Breaking binary: 4 ways to master IT content writing

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Tackling a content marketing strategy for a technology company? Here's an intro to tech writing to help n00bs can master IT content.

The corporate IT world is changing rapidly. It’s filled with people who know the field inside and out, and are passionate about what they do. They care about getting every detail right and expect all information they share to reflect their expertise and position in the marketplace, yet they know they need content at scale to keep up with the industry.

It might be hard for a veteran in the IT field to understand how an outsourced writer can fill such large shoes. They might assume the knowledge gap is too broad to traverse, but that’s not the case at all for writers who are willing to work hard. By taking a few extra steps before crafting content, writers can ensure technology-centric content speaks perfectly to a brand and its audience.

The journey from IT novice to tech editor

Don’t get me wrong. I honestly think writing for technology clients is one of the toughest tasks a content writer can take on. Many writers – myself included – enter the content marketing world with a faint notion of what a server actually is. And, tech companies rarely want blog posts about iPads or laptops, the kinds of technology we’re most familiar with. No, we’re delving into the world of help desk support and .NET app development – the kinds of topics people with years of experience in corporate IT departments really care about.

However, dedicated writers will pick up on the trends and industry language, to the point where they can speak confidently about technical subjects. As someone who used to write food blogs and political news articles, it sometimes scares me to think how much I now know about topics like software-defined networking and cloud computing.The journey from IT novice to tech content writer is not easy, but very possible.

Here are my four main pieces of advice for writers who want to master the art – and science – of writing content for technology companies.

1. Research, research, research

Research is a critical part of what every writer does, and I think it’s especially crucial for technology companies. There’s simply no way to write quality content – whether it’s an op-ed piece, white paper, news analysis or trend article - if we don’t first take the time to understand core concepts and get the facts straight.

The type and depth of research done before writing will vary depending on the project. After all, writing a white paper is nothing like penning a 200-word news blurb, but everything we produce is – and has to be – well researched.

For example, I’m currently working on a content strategy for one client in the home automation space. Before writing, I had never used this technology or written about it in any capacity. But, I threw myself headfirst at the problem, conducting lots of research both from expert sources I dug up online and the company’s website. At the end of this process, I was able to write copy the client was ecstatic to read.

When it comes to research methods, there is something for every writer, but I find these most helpful:

  • YouTube videos – especially whiteboard tutorials
  • White papers or webinars
  • Case studies on topics like IT asset management or cloud database configuration (which can help writers understand customers’ common pain points)

2. Channel your inner Nick Burns

For those of you who are not as big a Saturday Night Live fan as I am, Nick Burns is a character played Jimmy Fallon – and he’s basically every IT-guy stereotype rolled up into one. He’s snarky, he’s nerdy, he looks down on those who don’t know anything about computers – and he’s hilarious. 

Another one of my favorite technology and pop culture references is the BBC sitcom, The IT Crowd, which depicts two nerds toiling away despite the lack of appreciation they receive, while also being supervised by someone who knows nothing about IT.

The IT Group GIFSo why do I bring these up? While each one presents a caricature of what an IT department staff member is really like, they provide examples of what technology writers should do – imagine themselves as IT guys (or gals). My point here is that before writing anything, technology writers need to channel their inner Nick Burns and think about what someone in the industry would want to read.

As a writer, having your work read and enjoyed is one of the biggest joys you can get. So, why bother writing about technology if IT people won’t be interested in what you have to say? It’s one thing to write, it’s totally another thing to write for an audience. Maurice and Roy from the IT Crowd may be an over exaggeration, but I think it’s safe to anyone who’s ever had to defrag a hard drive or work a help desk can relate to their trials and tribulations.

3. Get your hands dirty

I often find that IT marketers worry their content writers lack the hands-on experience of their own internal teams. This is a fair point, as I know I don’t have the experience that the clients I work with everyday have in regards to all things IT. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t write to this audience – it just means that we need to take time first to gain the level of experience and understanding necessary to write to this level.

But, this then begs of question: How a writer can gain this valuable experience?

Some of the knowledge comes with time. After all, the more articles you write about the cloud, the more likely it is that you understand the industry and its nuances, but here are other ways to gain this level of insight, such as:

  • Reading up on the subject (a lot)
  • Attending sales demos
  • Watching companies’ instructional videos
  • Learning about it live – One of my most valuable experiences was an in-person tour of a data center in 2013, and some of our tech team writers have even taken introductory software development classes.

BYOD. SDN. NFV. MDM. HIPAA. Know what these acronyms have in common? They can easily confuse people with little or no tech background.

4. Never be intimidated

BYOD. SDN. NFV. MDM. HIPAA. Know what these acronyms have in common? They can easily confuse people with little or no tech background. The amount of jargon and referential technologies in the IT world can be staggering, sometimes to the point where it feels like these words are made point expressly to bewilder outsiders.

It’s easy to be intimidated in the face of all of these seemingly foreign phrases, but writers will be successful if they understand what each means to the industry at large and to each company’s unique audience. Once writers get past the initial confusion and understand what modern IT is all about, a seasoned IT professional could easily mistake their writing for someone with decades of experience in the field.

Tech writing is definitely not for everyone, but working on IT-related content has been enormously enlightening for me. There never ceases to be new challenges writing, editing and working with clients in this space. 

Not every writer is a tech expert, but not every tech professional has a gift with words. When we work together in positive partnerships, we can pull from each other’s strengths so writers can become masters in BYOD, or VoIP equipment or talk about defragging a hard drive as confidently as an internal expert.

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Matthew Kaplan is the Section Editor of the Technology desk at Brafton's Chicago office, overseeing the editorial production of all of Brafton's technology and IT clients in the Midwest and on the West Coast. In this role, Matt has written and edited about everything from data center energy efficiency and virtualization to cloud-based unified communications and big data analytics. Matt's previous SEO copywriting and editing experiences include working for local newspapers and a healthy eating website.
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