Content with the Technical: Research– Ins and Outs of the Net

Like we talked about last week, research and writing go together like one thing and another… I’m fond of a light spread of cream cheese and jelly on a bagel— but let’s keep it simple today like peanut butter.

If you haven’t already, please go back to last week’s post as it serves as a companion piece to this one.

Product research, for most category lines, is best understood by differentiating between intranet and internet material. I think all of us can guess what internet material encompasses (more on internet strategy later) but intranet material may be a little less common. The intranet refers to a company’s internal documents and resource material, usually held on a shared drive. This can come in many, many forms, and in all actuality, especially when dealing with engineering firms, the product experts themselves should be treated as intranet gemstones waiting to be unearthed. This includes: white papers, category/product lists, user-guides/manuals, and those dreaded conversations with subject matter experts (SMEs).

Let’s talk about that dread and why it’s important to lean into it!

There isn’t much in this world worth doing that isn’t challenging, from forming new morning routines to writing more effective technical/copy content! And from the onset of reaching out to one of your company’s SMEs, I want to prepare all of you for crushing disappointment. Not everyone is interested in helping out a new team member with getting up to speed on product knowledge. That’s totally okay. The world is full of assholes, if you didn’t know that already, I’m sorry to break it to you like this… do you have someone you could call? And that person might not even be an asshole– they could just be overworked. Don’t be afraid to move on to another person with similar experience within the company.

Once you do find someone who is able to answer your most pressing questions, and trust me here too, those people do exist– you just need to be prepared to hunt them down. Take care of this relationship, with special attention paid to the frequency of your questions, and how often you search for answers yourself. Nobody is a fan of ALWAYS having a question waiting for them to answer in their inbox.

Couple this lifeline (SMEs = product knowledge lifelines) with the aforementioned material: white papers and user guides to really round out your knowledge. I want to add one more note before we move on to internet specifics– you can follow all available information to a tee AND STILL get your content rejected by your stakeholders. White papers and product category pages don’t automatically update, and you can be working with outdated info without anyone knowing until you submit an initial draft.

Some companies will even assign you with the task of updating product records, but will only provide the out-of-date product record as your resource… I wish I was joking.

Laugh at these situations and move on.

As Homer Simpson would tell us, they have the internet on computers these days. I won’t bore anyone here with the ins and outs of their own company’s website, other than to say it is incredibly important to become a power-user of the site. Know every inch of its code where you can.

Even if your company cut-costs at every corner with their website, or use an inventory system that was considered outdated in the early 90s. Learn what you can with what you have.

Let’s look at competitor research. I recommend creating a list of competing companies (if your marketing director hasn’t provided one already– they may just be waiting for their Chief Operating Officer to approve it… ). Use this list to examine their own product entries, look for effective keywords, features/benefits, and style specifics (like PoV and formatting). This information will allow you to make more informed decisions on the specific choices you make in your own content creation.

I’m convinced that spending additional time with these concepts and applying them to your own research will dramatically increase your ability to produce meaningful, engaging content.

Next week we will dive into the perilous depths of documentation management– and I’ll share a few quick tips for easily managing multiple projects, including ideas on version keeping and naming.

Quick note, I am just as surprised as you are with this blog’s lack of basketball puns/metaphors… given the title. Anyhow, get out there, chase those hoop dreams!

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Published by Jeffrey Graessley

Jeffrey Graessley is an R&D technical writer, poet and blogger (right here) @ Content with the Technical! Subscribe for weekly updates every Sunday morning!

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