5 Simple Steps for Writing About Complex Stuff
No surprise, we PR people do a lot of writing for our clients - drafting press releases, authoring contributed columns, developing blog content, creating email copy and more. And to succeed in the content marketing game, we invest time in becoming "experts" in A LOT of client-related subject matter. At this very moment, for example, our PR team is more well-versed in soft pretzels, preventing damage to underground utilities, ceramic cookware and the ins and outs of data integration software than we ever thought possible.
How do we get up to speed when tasked with writing about content that is complex, technical and dense? From high-tech op-eds to news releases about the latest law changes governing the utility industry, faking it 'til you make it just doesn't fly. Instead, here are some helpful steps for tackling challenging material that have proven fruitful for our team:
- Figure out what you don't know. You have to learn the material before you can write about it. Get a lay of the land by first noting what you don't know - which admittedly is sometimes hard to do. So read A LOT, Google terms you're unfamiliar with, seek out content that breaks down complex concepts so you fully understand them, and take advantage of resources or experts your client can connect you with to shed more light on the material.
- Become fluent. Just knowing the important buzzwords in your clients' industries isn't enough to assuredly and authentically write about them. Rather, it's crucial to immerse yourself in your client's world until you become fluent in their language. After all, nobody likes a poser. That's why our team develops habits like regularly subscribing to email dailies from top trade publications in our clients' industries, asking our clients what they read, and tuning into related podcasts to hear about critical industry challenges, key players, influencers and more.
We also tap into teachers and sounding boards in our personal networks. For example, to prep for one of our big data clients, I've been known to bend my very own husband's ear to gain insider knowledge about his work as a researcher and how he and his team analyze data. These conversations help develop a more sophisticated understanding, uncover conceptual nuances that weren't initially apparent and can reveal hot topics of interest in the industry.
- Know who's reading. Often, the more technical the content, the less room for error when trying to connect with the audience. Whether pitching mainstream media or writing contributed pieces for various trade outlets, being clear about who your audience is and what they already know will shape the details and tone of your writing. For example, pitching to a trade magazine targeted to C-suite leadership? Keep the themes topline and focused on business decisions. Writing for in-the-trenches industry veterans? Skip the foundational concepts and dive right into the meaty technical details. Drafting a mainstream headline that needs to grab the attention of both industry insiders and a more general press audience? Avoid the intimidating inside-baseball lingo you've spent so much time mastering for a more technical crowd.
- Become a translator. Perhaps the hardest part of writing about complex content is making it seem like it's not actually that complex in the first place. As PR people, it's our job to be the connectors that speak both the language of our clients and that of their target audiences so a simple and approachable conversation can exist between the two. This means learning how and when to properly utilize new industry jargon, re-word technical text with simpler phrasing and test the effectiveness of your messaging with laymen less familiar with the content. So take on the role of translator, because giving your reader the gift of clarity will make it all worth it.
- Build a strong team. We benefit from having multiple minds working in tandem to produce sophisticated and understandable content. Cultivate a team that can ensure you've captured content accurately, met the goals of the client and are appealing to the audience effectively - not to mention the extra eye to copyedit, correct mechanical issues and assess the flow of your writing. Most importantly, rely on a strong team (like ours!) that offers honest feedback, pushes your understanding, drives new creative and strategic approaches and is willing to learn along with you.
In the end, there's really no getting around it: Writing about complex material can be HARD. While the steps to being successful seem simple, they require a team dedicated to immersing itself in constant learning and keeping a pulse on what drives the reader. It's a lot of work, but the payoff of developing clear messaging is always worth it. Plus, who knows? You might just find yourself equipped with a little more knowledge for your next trivia night.