Are you struggling to strike the right tone with the thought leadership and informational articles you’re submitting to technical news sites? It’s easy to get off key. Tech sites aren’t looking for dry documentation. And they don’t want a sales pitch.
Finding the right voice not only helps you get your articles published, but encourages people to read the articles. My favorite pieces can be easily read and appreciated by people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds (since readers live all over the globe). They’re concise, friendly, and helpful. When it’s time to dig into article submissions, I’m basically looking for good writing.
Good writing can be difficult to define, but I have a few tips and tricks I’d like to share with our dev friends. Consider these cheat codes that make tech editors sit up straight in their chairs and say, “Wow, can you believe how great this contributor is?”
Ditch the Documentation
We all love and appreciate documentation — we need it to figure out how stuff works. To be honest, though, it gets boring to read. I’m looking for articles that show off your personality and style, while also sharing something valuable with the audience. If you’re creating a tutorial, check out this fantastic article by Brian Rinaldi on how to write for a tech audience.
“Explain why you are trying to do something, not just what you are trying to do and how you are doing it,” Rinaldi writes. “What made you get interested in doing this? Did you have struggles along the way?”
Regardless of how you respond to those questions, your answers will help your audience enjoy reading your tutorial.
If you’re writing something other than a tutorial — for example, an article outlining a piece of research, a presentation, or your opinions on recent tech news — it’s just as important to have a personality and a unique voice. But there’s a difference between having an interesting point of view and pure-and-simple advertising.
Park Your Sales Voice
Tech publishing sites won’t advertise your products and services for free. Please don’t submit an article about your Amazing New Solution™ without mentioning any drawbacks. This is the quickest way to be 100 percent sure I’ll delete your article. Everyone has their own preferences and biases, and I love to read articles with a strong point of view, but please take your hard-sell marketing tactics elsewhere.
What’s the difference between marketing and simply being a fan of a product? Traditional marketing tends not to acknowledge its own biases. If you’re a fan, though, you know that not everyone feels the same way you do. I often tell contributors that if they can’t describe why someone would make the opposing argument, they shouldn’t bother writing it down.
Have an Open-Source Mentality
The best tech authors go a step further than writing great articles. They also take the time to respond to comments on their published articles. Your readers will appreciate that you considered their thoughts and took the time to address them. When you respond to comments, you’re also building connections with people in your field.
My colleague Mike Gates, the content team lead at DZone, said recently that our best contributors tend to have an “open-source mentality.” What he means is a willingness to share knowledge, combined with humility and a rigorous sense of intellectual honesty.
If you’ve ever contributed to an open-source project, this probably all sounds familiar to you. Projects change based on feedback from a peer review. Sometimes your proposed solution isn’t the fastest or most user-friendly, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. In fact, it’s expected.
This might not be intuitive to someone who’s new to tech. It might feel dangerous to be so open — especially when you write, or work with developer advocates. You might prefer to gloss over product features that don’t outrank the competition, or reframe unsatisfied customers as complainers who don’t “get it.” Instead, it’s crucial to cultivate genuine respect for your readers and users.
In the spirit of open source, GitLab, a popular versioning tool, has published their branding guidelines for voice and tone. They say, “We see our audience as co-conspirators, working together to define and create the next generation of software development practices.” The marketing mantra is authenticity, and it’s just as important in the tech world. If you respect developers’ work, your most authentic writing will show it — and you’ll gain trust.
Eric Schabell, Red Hat’s global technology evangelist and portfolio architect director, understands how to connect with developers. “Developers are a sharp, no-nonsense group. They work under deadlines and stress that comes from being asked to deliver on the (next to) impossible,” Schabell writes in a recent blog post. “They can smell jargon and insincere messaging from a mile away. Since they play a critical role in choosing tools and solutions, it’s essential that we learn to approach developers with thoughtful, engaging, sincere, and helpful marketing messaging.”
Editors of tech publications are sensitive in similar ways. We’re looking for writing that addresses developers the way they want to be addressed. “Our best contributors are able to detach themselves from the products and software they’re talking about — and often those are tools that they’ve built themselves. But they don’t treat those tools as the only possible solution in a given field,” Gates says. “They don’t overtly advertise those tools. They don’t pretend that they’re the only tool for a given use case. More importantly, they learn from their failures and are willing to share those lessons with the audience. They don’t shy away from feedback or constructive criticism, and they work to build a community among their audience.”
Search Out Submission Guidelines
Every tech publishing site has their own preferences when it comes to receiving submissions. Seek them out and follow them. They’re often the result of dozens of revisions, typed out as the editorial team comes across fresh new examples of what NOT to do. Following the guidelines will not guarantee you get published. Remember: they represent the bare minimum for being considered — at all. (As an example, here are DZone’s article submission guidelines.)
To ease the open-source metaphor down the road a little further, submission guidelines are a bit like codes of conduct. Stick to them and you won’t get kicked out. But making a meaningful contribution requires a bit more effort.
The parallels between great tech writing, great tech marketing, and great open-source communities go on and on. But most of all, remember…
Editors Are Rooting for You!
The editors at tech publications really want you to succeed. We’re on the lookout for great content every day, and we host mini celebrations at our desks when we find it. Keep these tips in mind as you write, and you’ll have an advantage as your article goes through the editorial process. Good luck!