Updated: Feb 21, 2022
I've been fortunate to work with rock star engineers, scientists, planners, architects, and economists for 30 years. They are highly accomplished in what they do, but most of them are not crazy about writing. Some of them find it downright painful.
As for me, I find it easier to think if I write out my thoughts. The writing process helps me understand what I know. But I've come to realize I'm a bit of a unicorn that way.
If writing does not come easily to you, you will benefit from the following four strategies to make it less painful AND to produce better content.
It’s best to approach writing content in two phases: writing and editing your work to improve it. First, let's tackle writing.
1. Write as if you’re explaining your content to your mother or father
Assuming your parents are not in the same profession as you, start writing about your subject as if you were explaining it to your mother or father. Explain everything they need to know to fully understand. Use a conversational style and explain what’s involved in simple terms. Just start writing and don’t try to make it perfect.
If you don't have a positive relationship with your parents, substitute your siblings or close friends in your mind.
2. Remember your audience
Consider how much your audience will understand your content. If they are laypeople (not of the same technical or professional background as you), keep it simple and thorough. If they won't know what a "storm event" or "combined sewer overflow" is, explain it to them in simple terms (those are two of the first jargon terms I learned when I first became a technical editor, editing a wastewater treatment plant operations & maintenance manual!). Often, we don't realize we are using jargon. If in doubt, ask a nontechnical friend if they know the jargon. If your audience is wastewater treatment plant owners or operators, they will know what these terms mean.
3. Use examples and success stories
Stories always capture readers' attention. It might seem odd to use a story or example in a technical document, but if you do, your reader will remember it. For several years, I comanaged CH2M HILL's annual Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship Report. To make the report more interesting to read, I wrote people-oriented feature stories to draw people in to the mostly technical report. As you think about your audience, illustrate your points with examples and stories of how your content benefits people.
4. Avoid editing as you write
Perhaps the most important of the four strategies: keep yourself from editing as you write. In her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron asks her readers to freewrite three pages each morning, just pouring out their thoughts on the pages. That can be a helpful strategy for anyone who finds writing difficult. Set a page- or minute-target, just write whatever comes to your mind, and don't stop until you meet your target.
Don't worry about your spelling or grammar, and don't fret if you have too much. It's always more helpful to start with more!
Stay tuned for the second phase of producing killer content...the editing process! Do you have any strategies to add to this first phase?
Contact me if you can use some help with your writing, editing, communications, or marketing. With over 30 years of experience in the environmental consulting industry, I am passionate about sustainability and corporate citizenship, equity & inclusion, businesses that use their power for good, and doing everything I can to create a kinder, more sustainable, and just world.
Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.