With no progress in telepathy to share thoughts, there’s all but one way for you to explain your ideas: write them clearly.
But clear writing is easier said than done.
With mammoth topics like that comprehensive guide or eBook that you’ve been meaning to create, the going gets tougher.
The solution? This guide. Yes, really. I’ve put together everything that I do to write posts as long as 5,000 words and topics that I’m no expert in.
So here’s what you’ll learn today:
- Clear writing exercise
- Understanding technical content to write it better
- Packaging your understanding into an outline
- Writing clear content, well, clearly
- Rewriting/editing your first draft
- Last step: formatting for clarity
By the end of this guide, you’ll leave feeling confident writing technical, long-form content pieces clearly. So let’s start with an exercise.
Clear writing exercise
Even if it’s all clear in your head, it’s often hard to explain it to your readers. It’s why it’s essential you start with observing how others write clearly.
List some of your favorite content marketers whose work speaks to you — explaining things clearly.
Now, start studying their work. Read first.
Impressed how easily they explained their ideas to you? Great. Now study what made it all so easy to understand. Was it the language they used or was it the examples they shared?
Make a list of all the things that made their content easily digestible. I do this every time I read something — making mental notes of the writing devices used, the language the writer employed, and more.
This way, I can tell what aids clear writing and how I should be replicating it in my content.
Pro tip: If you’ve only started exploring writing long-form or technical content, consider creating an outline of what you read and writing it yourself. Once done, compare it with the original post. See what’s missing, what needs work, and how you can possibly make it clearer.
On to the writing part next.
Understanding technical content to write it better
Before you write anything, it’s crucial you take stock of how well you know the topic. Know it well enough? Awesome. 🙌 Proceed with creating your outline.
Unsure or slightly doubtful? The following will help:
1. Begin with research
This involves reading competing pieces. And, depending on the approach you’d take, talking to experts on the subject.
I won’t dig into the nitty-gritty of the two. As a content marketer, you already know how important both of these research tactics are.
Just one thing: Limit research to save yourself from drowning in the research black hole. Of course, you can carry on if you like, but continuing research is only going to confuse you. So, once you find you have the answers to most of your questions and clarity on the concept, stop.
2. Talk to yourself or a duck. Yes, really
This process has a fancy name too: rubber ducking, short for rubber duck debugging. It comes from a programmer who carried a duck in his pocket to explain the code to it to spot errors.
The idea is simple: you talk to yourself, an inanimate object, or a partner/colleague — walking them through whatever steps the process demands.
Here’s how this benefits you:
- You’re forced to talk through the subject, which helps you comprehend it clearly and see any flaws in your understanding.
- By explaining the concept to yourself, a duck, or just anybody who has zero knowledge of it, you figure out a way to explain it to them clearly.
3. Pull out the concept map
This is helpful for explaining concepts with a lot of interconnected ideas/steps.
For example, if you’re talking about how UX designers can organize research notes in a new app, you’ll see there are a lot of inter-related moving pieces involved. For guides like these, a concept map will help you gain more clarity on the subject.
Quick recap: a concept map is a diagram that shows relationships between concepts.
Now you don’t need to be tech-savvy to create this visual. Good ol’ pen and paper will do. Simply write down the steps and substeps involved and start connecting the dots using the concept map.
Packaging your understanding into an outline
By now, you should be having full clarity on the subject.
Time to put it to test and start laying the barebones structure of your draft using a detailed outline.
Taking the time to write a thorough outline helps you visualize your piece, giving it a direction.
It also makes drafting easy. In fact, in certain cases, I find that dumping all your ideas alongside listing things you’ll say under each subsection you plan in an outline helps you nail the first draft.
So a good outline in my view is one that:
- Sketches your draft-to-be’s structure, complete with keyword-based headings and subheadings you’ll create.
- Points out possible places to slip in keywords, case studies/testimonials, internal links, product features, and call to action (CTA) naturally.
- Fills in the meat under each subheadings so you’ve studies, supporting stats, and any bullet points you’ll add ready.
If you’re like me, your creative juices start flowing as you outline so you brain dump ideas on how you’d like to frame a step or write out a concept.
This means it’s at this point that I’ll have ideas for visuals (branded graphics, screenshots, GIFs, memes, and more), analogies, and examples. I also tend to have ideas for how I’d start my piece.
I pack all this in my outline. And, recommend you to do too. But, remember, there’s still flexibility so if there’s something you want to change as you draft, you absolutely can.
Writing clear content, well, clearly
With a detailed outline ready, write your draft without distractions.
Turn off notifications. Close the email tab. Put your phone on silent — do whatever it takes to minimize distractions so you can get the draft out the door. Also, mute internal monologue.
And, if there’s something that’s not clear or you’re missing a piece of data, use placeholder text to remind yourself.
Here are more draft writing tips:
- Highlight text. Use the green highlighter for adding internal links when you’re done. And yellow highlighter for finding synonyms later on.
- Change keywords’ font color. This way, you can get visuals on how many times and which keywords you’ve used in your draft.
- Add comments for yourself. Use square brackets to write notes for yourself. If there’s a line that’s particularly meh, for example, I’ll write [rewrite this stupid line] in the draft and move on so I don’t stop to rewrite and break my flow.
Rewriting/editing your first draft
From what I’ve learned so far: rewriting is the best thing you can do for your writing.
That said, not every draft needs rewriting. Chances are, you’re well-versed on the topic. Or, you’ve created a very detailed outline that doubles as a rough-ish first draft. In cases like these, a solid editing session will fix the draft.
Editing tip: For super long content, read the draft first but don’t edit just yet. Make a list of all the things you need to fix, then go ahead and start editing one thing at a time.
If you’re working on a technical topic though, you’ll want to rewrite it completely or rewrite parts of it. But why? Because:
So it’s up to you to decide whether to edit or rewrite. In either case, explore the following writing devices to explain things clearly:
- Examples. These show the theory you’re explaining in action.
- Analogies. Analogies compare two similar ideas. The point is to compare them to explain your concept.
- Case studies. This form of social proof is particularly helpful if you’re explaining how to use your product. It helps focus on the benefits that your product/service can drive for readers.
- Visual assets. Screenshots, concept maps, videos, and infographics all aid clear explanation.
- Personal anecdotes. Use them to help readers connect dots to understand the subject at hand.
And, before you call it done, here’s one more thing you can do: ask a colleague, friend, or writing buddy to read the draft.
Ideally, you’ll want someone from your target persona to read that piece. But, we aren’t always lucky, so a friend or partner will do.
This is going to be the ultimate acid test for how easy to understand your content is. Because if your first reader can understand what you’ve written, chances are others will too. 🙌
Last step: formatting for clarity
With your draft ready, there’s only one thing left to do: format it for readability.
You can always pair this with the editing work you do. Or, separate it out — the choice is yours. Anyway, aim for the following:
- Break long paragraphs down into smaller ones.
- Rewrite sentences for brevity. If you can say something in fewer words, consider rewriting the sentence. One good way to do this: opt for writing in active voice.
- Get rid of sentences that don’t add value. This requires reading each sentence as an individual and seeing how it adds to the whole. If it’s not adding anything valuable, prune it.
- Work information into bullet points. These are readability-friendly for sharing steps, benefits, or anything that’s a list.
And that’s all folks. If you found what you read today valuable, join my newsletter for learning, sharing, and fangirling on the stuff that makes ridiculously good content.