‘A good writer can write well about any subject,’ I once thought.
That was before I got hired to write content for a B2C tech firm, a firm that creates remotely operated submersible vehicles. And you know what? My bachelor’s degree in English did nothing to help me explain advanced physics concepts. Go figure.
Despite that, I was only with the company for a month before I was assigned an article for a big industry publication. Topic: evolving ROV technology.
“But I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about!” I moaned.
And this, in a nutshell, is what being a content writer is all about; learning to write about boring or technical industries you can hardly wrap your liberal-arts-loving brain around.
Well, kind of. Maybe your agency or company has fascinating, consumer-friendly clients. But sometimes inbound content writers are staring down a need to drive traffic to topics on paper towels, waste management, or finance.
The struggle is real.
So how do we write content for boring or technical industries?
Consult the buyer personas
Before writing, you need to know who you’re writing for. There’s no better resource for figuring this out than your buyer personas. Are you writing a customer testimonial? Is it a product guide for Average Joe end users? Or is your assignment a high-level technical document for engineers?
Your buyer personas will tell you what pain points to address, what kind of voice to use, and how targeted your information should be.
Note: If your company doesn’t have buyer personas for your clients, it should; the benefits—from smarter sales to better customer service—are invaluable. And we can help you get started. Our blog has a whole series of posts that explain what personas are, why you need them, and how to create them. There’s even a template for you to use!
Do your homework
Whether you’ve made a long-term commitment to one industry or you’re simply writing a one-off, you need to do research. Lots and lots of research.
I’m not advising you to pursue a doctorate in the subject. I’m advising you do enough digging and reading to get more comfortable. Where to start?
- Google search
- Online forums
- Facebook articles
- Your clients
Talk to your expert coworkers
You know that area of your office building where the brain trust sits? The basement lab where the engineers work their magic? Get down there and ask questions. Or go out for a beer and bring a notebook. You’re on the same team so they want you to succeed. When the content writer succeeds, the marketing team succeeds, and when marketing succeeds the whole company wins.
Sure, everyone’s busy. And somehow it always seems like developers, engineers, and QA technicians are busier than everyone else. That just means you have to schedule the time to do interviews. When a physicist explained inertial navigation to me, an English major, in a way that made sense, I was then able to explain it to some other important laypeople: our customers.
Appreciate the competition
possible highly likely somebody has already written about your subject. This isn’t because you didn’t come up with a great topic, it’s because there are currently 7.125 billion people on Earth buying and selling a lot of the same stuff. Idea overlap is going to happen. But don’t fret! Your competition’s content is a resource.
There are valuable lessons to learn from a veteran company out there who’s doing it well. What forms does their content take? Do their infographics get a lot of engagement? Do they consistently offer white papers and e-books?
Note: We don’t condone copying or plagiarism. That’s just lazy. Besides, the only way to make your content stand out is to offer a fresh take. So appreciate, don’t duplicate.
If the topic isn’t interesting, make it helpful
Look, paper just isn’t that interesting. Even the paper people know paper isn’t interesting. So why on earth would someone want to read your content about paper? Because they need help. Their business uses thousands of sheets of paper a year and they want to know if synthetic is a better investment than traditional paper.
No matter what the subject is, find a way to provide for a need—instructions, information, ideas—and they’ll be grateful.
Write the way you talk
Do you know why Neil deGrasse Tyson is so beloved in pop culture? Because the American astrophysicist and cosmologist can explain things like the life cycle of a comet in an engaging and conversational way.
I understand why you might think you need a high-level, technical voice if you’re writing about high-level, technical concepts but that’s not always the case. Inject some personality into your content! Most of the engineers I worked with were tired of reading dense academic texts. Do you know what they most appreciated? Humor.
Unfortunately, I’m not that funny. MOVING ON.
Get your facts checked
You did all this work to write great content for a difficult industry. Well done! Now go have someone fact check your stuff. I’m not talking about a proofread for stray commas, I’m talking about having a subject matter expert check to make sure your explanation of inertial navigation is correct.
Once that’s done you’re in the clear. Until the next assignment, anyway.