How Do You Turn Complex Topics into Content That’s Easy to Understand
Talking about why your audience should take a trip to the Maldives is fairly easy. Barring the budget constraints, they need very little convincing. So is explaining the difference two bookcases – even if you have to go into...
Talking about why your audience should take a trip to the Maldives is fairly easy. Barring the budget constraints, they need very little convincing. So is explaining the difference two bookcases – even if you have to go into details about manufacturing processes and materials, they already know the basics of a bookcase, so you’ve got something to build on.
But what happens when your product is not something everyone has seen before? When you have to start by educating and creating a need?
My agency works with a lot of clients in the tech space and most of them have this problem: simplifying complex topics so they become easily digestible. Whether they sell B2B or B2C solutions, tech companies usually have some explaining to do.
Even if their product is not entirely new (for instance a SaaS that tries to gain market share in an already busy industry), they will still have some features that their audience does not know and needs to be educated on.
So how do you achieve that? How do you break down the complex without over-simplifying it and making it sound run-of-the-mill?
I’ll share some of the secrets my agency uses below.
1. Simplify, But Don’t Dumb Down
This is one of the most common pet peeves of beginner content writers. Whatever you do, don’t (really, DON’T!) assume that your readers are stupid. There is a HUGE difference between stupid and uniformed.
If you bet on the first one, you’ll annoy them.
Explain the new concepts you’re introducing, but do it in a friendly rather than patronizing manner. And, please remember, you don’t have to write the entire history of your domain – that’s also patronizing.
I’ve seen many articles that promised to offer trade secrets for better ROI from Facebook ads, for instance, that started by defining social media and offering a brief history of Facebook. It took me five seconds to realize that whoever wrote that had a word count to hit and zero interest in delivering something that’s actually useful.
If you write for people who run ads on Facebook, do assume that they know what social media is. Or what Facebook is. Skip to the good part.
This takes me to my second point: where should you start the explaining?
2. Know What Your Audience Knows
A piece of content that unnecessarily takes you back to the Middle Ages to explain new technology is irritating. But how far back should you go?
You’re looking for the right balance between over-explaining and under-explaining.
As always, start with your audience. Who are they and what do they already know?
For one of my agency’s clients, we have to create cybersecurity content for two very different audiences: specialists and regular end users.
Obviously, the approaches are very different: writing simplified content for a specialized audience is insulting, so we’re free to use industry jargon and complex tech terms, often without explaining them at all. What we do explain in detail are concepts and solutions that are proprietary to our client alone.
For the non-specialized audience, on the other hand, we explain pretty much every tech term. Oftentimes, it’s just a phrase; other times, when dealing with newer cyber threats, for instance, we go into more detail.
How do we know when and what to explain?
We dig deep into their buyer persona and their match with the products our client is selling. For instance, if a cybersecurity solution they sell requires the user to use the command line to start the program, we’ll assume that they are somewhat tech savvy. If the solution is something designed for home users with little knowledge of security issues, we explain everything for two main reasons: to provide complete information and to offer the reader the context they need to understand how said solution can help them.
Another trick to get into the readers’ minds (without getting creepy) is something we use for localized SEO. We know that some areas are more specialized in some issues than others – i.e. you shouldn’t explain what a lobster is to someone in Maine.
If we have to cater to a geographically-defined audience, we always vet our keywords using a VPN. This helps us understand what the local competition is like, but, more importantly, what kind of content is missing in a specific geographic area. Our favorite tool for this is PureVPN, but there are countless options out there.
So, if you really want to understand an audience, what they know and what they need, try walking in their digital shoes for a mile. There are solutions to do so even if you are nowhere near the audience you write for.
3. Not Sure How to Explain Something? Get Help from a Rubber Duck
Rubber duck debugging is a way to debug code “by articulating a problem in spoken or written natural language”. The name is a nod to a story in The Pragmatic Programmer where a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and, when stuck, he would explain his code to it, line by line.
(Not a fan of ducks? You can use this method with any pet or inanimate object that you feel like talking to.)
The point of this exercise is to save you from yourself aka from over-complicating things and to get you to write as if you were explaining something to a friend (or a rubber duck). Your duck-friend won’t be able to find the pretentious bugs in your content, but they will get you to articulate the problem, which, in turn, will help you detach yourself from it and find a solution.
4. Tell a Story (Preferably One that Doesn’t Put Readers to Sleep)
Got bored of explaining dry concepts using even drier terms? If you feel that way, imagine how the reader feels.
One other way to get out of your own mind is to borrow that of your readers. Tell a customer story, for example.
This will help your audience understand how your product works and, better yet, understand it from someone just like them – a great incentive to make a purchase!
You don’t have to churn out customer story after customer story – those can get boring and repetitive, too. But you can insert references to a customer’s success using your solutions in other types of content as well.
Alternate between the usual, school-like explanations and real-life examples. This will give a nice cadence to your content and keep the readers engaged with it for longer.
5. Tell Me Who Writes Your Complex-Topic Content and I’ll Tell You How Good it Is
Here’s an age-old problem in tech companies: who should write the content: the engineers (or other people in the tech teams) know exactly how everything works. The problem is that they’re pressed for time and often don’t have the writing chops to create content that’s readable by humans.
Should the marketers/content writers do it? At first glance, you’d say yes – that’s what they are here for. That would make for engaging content! But it might miss the mark entirely, especially if your content writers or marketers don’t have a tech background. If they don’t know how something works, they won’t be able to effectively explain it to someone else.
In my agency, we’ve solved this problem by using mixed teams: we hire engineers who know exactly which wires go where and why, as well as marketers that know how to make dry, boring terms appealing. If you’re as lucky as we are – and your engineers have excellent writing skills as well (it’s a rare breed, I know), your problem is solved. If not, I suggest using mixed teams of engineers and marketers/content writers.
In the second scenario, the key to success is that they should each vet each other’s work. Nothing should be published without an engineer checking the facts or without a marketer making sure that the content is aligned with your business goals.
Or you can let us simplify complex topics and create engaging content for your audience. Talk to our team and tell us how we can help!