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4 Tips for Simplifying Writing in the Tech Industry

3 min read

How old were you when you realized you loved technology? I’m guessing you were quite young. You may be a great fit for the tech industry. Yet not everyone thinks the way you do.

For example, I’ll guess that you know someone who is creative, productive, and successful, yet wouldn’t know what to do next if frustrated by early attempts at using a new technology. People like this abound, and they are proof that not everyone’s brain is wired for immediate grasp of technological concepts.

You can still communicate well with them, though. Your industry uses a specialized vocabulary and even a specialized way of thinking, so you need to make a few adjustments when you communicate with the rest of us. If you do, we’ll do our part to understand.

Maybe these four tested tips will help

  1. Find a familiar process or idea that your readers already understand. Use it to explain your less-familiar one to us.

  2. Abandon the idea that you need to sound “smart.” Sound simple and clear.

  3. Avoid acronyms and tech slang so that everyone can follow you better.

  4. When you have to use a technical term, explain it.

First, find a familiar process or idea that your readers already understand.

I am one of your non-technical readers. Many of us aren’t even entirely sure how saving to the cloud works, but we’re not stupid. We’re wired differently. So think about what you want to discuss. Find a thing or process that is comparable and already familiar. Use that to explain your technology to us.

For example, when I taught teams of engineers about HIV in the 1990s, they often failed to understand why used needles can transmit HIV but mosquitoes cannot. I tried many approaches before my engineer brother suggested I talk about “design specifications.” Both needles and mosquitoes have design specifications, if you will. The next time the inevitable mosquito bite question arose, I swallowed hard and answered, “Different design specifications.”

Everyone nodded and moved on. For a moment, I had spoken their language, and they were satisfied. I was stunned.

Second, abandon the idea that you need to sound “smart” when you write to us. Sound clear.

If you assume that you can write to us the way you write to peers, you will stumble. We already know you’re smart. We just want you to be clear. The notion that we have to sound “smart” in business writing has generated more gobbledygook than any other. Think about reading government regulations. Or legalese. No one receives communications awards for those.

If you explain it so simply it sounds as if it’s written for a sixth-grader, celebrate. You’re writing clearly!

We practice what we preach. I’m communicating with you about my field—writing—from across the brain-wiring divide, and I’m aiming for the sixth-grade reading level. Reading this, do you feel as though I’m talking down to you? I hope not.

Third, avoid acronyms and tech slang so that we can follow you better.

Do you remember your first day working for your current employer? No matter how much you knew about technology, you didn’t yet speak the special dialect that every company has, as in “You’ll need a C3-51 for that.” Huh?

Use ordinary English. Think of every acronym or tech slang phrase as a speed bump. Each one could slow us down to a crawl, delaying what you planned when you wrote to us in the first place. You want us to do something, or understand something. Smooth the path to your objective for us.

Fourth, when you have to use a technical term, explain it.

Sometimes the technical terms have no simple English equivalents. So use the term, but clue us in. Here are a few easy ways to do it:

  • After the first time you use the term, put an explanation right after in parentheses.

  • Use a footnote to tell us what the term means.

  • Weave the definition into the sentence, as in “You’ll need to use a metaphor, an idea that is a symbol for something else.”

If you use these four tips, you’ll find us glad to see communications from you and quicker to respond. We’ll know that you’ve walked at least halfway over the bridge between your brain wiring and ours, and we will do the same.

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