Meat or Muffins? Be Sure the Writer Knows

This post was written by John White on Thu, 18 Jun 2009 21:35:16 +0000
Posted Under: fluff,persuasion,rapport with writer,relationship with engineering,technical article

The writer did what we told him to do when we hired him.

“Write a series of technical articles to help evangelize the technology,” we said, “two to three pages each. They should introduce developers and customers to the new features they can use in programming on the platform. We need to get the word out about this, so we’ll put the articles on the developer Web site. We’ll give you the topics, and you do the rest: interview the engineers, talk to the product managers, write it up, circulate drafts, edit it and submit it to the Web team.”

That was about all we told him, and he did all of that, for several months. He delivered reliably and on time.

Turns out that what we told him to do is not what we wanted him to do.

“There’s too much fluff in the articles,” observed the VP of Engineering. “We need more meat instead of muffins.”

The writer was perplexed. “I’m doing what you told me to do, but if you want me to turn up the technical heat, I will. But I assume that, if you just wanted pages of technical language, you’d have the Documentation group do this. You hired a technical marketing writer to help persuade people to work on the platform, right?” He underlined it.

Right.

“Can you give us something more technical, yet not turn the content into a user guide?” we asked.

“Sure. I just need to know whether you want meat, muffins, or meaty muffins,” he said. A good way to put it. Must be why he’s in marketing.

The articles got deeper and the VP of Engineering became more pleased. People started reading them more, and spending more time on them, according to our Web logs.

Moral: When you hire a writer, be sure to explain how shallow or deep you want the content to be. Meat or muffins. Corporate cheerleading (I always enjoy envisioning that) or something that a developer will pass on to a colleague, maybe even retweet.

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