Professionals in engineering, IT, and science should have good business writing skills. To get support, funding, and adoption, it's important to explain complex ideas to non-experts. Much of your business writing will be to persuade or educate. This means your writing must be understood and motivate action from your readers. This post shares tips to help technical thinkers master business writing.
Know Your Audience
As an expert in your field, your knowledge exceeds that of your readers. Resist the urge to dive too deep into technical details. Your goal is not to impress your readers with your intelligence. Your goal is to help them understand what you can do for them and instill confidence in you. Think carefully about what your audience needs to understand to make decisions and take action. Shape your writing to speak to their level of knowledge. It is good to examine what you write and ask if a freshman or sophomore in high school would understand it.
Structure and Organize Carefully
Good structure is crucial when communicating complicated technical matters. Use section headings, bulleted lists, charts, and graphics to make complex information digestible. Logically walk readers through your points. Help them follow along with clear sequence and transitions.
Here are a few practical steps for creating good structure and organization. Break up your long sentences which contain more than three steps or processes by using bulleted lists. Delete redundant clauses such as "for the project" or "on behalf of the client." For complex ideas that require logical steps, break the ideas down into subheadings and separate paragraphs.
Simplify Language, but not Concepts
Avoid overly complex words and sentences when writing for non-technical audiences. But do not oversimplify or omit important nuances in the concepts. Find ways to accurately convey the essence using straightforward language. It is sometimes helpful to use metaphors and similes to compare complex ideas with more common images. Find big words in your writing and ask yourself if a smaller word will do. Avoid using industry cliches and jargon. Find new and interesting ways to say the same thing, but in a different way. Seek feedback to ensure you have stuck to the core ideas.
Emphasize Practical Applications
Technical thinkers get energized solving real-world problems. When writing for business audiences, play to this strength. Show how your technical insights can make processes more efficient and methods more useful. Demonstrate the impact of your expertise. For example, you could explain that a "water hammer is when fluid is forced to stop or change direction suddenly, such as when a valve closes or a hydrant opens abruptly, therefore causing a water line to collapse or leak at bolted joints." That last sentence is long and overly explanatory. A better way to explain water hammer is "Water hammer happens when fluid is suddenly forced to stop or change direction. It can cause a water line to collapse or leak."
Technical experts have so much valuable wisdom to share if they can articulate it to others. Technical thinkers can become adept at business writing. Focus on audience, structure, language, and application.
Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC