Stop writing like an engineer

A fountain pen writing with black ink on ruled notebook paper.

This post is part of a writing advice series.

I was in technical roles for first decade or so of my career. When I took a role as a technical marketing manager, my marketing VP had one regular comment on my blog posts. “Stop writing like an engineer,” he’d tell me. “Put the important part at the top. Don’t assume people will read the whole post.”

He would cut the last paragraph from my draft and put it at the top. Sometimes I’d have to tweak the wording a bit to make it flow. Otherwise, it was basically ready to go with that edit. I have some skill with writing, but I kept falling into one particular trap.

People who work in technical roles have a tendency to write linearly. They start with the problem, describe how they tried to solve it, and then talk about how well the solution worked. This is fine if the reader reads the whole post. But most people don’t do that. Especially if they’re interested in the solution, not the problem. This is especially true for marketing-type posts, but it applies in other contexts, too.

People don’t move on after the first paragraph because they hate you or you’re bad at writing. They’re busy and have a lot of other things to read. You need to tell them the important part right away. If they want to know more, they’ll read more. Putting the important part at the end doesn’t encourage them to read the whole thing; it just means they move on without reading the important part.

This post’s featured photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Ben is a principal program manager at Red Hat, focused on the Fedora Project. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.

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