Career Growth

5 Lessons Non-Technical Writers Can Learn from Technical Writers

Cierra Loflin
May 30, 2023

Writing for technical audiences can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you want to niche down into more technical subject matter or write more impactful content, there’s much to learn from technical writers. In the broad sense, technical writing can consist of anything from documentation to research-driven thought-leadership content for CTOs, developers, engineering managers, and beyond.

Below are lessons shared by technical content marketers, covering independent research, writing for a small audience, focusing on explaining processes, not mastering them, and being subtle with calls to action. By applying these lessons, non-technical writers can create content that resonates with a technical audience.

1. Start with independent research

The first lesson is simple but crucial: don’t be intimidated by a subject because it’s new to you. Embrace opening dozens of tabs and get digging. 

Mariya Delano from Kalyna Marketing wrote a good guide on interpreting technical content—the gist is that by breaking down new terms, logic you don’t follow, unknown acronyms, etc., you can understand what you’re reading. Once you have the basics down, you can hop on a call with an SME to add their unique insights.

“There are countless resources online that can teach you to understand how technical processes (public key encryption, crypto mining, neural networks, you name it) work without having to rely on a busy colleague to explain it to you,” says Dana Cass, a freelance writer who spent five years writing technical volumes for government proposals.

“If you already know the basics, you can use your time with SMEs more productively to discuss substance: structure, tone, benefits, and differentiators," she explains.

Suggested Reading: 11 Advanced Research Tips For Content Marketers

Since initial Google results often aren’t as in-depth as you need, research can be more productive via YouTube, threads in forums, Reddit, and other niche communities.

2. Embrace writing for a small audience

Tom Critchlow, Creator of the SEO MBA, wrote about “small b blogging” in 2018, but the term is just as relevant today. The idea is that writing is a lot more powerful when it’s structured as “a few notes on [topic]” with a few people in mind. On the other hand, big B blogging, or articles written for large audiences, often ends up being watered down and generic, not written for anyone in particular.

Technical writers like Alexey Klochai, founder of Wizard on Demand, know this better than anyone. He shares that once his agency started working on content not only for the developer but audiences in the whole buyer journey of technical tools (VPs, Managers, etc.), they realized there were a lot of details that each audience group cares about.

“There’s a big difference in writing for a senior developer versus a staff developer versus a senior staff developer. They care about different things,” he says. “Speaking to a smaller audience can be much more valuable because you can speak to their pain points and add real value.”

3. Focus on explaining rather than mastering

Many content writers prefer to avoid more complex topics such as insurance, compliance, or engineering. They opt for more intuitive topics, such as health and wellness—hence why these niches are so saturated. But writers don’t have to master what they’re writing about, they just have to understand it enough to explain it to the reader. 

“You don't need to be able to write the code yourself to explain how something works,” Dana says. “Code is a logical sequence of steps that lead to an outcome: you only need to be able to explain each of those steps. A writer's unique skill is translating what an engineer knows intuitively into language that speaks to the reader.” 

So you don’t need to be a master in compliance, insurance, or engineering to write in these niches. Instead, focus on your ability to translate high-level jargon into terms and concepts readers can digest and get value from.

4. Create a process for including important details

Though extensive outlines can sometimes stump creativity, they can be helpful for tackling more complex subject matter. Content specialist Shivani Maheshwari from WrittenlyHub says that being methodological with the draft helps ensure the important details don’t get left out.

Since technical audiences care a lot about accuracy and details, Alexey's agency peer-reviews content multiple times for fact-checking and accuracy before they go out. Even if you’re just sending an article to another writer on your team, having another set of eyes can help catch inaccuracies that distract from your main argument. 

5. Be subtle with call to actions

Finally, people who write for developers have to reel in ‘salesy’ messaging. Subtlety is the most important lesson SEO and Content Consultant Kasper Siig has learned in writing for technical audiences.

“Sign up for a free trial today" doesn't work on developers, so I have to be much more creative in how I present a company's offering,” he says. “Often this resembles "With [feature of the tool](link to another blog post talking about X feature) you can achieve Y". Not only does a conversion have to feel like the reader's decision, it has to feel like their idea.” 

This goes back to basic copywriting principles of “showing,” not “telling," but it's especially useful when talking to audiences who don't like marketing.

Suggested Listening: Episode 4 - Alloy Automation: Tina Donati’s Strategy for Mastering Technical Subject Matter

So there you have it, five lessons that can help non-technical writers write more complex subject matter. Even if you're not writing specifically for developers, engineers, or similar audiences, these lessons will help your writing be more clear and impactful.

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