Most technical communicators I know can be divided into 2 types.
There are the ones who love creating general About/Welcome sections in their docs and get off on illustrating workflows, business value, etc.
And then, the ones who need a whole cake and then some to coax themselves into writing overviews and designing diagrams. It’s much easier for this type to write instructions about tangible, down-to-earth, even techy stuff.
My friend Viktoria Bezsmolna is the definitive type 1. Still, this free-spirited girl landed in our InfoDev department. But soon enough, she eloped to marketing. And then to PR. Now, she is a freelance writer and has her own blog – yay!
I finally decided to get to the bottom of how this journey worked out for her.
Our 1,5-hour interview was very thought-provoking, and here’s how it all summed up in my head.
Landmark #1: technical content
Somber, precise, hyper-correct, detail-oriented.
Limited in stylistic effects, especially with serious companies that ‘mean business’ and have their own clean-cut no-nonsense style.
Related to palpable, precise things.
Instructional, thus helpful in stressful situations (rescue squad hero syndrome).
Cornerstone – standards
If you like to figure out how things work and have an analytical mindset, techwriting standards and regulations are kind of a blessing because they allow you to focus on the content itself, not so much on the form or phrasing. You have one goal: explain.
At the same time, don’t you find it frustrating to follow all these strict, often rigid standards: comma here, period there, tut-tut no passive voice, etc.? Oh, and avoid ‘etc.’ of course.
Accepting those linguistic limitations may come hard if you have a dislike for institutions.
Surprisingly though, with time, you soak them in and make your peace.
May even take a leap of faith and get adamant in following them through.
Often because linguistic standards are something specific, down-to-earth, as definitive as black-and-white.
In a sense, being restricted can be very liberating – gives you less options to fail.
Conversion from rebel writer to standard-enabled writer usually comes around when we accept adherence to linguistic standards as a factor in content quality.
Only, this is the factor that should matter last, after accessibility, usability, and technical correctness.
Look at it that way: the users will only care about a misplaced comma in an article that they manage to find, understand, and apply… right?
Somehow though, our radars are picking up a tendency to place more importance on linguistic aspects than the essential viability and targeting of the content.
Landmark #2: PR/marketing content
Wordy, praiseful, unique, pretty.
Closer to the skin of users.
Obtrusive, all-about-nothing, tacky, created to haunt.
Largely dependent on corporate image, standard-driven in its own way.
Cornerstone – catchiness
Here, the form stops mattering so much.
Contrary to tech content, marketing content is most valuable when it stands out, grabs attention, is written in a creative, unique, and catchy manner.
Sounds like here you can get what you missed in techwriting – the freedom to express yourself in all the flashy adjectives you like.
No more template-driven restrictions! Reckless writer broke free!
Time to write a big exciting case study. Here we go! Oh, no…
Here we go… another template. Where is the promised liberty?
As it turns out, marketing content has a lot of its own templates, rules, and restrictions too.
You just need to have that ultimate ability to focus on the bright side (or create one if it does not exist).
What I mean is, it’s that kind of creative where you often don’t have much real data to go on, and so you have to fantasize in writing about how great the product is.
Baseline: if you don’t like writing fiction, don’t go into marketing.
Because if tech docs describe how the product works, then marketing docs describe how it should have worked if it worked properly. Soon, you’ll find yourself stuck stirring the same cliches round and round. There are only so many fake benefits. 🙂
You see, true lies of marketing content sound more convincing when they are at least remotely based on cold facts.
Go get them from the engineers.
Good thing you come from the techwriting background which includes the mandatory 101 course ‘Beating (or coaxing) the knowledge out of SMEs’.
OK, what does our product actually do?
Peel away unnecessary details, take the essence.
Focus on achievements from each small task.
And figure out how they can translate into one big win.
Congratulations, you wrote something creative.
Now, serve it fashionably.
You may be a free-running writer now, but you still need to mind your basics – let your meticulous self proofread the content.
Landmark #3: social media content
Quick, short, easy, fun, superficial.
Interactive, playful, engaging.
Lots of reaction, mostly negative (there’s always someone who’ll complain).
Media-driven, largely depends on visual support.
Cornerstone – distribution
So hey, there are the guys who write tech docs and marketing docs.
What they do is sit, and write, and complain they don’t have access to the target audience.
But do they really give much thought how to popularize their content, get their target audience to read and react?
Not really, because that’s a whole different area.
And now that all those tech and marketing docs are cooked up, it’s time for the social media content writer to share exciting news with the universe.
…can I please just be writing tech manuals for the rest of my life?
Don’t fall into despair.
Just make sure you are equipped to handle all that negative feedback. Preferably, with some creative content.
When writing for social media, you need to do surprisingly little writing.
You depend very much on visual media (content is largely driven by design, while in tech docs content drives design, and in marketing they are equal).
What little text you create is driven by SEO keywords.
You don’t explain or advertise.
Your ultimate objective is to get viewers, followers, reposts, engagement.
So what you need to do is study trends, catch the ride on hot news, events, popular topics… which are often old news by the time you get an epiphany and come up with a related joke. Quick and reactive must be in your nature.
In techwriting, you got users begging you for documentation. You just have to know how to deliver it. In marketing and social media though, you have to win readers the hard way.
So, here’s what our content types are generally about:
- Techwriting – creation; main course
- Marketing – beautification; garnish
- Social media – spreading; dessert
Pillars of different content types:
- Techwriting – simplicity, clarity, logical structure, focusing on info needed at this specific moment
- Marketing – fixed layouts, lots of visuals, importance of being interesting by being bold, different, and by having a unique angle
- Social media – channels of distribution, importance of keywords, resonating with people and getting noticed, actualization – trends & jokes, breathing life into content
I hope this article helped you figure out what type of content is your type: tech, marketing, or social media. Or maybe, something else altogether.
There are many types of content that effectively evolve into a mix of technical marketing:
- Professional customer-oriented blogs
- Public technical content & integration content
- One-pagers that combine both selling points and explain the underlying solution in technical terms
- Publicistic articles that showcase the understanding of the business domain and emerging business trends with subtle situational marketing
And of course, you will need to spread the word about your article across various social media.
Pheww, that was one long-winded article.
Let us know how you feel about it!
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