So, You Want to Write About Technology?

March 11, 2020

I am frequently asked about how someone should approach the writing of articles about technology for publication in a blog or web site. Given that I’ve written several thousand articles and multiple books, I’m a fair target for the question, especially as I also edit articles for other writers. Here’s the advice I generally give to budding authors.

What Will You Write About Today?

First, before writing anything, you should know what you want to write about, know that it will have value when the text appears, and know how you add value. That all sounds trite, but there is far too much duplication in blogs today. Microsoft announces a new feature on Monday and by the end of the week a ton of articles have appeared all with essentially the same content. News sites will take Microsoft press releases and recycle whatever Microsoft says, but that’s no reason for others to do so.

Don’t Repeat What Others Have Done

It’s important that content should be insightful. There’s certainly value in covering topics that others have written about, but only if you build on what has gone before by adding your own take on the subject. Do an internet search before you start writing to find out what others have said. Maybe they were wrong, or the content of their articles is now outdated. These are both good reasons for you to write about a topic.

Do you know something that hasn’t been revealed before, like a workaround or neat way of using a feature? If so, that’s a reason to write it up and share with the technical community. But please don’t bother if all you do is recycle previously known information in your own words.

Back Up Your Points

It’s also important to back up what you say. Your writing should be evidence-based instead of what you think, suspect, or have heard about. Test features before you write about them to probe where products are weak or don’t work. Never accept that vendor documentation is 100% accurate and always look for something that doesn’t seem quite right or overhyped because that’s usually a good place to test.

Adding hyperlinks to reference information or other articles gives readers confidence that you’ve done some research into the topic and have bothered to check things out before committing any ideas to text. Making vague assertions about technology isn’t helpful if you can’t prove that you’re right.

Code Examples are Goodness

Many technologists like to include code examples in articles. Everyone loves code snippets because they are great ways of kickstarting their own attempts to solve real-world problems. The thing to remember here is that all you need to do is explain the principles and show how things work. You don’t need to write a complete solution. Those who learn from your examples will probably rewrite it anyway before any code finds its way into production to comply with company standards in areas like error checking, reporting, and testing.

Write in English

Your audience is usually the technical community, so write in English unless you want to limit who will read your work. Use short rather than long sentences, always write in the active voice when possible, and avoid acronyms or other obscure terms unless you clearly spell them out in the article. Use proofing tools for spell and grammar checking. Your text will benefit and will look more polished and professional.

Your Own Voice

Above all, develop and express your own voice. Your opinion is as valuable as anyone’s else when it comes to assessing and discussing technology, but only if you put in the work to fully understand your topic in depth before writing about it.

Don’t recycle press releases or marketing communications. Organizations distribute that information to convince people that their technology is flawless and answers every possible need a customer has. We know that’s not true, so why parrot the aimless thoughts of marketeers in your writing? Far too many so-called experts do so in their writing and it’s a real tragedy that they let their admiration for a company overcome a healthy skepticism that technology can be quite as good as the PR says it is.

Remember, you don’t work for a vendor or the engineering group responsible for creating a product. You don’t need to defend them. They have marketing and PR to do that heavy lifting. Your role is to go deep into the technology, find interesting nuggets of information, and discuss them in compelling articles. Do that and you won’t go wrong.

Collaboration means two-way communication!

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