All about technical content

Today, we’re talking all about our specialty: technical content.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about what technical content, like what is, what it isn’t, what skills you need to write it well, and where to find great examples of it.
That’s enough preamble. Let’s get into some questions you probably have if you’re coming to this post.

What Is Technical Content?

The word “content” itself is often used in conjunction with “content marketing,” which I’d define as

planned, strategic creation of material that benefits a target audience, and by doing so, drives a deisred outcome of the content creator.

Content creators are the folks who make this material. Some of these desired outcomes may include things like

  • Increased subscribers
  • Follows
  • Likes
  • Downloads
  • Email address entry
  • MQLs
  • Clicks and other increased SEO KPIs

Some examples of the content they make create in order to drive these outcomes include

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Social media posts to platforms like Instagram
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • White papers
  • Infographics

It’s worth saying that, even though there are desired results, content marketing is all about good faith. Our CEO Erik Dietrich does a great job of describing this in more detail, emphasizing how content marketing is about free value; it’s not a sales tactic:

Content marketing is about creating standalone content that potential customers find valuable, thus building trust and engagement with them.  You’re educating them rather than pitching them.

Now, let’s talk specifically about technical content.
All of what we described above applies to technical content, but the difference between regular ol’ content and technical content is simply that this material is created to help people better understand a technology.
In our opinion, if this material is going to be any good, it’s going to be written by a technical professional in the field. But we’ll get to this later in the post.

Is There a Difference Between a Technical Content Writer and a Technical Writer?

Seems like “technical content writer” and “technical writer” might be the same, right?
But think about what “content” is understood to be, as we talked about in the last section. If you opened an IKEA box and found an instruction manual, would you consider that content? What about the technical documentation on Google Maps Platform? Or OSHA’s white paper entitled “Injury and Illness Prevention Programs”?
Can you see how these things aren’t really content? There’s no element of marketing involved, and, as I’ve said earlier, the words “content” and “marketing” go together like peanut butter and jelly.
A technical writer isn’t marketing focused. They, like good technical content writers, are almost always professionals in a technical field, not so much professional writers. If you look at job listings for technical writers, you’ll see they often require a Bachelor of Science, not a Bachelor of Arts. They might write proposals, manuals, documentation, and other non-marketing materials that are technical in nature.
Technical content writers focus more on marketing materials.
That’s the difference between OSHA’s “Injury and Illness Prevention Programs” and, say, HubSpot’s “How to Use Instagram for Business.” Both are free resources that educate the public, but HubSpot wants to get your contact info first so they can follow up and stay on your radar. OSHA doesn’t care much about that.
HubSpot's form to get their white paper, including spaces for your phone number, email, and website

How Do I Create Good Technical Content?

First off, you need a background in the tech about which you’re going to create content. Good technical content creators are techies first and writers/videographers/etc. second. You’re not helping anyone if you don’t know precisely what you’re doing in the first place.
Second, you’ll need to cultivate a few communication skills. Since writing is our specialty at HS, writing is the main thing I can speak to. But you can apply this advice to all kinds of communication, including auditory and visual types.
When it comes to technical content writing, you especially want to hone your skills as far as readability is concerned. Many techies are trained since high school to use passive language and long, complicated sentences. That’s how we’re told smart people write. You’ll have to break the habit.
In technical content, you want short and active sentences, a conversational (but respectful) tone, and lots of transitions. You’ll also want to master the art of the introduction and the conclusion. If you’re writing a blog post, you have a few other basic elements to master, like a “this post is about” sentence and creating excellent subheads.
But overall, the most important thing to learn is empathy with the consumer of your content. You must get feel for what will resonate with them. It doesn’t matter if you’re adding a filter to a photo for Instagram, interviewing someone on a podcast, deciding on a color scheme for an infographic—anything. This empathy and understanding of what’s powerful to your audience applies across the board.
Try to defamiliarize yourself with your work and see it from other people’s perspectives. Listen to yourself. Read yourself. Ask people for feedback on where your communication falls short.
Empathetic content creation isn’t just a product of talent. You can learn it.

What Are Some Examples of Techincal Content?

Obviously, I’m biased in favor of the content we create at Hit Subscribe. So I’ll first share some things we’ve published recently on client sites.
“What Is and Why Have a Release Calendar” by Eric Boersma on the Enov8 blog
“Getting Started With the Swift iOS Feature Flag” by Eric Goebelbecker on the CloudBees Rollout blog
“Docker Container Logs: 5 Tips to Optimize Logging for Debugging” by Dawid Ziolkowski on the Solarwinds Papertrail blog
“Holding the Industry Accountable” by Sylvia Fronczak on the Sonatype blog
But here are some other pieces of technical content that I admire around the internet:
“Using Log Data to Prevent Lambda Cold Starts” on the Coralogix blog
“Running Headless Tests” on the Sauce Labs YouTube channel
“The Life of a Login with Okta,” an infographic on the Okta website

There You Have It!

And with that, you should be familiar with the ins and outs of technical content! You know what is, what it isn’t, what makes it engaging, and what good examples can teach you.
If you want to continue to see some—in my opinion—excellent technical content so you can learn by example, watch for our weekly Hit Subscribe digests! We post links to everything we publish from our technical authors, and the more you read, the more you’ll synthesize what makes great technical content stand out.