’s actually a standard of best practices for seamless IT management.

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Clearly pretty technical, this topic.

Here, a simple web search may not be able to yield you a complete understanding of all the nuances a firsthand understanding could provide. So, the best way forward would be talking to at least three people who either have an ITIL certification, or an experience with the ITIL framework.

While simply Googling and writing from the source that first pops up seems like a lucrative idea, it’s bound to bite you in the ass. And come on, it’s the 21st century. Connecting with people was never this easy. Don’t be lazy, verify the information you have.

Not only do these primary sources support the quality and depth of the writing, but they can also provide topical legitimacy for the write-up.

So now you have your topic, you have understood the subject, and you’re all set to write. Yep, you’re writing a technical piece. No, it doesn’t have to be boring and bland.

Play with words, sentences, paragraphs. Weave the information in a story, so that the reader wants to read. And what does a story have?

A beginning, middle, and end

As a reader, it’s pretty disorienting when an article veers off in a direction you weren’t expecting. As a writer, plots twists can seem interesting.

But no, not while writing a technical article.

For readers, it’s easier to consume the information if they keep getting what they expect. It also helps you, the writer, keep the reader on track. Storytelling is an art, but weaving information into a story is something we got exposed to pretty early in our childhood. Throwback to the times of the nursery rhymes.

Put the art in the article, but keep the structure simple – both for you to write and the reader to read.

Beginning

The first couple of paragraphs will either make the reader stay or leave. It’s that simple.

Ideally, start off with a little bit of context. This will help readers understand the real-world applications of what you’ll be talking about. Slowly ease into tell them what they’ll get out of reading your article. What will be their key takeaways? And if possible, how will that information help them?

It might be tempting to leave the reveal for the end, but be careful: if you lack a good hook, readers might not stick around.

Middle

Now that your readers know exactly what to expect, give it to them. Go into as much detail as required, but keep the user persona in your mind all along.

Make use of metaphors and analogies to get the technicalities across. Leave sign-posts along the way to orient your readers. Use headings, subheadings, lists, tables to help people understand where they are. Structure the information you have in a way that people read exactly what they want to – if needed. This will enable them to skip around to the content they’re most interested in.

Always remember to back your data or statistics with a legitimate source.

End

Don’t disappear into the void before reaching the end. If your reader has made it all the way to the end, they deserve a nice conclusion.

There are quite a few ways to go about it. The most reliable one being – give your readers a quick summary of what all they learned, appreciate them for reading, and maybe even do something to inspire them – give a call to action.

There are definitely other ways out there, but the one we discussed is definitely bound to to get your readers understand the technicalities, all the while staying hooked to the write-up.

It’s not over till it’s over.

Add finishing touches: Packaging, Publication, Promotion

Now that you’ve everything in place, it’s time to poshing it up and ship it.

Packaging

Come up with a great title. It can be clickbaity, who’re we to judge, but don’t make it cringeworthy.

Make it neat, and convey precisely what is needed. This is what’ll tempt (or not) people from coming to your content. It’s your first chance to get people interested in reading the piece. Use it to your advantage.

It’s also extremely important that your post looks and feels professional – so that your content can really stand out from all the other blogs that float on the internet. You should aim to have zero spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or formatting issues.

Have someone go through what you’ve written. Since you’ve already put so much work into your post, it’s worth it to add that little extra effort to really polish it up and give it a wider reach.

Finally, don’t forget to credit anyone whose work you used as a reference.

Publication

If the piece is for a client, you should be good to go after you’ve neatly packaged it. You can skip to the last point.

For those writing it for themselves, pick a platform where your audience is more likely to be found. Medium is one such source for technical content, it also makes it easier for people to discover your writing. Brownie points if you can get it published in a relevant publication. It will help circulate your content and reach a larger audience.

Promotion

For those writing for a client, we meant the next point, not the next subpoint.

Once you’ve published the post, the second phase begins – making sure it reaches the audience. After all, you want people to get value out of what you’ve written. For that, you need people!

Join tech groups and communities on Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Hacker News, or any other platform of your choice. Make sure to share your post on your personal social media accounts, too. Your friends might be excited to read what you’ve written, and some of them might just share it, too.

And now, you’re done. At least for this article.

Go get a coffee, take a walk, freshen your mind. Come back after a while and read any feedback or comment your work might’ve received.

Get feedback and iterate

If you want to keep growing, you just can’t miss this step. This is exactly where whatever assumptions you had about your topics, goals, and other details of the post and the structure, are really put to test.

Bonus tip: As a call to action in your conclusion, you can ask your readers to leave comments/feedbacks, or their key takeaway from the article.

This might seem like a generic advice, but it makes a lot of sense when talking about technical content. Only when you welcome feedback will you know if your research was on point or not. Whether or not your write-up was technically correct. If it lacked at some places, you’ll know what not to do for your next pieces.

And yes, let there be a next piece. Even if your article doesn’t do as good as you’d have wanted, don’t stop trying.

There’s no replacement for practice

Irrespective of how your article performs, you should keep trying and sharpening your skills. Researching is also a skill and it’ll get better only with practice. As you keep writing, you’ll come across resources that are definitely bound to help – this will help you save time in the subsequent articles by fetching you information faster. And as far as tips for weaving that information goes, you now have this companion if you find yourself stuck somewhere.

Keep writing and exploring. Curiosity is a good thing (if you’re not a cat), and if anything, writing technical content will quench yours.

Let us know your thoughts on what we wrote? (Just practicing what we preached)

No, but seriously, do. And if you’re a technical writer, reach out to us if all you’d ever wished was to become a ninja. And if you need technical writers, reach out to us with your requirements?