I’ve been blogging on tax-technical matters for about three months now at uktp4u.com and I thought it was time to take a step back to review what I’ve done and see how I can do it better.
This note is the result of that review. It applies to all technical posts (we’re not talking about Journal writing here, that’s an entirely different skill set) and I’d like to share it with you and other technical bloggers. It sets out the 8 key areas you might overlook in the excitement of writing that will prevent your posts from reaching their widest possible audience. Hopefully this will help you improve your technical writing skills.
1. You don’t really know your audience
Your target audience for technical writing will be people like you; experts, busy professionals who appreciate articles that deal with the issues they face. Think of the questions they’d like to be answered, or the issues they like to be clarified. Provide them with useful information, something that will benefit them. Overt marketing or sales pitches should be avoided as they are likely to turn these readers away, and they may not come back. Concentrate on informing and educating your readers. The tone of your article should be matched to your target audience. Professionals will expect you to be honest, confident and authoritative.
2. You didn’t focus on your theme
Stick to your chosen theme. If your blog is about tax, then stick to tax. Similarly a good article is focussed on one topic. Be focused and specific. Write your post as if you’re writing for one person, for yourself. If you can inform / educate /motivate that one person then you can do the same for others. Don’t try to include too much as your readers will lose interest. Rather than write about general taxation, you might be better focussing on Corporation Tax or Income Tax, but not both. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drift off-topic when it’s something new and important, so long as it’s connected with the main theme.
3. You didn’t say anything new
Articles that are of topical interest to other professionals in your field are more likely to be read, as are new ways of looking at existing issues, particularly if based on the writer’s practical experience. Does your article say something new, does it provide a clear and balanced review of an existing topic? A good article will say something new or cover something old in a new way, and will attract readers.
4. Your article was too long and rambling
Short articles are OK. Say your piece and then stop. “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1900-1944). The readers you are targeting are experienced professionals so there’s no need to spell out the underlying basics. A short aide memoire is all that’s required for the background stuff, perhaps with a link to a more detailed work for those that want it. Then focus on the main message of your article.
5. You writing was vague and loose
Do your research and use your own words when you write it up. Don’t cut & paste others work unless it’s an intentional quote and you acknowledge it as such. Write clearly, no long words when short words will do, no long sentences or needless acronyms where a short sentence can get the same message across. Use lists where appropriate, readers like lists. Aim to make your articles so clear and simple that the message comes across as “common sense”. However, technical accuracy is more important that perfect writing. Your peers may accommodate the latter, but their patience will quickly run short if you get the former wrong.
6. Your headline was dull
Your headline is the most important line of your article. A dull headline can kill your post. A great headline clearly communicates what your article is about and tells potential readers that reading it will be a good use of their time. Think about what matters to your readers when crafting a headline. Include strong adjectives such as “smart”, “surprising”, “huge”, “shocking” etc. Numbers can also be attractive, for example, “5 Behaviours Guaranteed to Annoy the Taxman” or on a more positive note “5 Actions Guaranteed to Impress the Taxman”. A relevant image can also boost the impact of your headline. Ensure your headline is less than 70 characters long so it’s not chopped by Google. Finally, your headline should also be “SEO” friendly (see point 8 below). There’s a whole library of articles dedicated to headline writing, Google it and check out a few.
7. You forgot about distribution
Having written the perfect Technical Article and saved it on your blog site, how do you get it read? Well that’s where social media can help. You could post the headline on your twitter feed along with a link to the article. Put a short summary on your Facebook timeline and Group Pages, again with a link to the full article. You could post the entire article on your LinkedIn timeline and Group pages, or again a summary plus link back to your website. If your contacts like it they’ll share or retweet and before you know it you’ll have an audience.
8. SEO? What’s that?
You could also attract readers through search engines such as Google & Bing. However, to improve your chances of being found you need to be aware of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) when writing your article, so choose your tags and keywords wisely. Subtle use of SEO will greatly assist the distribution of your articles without affecting the quality of writing. Search engine optimisation is a topic all to itself. Google it. However, there is an easy way to identify appropriate keywords. Let’s say you’re writing an article on Capital Allowances. Type “capital allowances” into Google and its predictive function will give you a drop-down list of alternative search terms that others have used. Try incorporating some of these into your article. Also, if you look to the bottom of your list of Google hits you’ll see a section headed “Searches related to capital allowances” with some other suggestions. Try incorporating some of these. Don’t go overboard with keywords and phrases though, use them subtly, otherwise the quality of your writing will suffer. Also, Google’s smart software will spot that you’re trying to influence it and penalise you by dropping your article down the list.
I hope you found these technical writing tips and tricks useful. A final thought. Expect, indeed welcome, criticism. This might be the closest you get to a peer review of your work beyond your immediate colleagues. Keep an open mind, most will be constructive and you’ll learn from the experience.
Happy technical writing.