Shining a Light: How to Write Like a Technology Analyst
Insights from my experience as a Gartner analyst
Business technology writing has gotten a lot more competitive. Basic stream of consciousness writing is no longer sufficient to add value to time poor readers. Writers need to lift their game and produce stronger content that adds value to their readership. This post provides three key areas important to how to write more analytically in a way that proves invaluable to readers.
Having written technology analysis reports for years and as a former Gartner analyst, I ran a series of office hours within the OnDeck Writers Fellowship. These proved highly popular as many of the fellows in the first cohort have a business technology focus. This piece is based on my experience as an analyst augmented with insights from those office hours.
The three key focus areas to improve the analytical nature of your writing are:
1. Understanding: what your reader expects;
2. Planning: and focusing your research;
3. Structuring: your pieces of work.
Understanding what your reader expects
What does your readership expect from your publication? If it is a quality voice they are after that provides deep insights and thought leadership positions on topics that extend beyond the daily news then read on.
Thinking and writing like an analyst requires CRAFT:
* Clear: Your writing must be engaging, which requires is to be both clear and concise. Rambling is not an option, every word must have impact.
* Relevant: Focus your writing on a determined audience rather than going wide in a scattershot approach. Try and be as role, industry and geographically specific as possible.
* Actionable: Your writing should be usable by your reader. It should deliver value, take a position and be insightful. Use real life examples as much as possible. And be future focused rather than reportage (of the news of the day).
* Fact-based: The more transparent your logic and fact base is the better. You should ensure your work is credible and can be trusted.
* Timely: While you are taking considered opinions which may take you time to arrive at, make sure you publish in time for readers to act.
Great advice delivered too late is useless.
Planning and focusing your writing
Your writing should mesh together and tell an overarching story. As such, start with developing an agenda that you want to write on. This could be a long term agenda or something as short as a quarterly focus.
Figure out who you are writing for and profile them. This could be a simple summary of your audience or you could go deeper and create personas that typify a subset of who you expect to be reading your work.
What is their business? What are there most problems problems and issues and where are their key opportunities? What key decisions are they trying to make? What do they want to know? And what is already well known amongst people in their role, region or industry?
To gain an accurate understanding of the reader for your piece your greatest tool is listening. Reach out to people who you see as your target group and hear what they are grappling with.
You should seek to balance your writing between providing your readership what they want and thought leadership. This sometimes means that rather than evangelising a popular position or technology you take a contrarian stance.
Plan your writing at least three months out. If you are working on more trend analysis pieces you should plan ahead of your trend curve, at least six to twelve months out. Note that this is how professional technology analysts set their writing intent for the year. If you are doing a newsletter as a side project then this can seem like extreme planning.
Your writing should be just the right length. By this I mean not too long and not too short. For an analyst the rule of thumb is that if you cannot say what you want to say in less than two to three pages on a topic, consider splitting your piece into a series. In this piece I’m diving into developing research note length pieces. You are, of course, free to create more detailed and lengthy reports.
Once you have determined the space you want to shine a light on, decide on a collection of pieces that together illuminate the situation better than one long stream of consciousness piece.
* you may want to convert some of your interviews into case studies;
* from these you can determine a set of best practices for a best practice piece; and
* finally, you can review various technologies being utilised in that space and create pieces on them individually and or as they may be positioned on a quadrant map that tracks trends across direction, maturity and participants.
Think about what type of advice you would like to deliver through your writing on a topic. Is it tactical or strategic?
Structuring Your Writing
Structure for structure’s sake is constraining. But having a consistent structure gives you freedom to do your best work within those constraints. It also forms the basis of an mutual understanding between you and your readers by providing them with a shorthand for what to expect from a piece. For example, if you define a piece as a best practice then your readers will come to expect it to contain at least three practices from within an industry, carried out by a role or across a geography.
In this section I’m going to focus on the following structural elements:
* The Opening
* The Body Architecture
* Key Findings
* Executive Summary
Your aim with the opening is to provide a prospective reader of a piece with enough information so that can best determine for themselves if it will be worth their time to read the piece.
A formulaic approach used by analysts to creating consistently strong openings is to focus on the situation, the complication, its implication, the question and finally the answer that the piece will deliver. Reread the first paragraph of this piece to see this formula at work. It is based on the Minto Method, a structure developed by Barbara Minto.
Situation: what is it?
Complication: what’s changed?
Implication: what does it mean? What opportunity or threat arises as a result?
Question: what is the core question this piece will answer?
Answer: how will this research answer the question?
Keep your structure as simple as possible. Convoluted use of nesting will distract from the message you are trying to convey and be likely to confuse the reader.
I suggest you break your arguments into two to four major sections as this is a forcing function to be succinct. For each section have a headline and a summarising idea.
Background material such as the historical timeline that gave rise to the situation at hand is best moved over to a footnote. Keep the body for argument only.
Your recommendations should answer the question as to what the reader should do about what you’ve just told them.
Structure your recommendations into three to four bullet points.
Recommendations needs to be both actionable and time-based. For example, here’s what you can do on Monday, within three months, in a year.
In the Key Findings section you will tell the reader what they should be aware of when reading the piece.
Your key findings should be set out as up to four bullet points.
This is a great tool for marketing your piece. Use it to craft a tweet or to place in another document from which you want readers to click through to access the piece.
As its name implies, the Executive Summary gets to the gist of your research.
Here you should reference in the key findings and recommendations and focus on three things about the piece:
* what the piece is about
* why it is important
* identify the target audience, for example business leaders or marketing executives.
By applying critical thinking you should be able to reduce or simplify complex arguments for your readers of whom you will have built up a deeper understanding of what they expect. By applying planning and focusing your research and using structures for writing your research you will enrich the reader experience and provide them with invaluable insights.