Artificial intelligence. Cybersecurity. Blockchain. SaaS. Logistics. What do all these industries have in common? They’re brimming with jargon.
The proliferation of jargon leads to a big problem. It’s hard to sell a product or service that you can’t clearly describe. You may have the most efficient, powerful tool in your industry. But if you can’t tell customers what it does and how it makes their lives easier, then you’ll fight an upward battle to make sales and gain user trust.
Six years ago, I started an online writing service business called Lewis Commercial Writing to solve this exact problem. I’ve worked in all the industries mentioned above — and beyond. Based on that experience, here are my five favorite, proven tactics to simplify your technical writing.
5 Ways to Simplify Your Technical Writing
- Replace jargon with ‘sticky’ language.
- Listen to customers.
- Short words, simple sentences.
- Benefits first, features second.
- ‘What I’m trying to say is...’
1. Replace Jargon With ‘Sticky’ Language
What is jargon, anyway? My favorite definition goes something like this: Jargon is a set of words and phrases that communicate vague, unanchored ideas. Industry buzzwords like “confluence,” “business solutions,” and “drive customer value” are great examples. They’re so vague that the reader has nothing concrete to imagine. Buzzwords go in one ear, out the other.
The alternative to jargon is what I call “sticky” language, which includes analogies, stories, emotions, and imagery. When customers read sticky language, their mind has something to hold onto.
Imagine one business tells you that they “drive business value through cost-efficient logistics.” Another business (offering the same service) says that they “reduce your e-commerce shipping bill by 30 percent.”
Both companies might technically offer the same outcome: cost savings on shipping. But the second business’s language was much easier to understand and will likely win far more clients.
2. Listen to Customers
The first rule of simplifying your technical writing is that you’re an insider.
You’ve helped bring this product to life. By definition, that means you understand it in a way that a customer won’t. The language you use to describe your product to other insiders won’t translate when it’s time to explain it to customers.
So, the best thing to do is listen to how customers describe your product. I have three methods for this:
- Get on the phone: Ask your best customers how they use your product. Ask about their favorite features, why they chose you over your competitor, and how they would describe your company and offerings.
- Mine online reviews: Read online reviews of your product and competitor products. Most people leaving reviews will use plain language to describe the problems your tool solved, as well as their favorite features.
- Read comment sections: Find the latest news in your industry. Instead of reading the articles, scroll all the way to the comments section. The folks leaving comments likely have an affiliation with your industry but not necessarily your product. How do they describe their current challenges? What problems or solutions are they most impassioned about?
As you listen to customers, create a document to record the exact words and phrases that you like best. Often, customers will be able to describe your offerings more clearly than you can. So, just borrow customer language to write your materials.
3. Short Words, Simple Sentences
Let the quality of your product speak for itself. When companies use overly complex language to describe their services, they may seem to be compensating for something. On the other hand, clarity and simplicity foster trust.
Wherever possible, use short words instead of long ones in your copy and articles. Break up long sentences into two or three shorter sentences. If you’re not a good self-editor, use a tool like the Hemingway app. This will highlight sentences and words that use passive voice or are overly complex.
4. Benefits First, Features Second
Focus on outcomes instead of specs. Customers want to first see how your technology relates to their needs. Once you bridge that gap, they’ll be happy to learn how your product works.
AI and blockchain are some of the worst offenders of this rule. Almost every company that uses artificial intelligence or blockchain likes to promote that fact front and center.
A more effective approach would be to first communicate the problem you’re solving. Then you can describe how you’re solving it, which is where customers will finally learn about your state-of-the-art, AI-powered blockchain tool.
5. ‘What I’m trying to say is…’
Have you ever written a sentence, read it back, and thought, “That’s not at all what I wanted to say!”
Don’t feel bad. It happens to everyone. Writing clearly is hard work. These days, when I know something I’ve written is too complex, I say out loud “What I’m trying to say is…” and formulate my words on the spot. I’ve found that this simple prompt can trick my brain into communicating more clearly.
Your Message Can Be Both Technical and Clear
Jargon will always be with us. As long as people innovate, there will always be phrases, words, and ideas that are so niche that they go right over the heads of readers. The good news is that someone else’s jargon is your opportunity.
Clarity is rare. Learning to write simply and clearly about your product will help you communicate effectively with your target customer, improving sales today and years into the future. Hopefully, some of these tactics help you along the way.