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Roopinder Tara
By
December 31, 2021

Collaborating With Engineers Part 6 - Writing Style, Tone, and Content

Writing Style, Tone, and ContentWhether you're creating a video asset, an e-book, or a series of articles, at some point, you and your contributors will face the dreaded writing process. Now is the time to put pen to paper, or more likely fingers to keyboard, and get to writing or scripting. 

"But how should I write?" you ask.

You have the what, the who, and maybe even an idea of how to start. But, when it comes to the actual act of writing, you may be unsure of exactly what to cover and in what order.

How much should I be writing? What graphics or other visuals should I include? Should my writing be personable and fun, or dry and technical? Should the author write in their voice, or from a single "corporate" voice? These are all excellent questions related to writing style and tone.

Over the years at engineering.com, we've come to learn a thing or two about what kind of writing resonates best with our 2 million monthly visitors, and we're going to share that insight in this blog post.

This information can be used by someone on the marketing team doing the writing with input from the collaborating technical resource or as guidance if someone on the engineering team will be working on the first draft.

Writing is a challenging but crucial part of the creation process. Regardless of the form of content, you will create, we hope the recommendations outlined in this article make your next blog or script just a little easier.

Writing Style

Between writing style and tone, style is the more mechanical component of writing. You should consider four main writing styles when sitting down to compose your next piece of content, each being useful in its own way.

In no particular order, the four main writing styles are:

1. Narrative

Narrative writing involves characters interacting with one another in some form of plot.

If you create content for engineers, you likely won't be using the narrative writing style far too often. Perhaps an introduction here and a brief aside there will be used at times, but it's unlikely you will use much narrative content for engineers - unless you're a member of the Star Trek writing team.

2. Expository

Expository writing involves the description and explanation of ideas, instructions, people, things, etc.

We encounter this often-used style of writing all the time. If you read a news article this morning, it was most likely a piece of expository writing. If you communicate with engineers, you will rely heavily on this approach - heck, this whole section on writing styles is an example!

3. Analytical

Going a step further, the analytical style offers some description but expands on that description to provide a more in-depth analysis of the topic at hand. In other words, analytical writing requires some form of a thesis, not necessarily stated at the beginning of the piece - I'm sure you well remember doing this in school. However, an argument should at least be implied or explicitly stated at some point in the text.

Engineers are inherently analytical, and often descriptive writing isn't enough for them. Sure they want the nitty-gritty details, but they also appreciate an author's logical argument as to why "X" is preferable to "Y."

4. Persuasive

Similar to the analytical style, persuasive writing also involves arguing a point, but it is more explicit from the outset. While the analytical technique leans on evidence to back its claims, the persuasive style relies on a combination of logical argumentation and emotional appeal.

The persuasive writing style takes a stance on something, and it isn't afraid to admit it. Think of using this style when you have a strong opinion and a need to plead your case to an audience. Messaging from charitable organizations does a masterful job at persuasion. They use facts accompanied by copy and powerful images that pull at our heartstrings.

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More often than not, the topic of your piece will determine which style of writing is optimal. For example, if you are writing an article on a new product your company recently launched, you may want to use the persuasive writing style to make a case for your great new product. If you are examining a competitor's product, you may want to take an analytical approach and try to leave emotion out of it (for fear of coming off as biased).

PRO TIP - Don't be afraid to use multiple styles of writing throughout your piece. Sure, it will likely conform to one of these styles more than the others, but switching between writing styles can keep your audience interested and engaged. So, go ahead, inject some narrative writing style by telling that great anecdote you use at cocktail parties! Just try to keep it professional (more on this in a moment).

Writing Style, Tone, and Content 2

Writing Tone

When it comes to your writing tone, the audience should always be top-of-mind. While your writing style will change depending on the topic, your content's tone should be determined by the intended audience.

Think of tone as the attitude or mood the writer wants to convey. In other words, it's the "voice" the author chooses to use when speaking with their audience.

Are the consumers of your content a group of Fortune 500 CEOs? If so, you may want to write more professionally. Does the audience consist primarily of colleagues and coworkers? If so, consider injecting a bit more humor than you usually would since these people understand who you are and your personality.

There is no clear "right answer" when it comes to tone, but always keep in mind that your writing should remain respectful and credible at all times. Ultimately, if writing a piece on behalf of your organization, you want to maintain an air of professionalism – else you run the risk of not being taken seriously by your readers.

Technical vs. Personable

One of the key considerations you'll have to make when it comes to writing content for engineers is how to balance dry, technical information with a more casual and personable writing style.

This is a balancing act and one where your topic will heavily influence the choice. Back to a previous example, if you're creating a piece on a new product your company just launched, then you might be forced to include ample technical information in your writing.

However, technical information can be presented in different ways. For example, if you're writing internal reference material for your engineers, then more technical data and a dry writing style make sense. But, if you are promoting a new product to prospective buyers, you can provide the highlights of the technical information with tables, charts, graphs, and images – while taking a more emotional/personable approach describing the product and its value in the rest of your writing. Plus, you can always attach the in-depth technical details or spec sheets as downloads or appendices.

Do what feels right for your audience and the topic. In general, however, try to lean more personable where possible. Sure, engineers enjoy pouring through specs, but unless you're writing a technical manual, even the most dedicated and curious engineer will get bored eventually. Writing in a way that appeals to your audience's interests and emotions will keep them reading longer.

Humor - When and How?

A quick note on the use of banter in your writing. Humour is an excellent tool for keeping your readers engaged and interested, but don't sacrifice quality and credibility for it.

Because humor is so engaging, it is often a smart idea to use it right upfront at the beginning of your piece. Getting your audience hooked early will keep people reading or watching past the introduction. Generally, it's not wise to use too much humor - too often. Stay focused on the ultimate goal - which is delivering value in your content through useful information, new ideas, and helpful insights. Too much playfulness in your writing can overshadow the core message.

The Importance of Data

As mentioned earlier, your content's topic and purpose will largely determine the bulk of the content. However, when you are writing specifically for engineers, you should always be mindful that some data/statistics will likely help.

Over the years, we've conducted many surveys to determine what types of content engineers like to consume. Despite making up only 3% of the total content we provide to our audience on engineering.com, surveys and research reports made up 22.4% of all content consumed from our site.

The fact of the matter is that most engineers love data. If you can make your point and back it up with numbers, you've gone a long way in making an engineer happy.

Wherever possible, try to include data – preferably visualized data – to support your writing. It will make your piece more interesting to engineers (and most people), and it will lend you some additional authority.

Final Tips and Tricks

By now you should be raring to go on your next article or video script. You've got your audience in mind, and you know what type of piece you'll be writing - the next step is . . . to write!

So, what are you waiting for? Get to it!

But, let me leave you with one final tip for you and your team of contributors – create a shared style guide that all your writers have access to. You know who your audience is, but others on the team might not. You might understand how to balance humor and personality with professionalism, but some might not. Whatever your situation, having a documented content playbook comes in handy. A glossary of words and terms commonly used inconsistently is a good inclusion as well.

If your team doesn't stick to the style or tone you were hoping for, don't fret – that's what editing is for. For more on this, see the Fine Art of Editing.

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