If you’re a technical writer engaging in content marketing, you may not be reaching all of your possible readers.
Technical writers are great at writing for other tech experts, but what about the average person?
- The person with basic computing knowledge (they can navigate word processing software, cloud storage, and basic photo editing, and can set up online accounts)
- The person who is handy with their phone as long as they have the right app
- The person who is adept at social media
- Someone who can build a website as long as they go through a platform with a drag-and-drop editor
These people have some basic tech knowledge.
It doesn’t go very deep, though. They have never tinkered with HTML, XML, or CSS; they don’t understand how back-end development works, and they don’t have the technical vocabulary required to understand your more in-depth blog posts.
So, why are they worth your attention?
Sometimes, these people are the big decision-makers. They’re the bosses who have the final say on whether the tech expert you’re writing for can buy that new software.
Or, they’re the higher-ups who have the last word on whether their company invests in your technology.
Their tech knowledge may be basic, but their clout is BIG.
So, if you’re only blogging and writing for other developers and tech-savvy experts like you, you may want to rethink that approach.
By all means, continue writing in-depth articles and how-tos on nitty-gritty tech processes, workflows, and developments.
If you’re in a tech industry, you also absolutely must consider writing for the tech layperson every once in a while to help them understand the value of certain technologies, including how they work.
With that said, we’re sharing tips to help you come down to earth and write for people with average tech knowledge and know-how.Are you writing tech content for your audience (tech layperson) or tech experts (people like you, and probably NOT your reader base)? Find out the difference in @JuliaEMcCoy's guide. Click To Tweet
The Technical Writer’s Blog Guide to Writing for a General Audience: 5 Key Tips
1. Imagine Explaining Your Topic to a Person You Know
It can be hard to sit down and write a blog post with a “general audience” in mind. It’s not specific enough to help guide your writing.
Instead, when you sit down to write the post, focus on explaining the topic like you would to someone outside your field who has average tech knowledge – like a family member or a friend.
How would you approach helping them understand the subject?
For starters, you wouldn’t use a technical vocabulary. If you had to use technical terms at all, you would need to explain them first, and maybe put them into contexts your listener would understand. (See tips #2 and #3.)
As you can see, thinking of a specific person can help direct your approach to explaining complex topics. It gives you a starting point because you’ll have a good idea of what that person knows and doesn’t know about your subject.
Just remember to choose someone to write for who matches up with the base knowledge of the general audience you want to address. (Note: This is a good opportunity to develop a new audience persona for future use!)
2. Use Analogies, Comparisons, and Examples
One of the best ways to introduce complex topics to a general audience is to relate them to concepts or ideas your readers already know intimately.
One apt comparison or example can neatly illustrate a difficult point much more effectively than you’d think.
For example (see what I’m doing, here?), look at this blog post from an IT services company. The post topic is the present-day use of the cloud.
In this section, the writer explains how companies use cloud technology:
The technical blog writer could have said “It seems every company out there has to have some product or service with ‘cloud’ attached to it” and left it at that. Or, they could have reeled off a list of companies with cloud technology and stopped there.
That wouldn’t work, though, because that approach wouldn’t help the audience put the concept of cloud computing in context with their everyday lives.
Instead, the writer uses multiple examples of how his readers might be using the cloud without even realizing it: The music they listen to, the fitness trackers they wear on their wrists, the pictures they share on social media, and even their fancy new refrigerator implement cloud technology in some shape or form.
For many people, this is a huge key to unlocking comprehension of a concept. As soon as they can relate it to what they already know and understand, the lightbulb clicks on.
As such, sprinkle plenty of real-world examples, analogies, and comparisons into your content to make complex ideas relatable and easier to understand.
3. Be Mindful of the Words You Use
Take a look at this blog post about dynamic email templates from a software company:
“Transactional templates”? “Deep object replacement”? “Dynamic templating languages”?
The vocabulary used here is way over a general audience’s head, but that’s because the writer is talking to other developers.
If you don’t have any of these terms in your word bank, this post isn’t for you. However, if you’re the one knee-deep in terms like these day-in and day out, it can become second-nature to include them in your speech. You may forget what a general audience knows and doesn’t know.
To write for the masses, you don’t have to dumb yourself down; you just need to adjust your vocabulary.
- Avoid specialized terms and industry jargon. If you do use them, offer definitions and explanations.
- Try to find simpler terms that are easier to understand to replace specialized vocabulary.
- If you find you can’t explain a concept without using specialized terms, you may need to broaden your topic to explain it more generally.
Look at how WebsiteSetup.org highlights specialized terms in the text and takes ample time to explain what they mean:
4. Start Broad
Complex topics are easier to explain if you begin with broad, basic facts to set up a foundation for understanding. Then, once your readers get the basics, you can drill down to specifics.
Setting up your explanations this way is called the cone principle:
Start with the most basic concepts you can assume your general audience already understands.
For example, if I wanted to write a blog about setting up a website from scratch with WordPress, I would begin with these basic assumptions:
- My audience has heard of this platform
- They have a very basic understanding of HTML
- They know how to carry out basic internet tasks, like downloading and uploading files
In the blog above, the writer assumes his audience understands these basics, which lets him start his explanation of website setup by going over the function and use of a content management system as an alternative to coding a website.
He doesn’t have to teach them how to boot up a computer, how to use the internet, or what the heck WordPress is. They have a broad baseline of understanding the writer can use to walk them into new concepts.
That said, the writer is still starting by explaining fairly broad concepts, but he needs to do this to orient his readers. Once he walks them through the landscape of that topic, he can introduce them to specific parts of the scenery.
For example, once the writer explains the broad concept of a content management system, this sets up the reader with a baseline of knowledge so they can later learn how to customize and tweak their website within that system.
5. Break Up Your Content into Manageable Chunks
The final tip for simplifying and clarifying your writing is the easiest:
Break up your content.
Yet, in school, we’re trained to write differently. We’re told that each paragraph should contain a topic sentence, plus 5-6 supporting sentences.
For online writing, that doesn’t work.
The average internet user has an attention span shorter than a goldfish.
Long paragraphs full of complicated explanations are hard to read, hard to understand, and, because your readers are staring at an electronic screen, hard on the eyes.
Your audience isn’t reading a printed page, so don’t treat your content like you’re writing a book.
Help aid ease-of-reading and shorten your paragraphs – significantly.
Look at this example, a blog about how to set up an email campaign. It’s nice that they have bolded key terms, but the paragraphs are way too long:
Paragraph #2 alone could be divided into 4-6 separate paragraphs, which would make it easier to read and understand.
In contrast, look at this blog on a similar topic. Paragraphs are very short, and each one is limited to a single key point:
As a result, it’s a much clearer, easier read.
When you’re writing about complex topics or addressing a general audience, you need to make sure you are as clear as possible. Shorter paragraphs can help immensely.
This is the easiest way to make your writing more readable right away, so don’t neglect it.
Technical Writers CAN Blog for General Readers – And They Should
If it makes sense for your business, blogging for a wider, general audience can do a lot for you. It can:
- Help expand your online presence
- Introduce newbies to your technology or software
- Help the tech experts you usually write for to get buy-in from their non-techie bosses or higher-ups
Before you dive in, analyze your audience. Are there readers you’re ignoring with your content? If this is the case, implement the above steps to help you write technical posts in a down-to-earth way. Dedicate one or two posts every month to this group.
You never know what opportunities may come from your technical writer blog as a result.