As organizations increasingly rely
on intranets, portals, blogs and wikis to disseminate business
information to employees, they need technology professionals who can
write concise, clear and engaging prose.
By Mathew Schwartz | December 2008
Will writing chops help secure a technology job?
bet. According to a 2007 Society for Information Management survey of
tech hiring managers, written and oral communication skills are the
third-most desired aptitude for entry- and mid-level hires.
knowing how to communicate well isn’t a static discipline, especially
as businesses adopt new tools to foster collaboration and disseminate
Watch the video.
thanks to content management software, companies are delegating content
creation responsibilities to employees on the front lines. Given the
importance of technology, it’s not surprising the IT group is among the
departments called upon to wrangle a significant amount of intranet
For some techies, this
new requirement may instill panic. Unversed in crafting content, they
suddenly find their writing on “how to order laptops for new hires” and “the top 10 essential security policies employees must know” digested
by thousands of fellow cube-dwellers, not to mention senior managers.
Accordingly, there’s a growing need for technology professionals to
contribute grab-you-by-the-lapels, or at least clear and concise,
content to their organization’s intranet, portal, corporate blog or
Here, then, are five ways to make your intranet writing sing.
Master the Basics
Remember to always address what writers refer to as who, what, where, why, when and how when writing for the intranet. To ensure readers absorb this information:
- Put the goodies up top:
Begin articles with the most important piece of information. (In
journalism, this is known as the “inverse pyramid” principle. For an
excellent primer, see Jakob Nielsen’s free Writing for the Web). Of
course, this is the opposite of how most people learn to write in
school, which is to pose a question and then build to the answer. Busy
readers, however, won’t grant you that luxury.
Like it or not, the headline, subheadings and especially visuals often
relay 95 percent of your message. Choose them well, and always use
pictures of actual people in your organization. Avoid stock photos,
which readers find disengaging.
- Emphasize: Selectively
bold face the most important phrases and ideas. Also consider
“chunking” content into more readable and “scannable” sidebars and
bullet lists (like this one).
- Engage: Befriend action verbs and active tenses.
- Economize: Keep the content on each page short and relevant. Avoid digressions.
to captivate readers with seemingly dry information? Luckily, we live
in a golden age of technology writing talent. For starters, try techie Cory Doctorow, privacy guru Bruce Schneier, The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, and the New York Times’ David Pogue (whose
iPhone music video is masterful). Use their writing and delivery for
inspiration. True, you may not script, film and post a 60-second
musical starring your singing CEO about the perils of leaving a laptop
physically unsecured at work. Or then again…
Respect the Intranet – and Grandma
|Intranet Writing Checklist
Is your writing:
the intranet is the face of the organization. So treat it with respect.
When you address a general audience, write like you’re explaining
something to your grandmother. (And no, not the one with the Ph.D. in
computational linguistics.) Of course, your content can still have
attitude and style, though what flies may depend on your corporate
Befriend a Writing Coach – and End Users
to brush up on your writing? Want someone to vet content before it goes
live? Some organizations have dedicated writing coaches. If yours
doesn’t, see if there’s anyone available in-house to help, such as an
intranet editor who may already run content-creation seminars.
(Arguably, the organizations with the best intranets employ editors to
vet and “punch up” content and packaging before it goes live.) Or ask
your manager to enlist a writing coach for a one-day workshop. Whenever
possible, get to know some end users (aka your audience). Solicit their
feedback on individual pieces of intranet writing. Then work to make
your writing better.
Make Managers Prioritize Usability
writing, together with excellent usability (meaning a site design that
lets users find what they’re looking for) makes for a killer intranet.
Accordingly, managers should work with usability professionals when
designing or redesigning. Produce a good intranet information
architecture and front-line employees will have a much easier time
creating and maintaining relevant and engaging content.
Mathew Schwartz writes about business and technology from his base in Pennsylvania.