Gigabytes and Gila Monsters: Writing about Technical Subjects

//Gigabytes and Gila Monsters: Writing about Technical Subjects

Gigabytes and Gila Monsters: Writing about Technical Subjects

Technical subjects often cause writers trouble. There is so much to know that a great many think they are beaten before they begin. After all, they don’t have a PhD. level education on the subject.  So how can they possibly write about it? This view defeats so many writers when it comes to IT, engineering, and other areas of technology.

I didn’t have any background in IT. I had little training in engineering. Yet I now specialize in both areas. What does it take?

Writer versus Expert

Most back off from technical subjects as it appears to take so much time to know them. But understand this: Writing about something and being an expert are too entirely different things. It may take 10 years to learn a skill. But it only takes a few hours to gain familiarity with any new area. Start with definitions. Clear up the meaning of a few of the key words in the subject. Look for simple definitions rather than those that dive it to all the complexity.

Wikipedia may not be the best place to start. Many of the postings are written by experts who stick all sorts of complexity into every paragraph. If you use Wikipedia, look only for simple descriptions. But there are many other sources.

Find some basic articles or overviews of the subject. Buy a beginner’s guide or a Dummies book and read it. Focus on what you can understand instead of what you don’t understand. This is important. Some subjects seem to shut you out as they throw endless obscurity at you. Look through the material and pick out something that makes sense and ignore the rest. Abstracts, intros and conclusions might be enough to give you an entry point. A willingness to learn is vital.

Be Humble

But if you don’t get it, you must put in the hours. When I wrote my first IT article, I just couldn’t figure it out at all. I didn’t know the difference between a Gigabyte and a Gila Monster. I spend hour after hour going over the material in an attempt to understand it. The plus was that I knew that I didn’t know. I wasn’t silly enough to pretend that I followed it. Doing so turns out badly. The articles written are weak or full of errors.

I persisted. I called up a friend who knew about computers. We went over the story I was supposed to write about. Do you know what it came down to? Embarrassingly, I thought that the PC sitting on the floor was Windows. I didn’t know the difference between software and hardware. Once I cleared up that very basic confusion, I was off and running. Within a few months, I could indulge in tech-speak with the best of them.


It also pays to be confident in your ability to learn. One time, I was called by a prospective client. They asked me if I knew anything about computer storage. I said yes, though I really knew very little about it. A couple of days later, I had a conference call with him and his colleagues. By that time, though, I had read “Storage for Dummies.” I was up to speed.  That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been writing about storage ever since.

These days, I am happy to write about almost anything technical. I know that I can master it quickly. But it wasn’t always that way. I put in my time over the years to get to the point where its relatively easy to grasp the basics of any new subject.

Do enough homework so you can get by. But don’t spend weeks preparing for an article that pays you $300. At that rate, a career at a fast food drive-thru may be more lucrative.

Drew Robb

By | 2019-06-21T21:00:55+00:00 November 15th, 2018|Uncategorized|40 Comments

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