by Al Harberg
the Software Marketing Glossary guy
A book review of Words Fail Me – What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing by Patricia T. O’Conner (Published 2000 by Harcourt Brace & Company)
You’ll sell more software if you improve your writing. Well-written sales presentations are easier to read, easier to understand, and more effective in closing the software sale.
Most of us mastered the basics of the English language in school. All of us could benefit by reading Words Fail Me. While the book was not particularly written for those of us in the software development industry, it delivers a painless way for us to polish our English language writing skills.
Patricia T. O’Conner was an editor at the New York Times Book Review. She writes well. More importantly, she explains simply and clearly how everybody – including microISVs – can write better. She calls Words Fail Me a “user’s manual for words.” Writing effectively isn’t a gift.
It’s a skill that we can all learn.
O’Conner believes that every topic can be explained clearly using simple English. Sometimes our target audience doesn’t understand our writing because we don’t understand our prospects’ needs.
It’s critical that we understand our subject matter completely. Otherwise, our writing will be unclear.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 2 entitled “Know the Audience.” My target audience is software developers. Even though I had spent more than 15 years doing application development work for two Fortune-200 insurance companies, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve done any serious coding. But I still understand what’s important to programmers. I know my audience.
Many people, including software developers, fear writing. O’Conner believes that fear of writing is often fear of your prospects, customers, and other people who will read what you’ve written. The more you understand how to communicate with your audience, the easier it will be to create an effective sales presentation.
Start by identifying your audience. Use the appropriate vocabulary, tone, sentence structure, and imagery to talk to that audience. It’s important to understand their level of sophistication, their likes and dislikes, and other demographic factors.
In the software development industry, many microISVs make the mistake of writing for people who are like themselves. Since the native language of many microISVs is tech-talk, the resulting write-ups are great for selling programmers’ tools, and significantly less effective for selling general and business applications.
microISVs should be writing for their target audience. Often, this audience is made up of prospects who lack the technical background to comprehend the developer’s website or help file.
“Write as though you were addressing someone whose opinion you value,” O’Conner advises. Never talk down to your prospects. microISVs need to describe their software on a basic level that newbies and non-technical people can understand. Simplify your writing, without talking down to the software-buying public. Respect your reader, and your attitude will be reflected in your writing.
There are painful ways to learn to write English better. Words Fail Me isn’t one of them. This book is fun. Reading it will help you polish your writing skills. And it will help you sell more software.
I strongly recommend Words Fail Me.
About the Author: Since 1984, Al Harberg has been helping software developers write press releases and send them to the editors. You can check out his Software Marketing Blog