Gone are the days when we could blurt some high-tech jargon and TLAs (three-letter acronyms) into a lengthy white paper and have tech people read it. In the past – and when I say past, I mean anywhere from a few months to decades ago – IT innovation moved slower, there were fewer products flooding into the market, and tech people had more time to digest information.
Times have changed
Now, innovations come thick and fast, and issues like COVID-19, Brexit, Trump’s USA and the Black Lives Matter movement have turned the playing field into shifting sands on a dangerous beach.
Our readers are inundated with information – white papers, journals, websites, news, video and phone calls, social media and personal visits – from people determined to show that their product is the answer to the world’s tech challenges.
So how do we make people read our messages instead of the others?
Busy people need simple content
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Our readers are not stupid or illiterate – they are typically highly educated professionals, often the smartest person in the room, and carrying the weight of great responsibility.
They also have reading ages far higher than the content we would write for them. We all do. Do you know that a broadsheet newspaper or serious news article is pitched at a reading age of around 12 years old? And the more fun, gossipy, sensational news, or an old tabloid newspaper, is pitched at a reading age of about eight.
When we write for our tech readers, we aim between eight and 12 years old to put up the fewest barriers between our message and their brains as possible.
And we don’t stop there.
We make content ‘snackable’
Have you noticed that I’ve peppered a few headings through this post? People tend to read online articles by scanning down the left side and reading underneath the headings that grab them. We accommodate this by breaking up the content using subheadings and including graphics, graphs and break-out boxes to draw their eye.
But make the snacks nutritious…
Each snack of information needs to contain a discrete message – it needs to stand alone as well as work within the flow. Graphics and their captions need to tell a story.
Break-out boxes or pull-text need to be self-contained, and should carry key messages – because often they’re the only snacks that busy people will read.
Keep the messaging simple and repeat the important points. You can even use a pull-quote to repeat the most important messages in your piece. Always remember that your writing has a job to do, and don’t lose sight of that job.
Keep your eye on the prize
Ultimately, we have been commissioned to use our writing to convey a message to someone, or persuade them to take some sort of action. It’s not enough for our writing to be merely competent. We’re competing for attention against other white papers and email campaigns, against people’s day jobs, Wired magazine, Buzzfeed and, even more now that people are working at home, YouTube videos, TikTok, family life and important chores.
Our content must be super-easy to read to compete with those other distractions.
Always remember that your writing has a job to do, and don’t lose sight of that job.
In the end, we’ve been hired to tell a story to specific readers. While we can write the most beautifully crafted techy novella, it’s not going to do the job for our readers.
Our stories must be simple, accessible and interesting. If writing for dummies is what it takes to get busy tech people to read our clients’ messages, then we’re going to write for dummies.
And our readers will love us for it!