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Writing trade articles for German media

Writing trade articles for German media

  • Types of B2B trade article
  • Who are you writing for?
  • Drawing the reader into the text: headline and intro
  • Writing style: lively, objective, informative
  • Structuring and enlivening the text using subheadings, quotes and info-boxes
  • Should you draw comparisons to competitors?
  • Characters and keystrokes
  • Company names and trademarks
  • Units of measurement
  • Images!
  • The four-eyes principle

Every article is a new challenge – even this one here, as the interested reader will immediately compare the way the article is written to the advice it gives. But these high standards are necessary, because there is no such thing as having too much time any more and, at the end of the day, we want our texts to be read. So, let’s get to the point: how do you write an appealing trade article?

  • Types of B2B trade articles

For the sake of simplicity, we have limited ourselves to two kinds of trade articles in the field of B2B marketing: the trade article, which describes a product or technology, and the case study, which describes an example of how the product is used or applied in practice, giving both the product manufacturer and the user a chance to speak. Let’s presume that you are writing a PR report on behalf of your company and offering it to the editorial department of a trade magazine. 

Basically, editors always want there to be some connection to application and therefore to real use, even in the specialist report. Things that the developer of a product takes for granted are nowhere near as self-evident for the reader. The reader has to be told about the benefits that he or she will gain from using the new product / the new solution. That is why you should not only describe the product in your PR trade article, but also demonstrate its technical properties in relation to its application. The more specifically you address the problems within a specific market environment, the better.

In a case study, your customer gets a chance to speak about his or her own requirements. This alone usually makes the case study more detailed and therefore longer than a product report. In both cases, try to answer the following questions listed in the “cross-check”.

>> Case study cross-check: does your text answer the following questions?

– What did the previous solution look like?
– Why was your customer dissatisfied with the old solution?
– What made the customer decide to use the new solution?
– Were there any alternatives? If so, what were they, and why weren’t they given a chance?
– How does the new solution work?
– What are the user benefits of the new solution and how can they be proven?
– How long has the new solution been in use? Are any empirical values already available?
<<

Where possible, illustrate the product using technical and economic facts: i.e. numbers. 

  • Who are you writing for?

Before you begin writing, think about who the text is meant for. In most cases, a technical trade article is directed at engineers, design engineers and developers in their respective departments. For this reason, you can assume that they have a general understanding of technical terms and should avoid writing texts in the same way that your regional daily newspaper would. Having said that, a trade article usually describes a product innovation or a new solution in a specific field, which is why you can provide brief, concise explanations of your technical terms.
It goes without saying that you need to choose an appropriate level of technical depth. However, this depth depends on the specific magazine and its readership.

Always ask yourself how much most readers will already know about the subject, and remember to cater your article to the reader. A few crucial seconds is all it takes for the reader to decide whether the topic is relevant and interesting – which brings us to the beginning:

  • Drawing the reader into the text: headline and intro

Every beginning is difficult, and the same applies to trade articles. That’s why the following tip is key: write the introduction – “the bold print” – last, when all of your arguments have been gathered and presented in context. This is often the proverbial light bulb moment, and the introduction contains the most important facts. It has to, because the beginning is incredibly important: it reels in the reader and draws him or her into the text. The introduction should whet the reader’s appetite – it does not provide a summary.

There is not much room for the headline: get to the point of the topic simply and concisely. Some editorial departments publish a subheading, i.e. a supplement to the actual headline.  Limit yourself to just a few words here as well.

For press releases, we talk about “the five Ws” (plus how), which should be dealt with at the very beginning: who is doing what, when, where, why and how? Because you have more room in a B2B trade article than in a press release, these questions do not have to be condensed into a couple of lines at the beginning. But you shouldn’t hold off on conveying this information for too long either: the competition is waiting just one page or click away.

Two examples of introductions to B2B trade articles and B2B case studies.

A compact plug-and-play solution:
Shunt-based sensor technology for currents below 100 amperes

A mixture of semiconductor technology and shunt-based data gathering – this is the combination behind Isabellenhütte’s new ILF current sensor. It is mounted right on the printed circuit board and displays an equivalent voltage on the analogue output. With a current measuring range of up to 100 amperes, the low-resistance current sensors are suitable for applications such as frequency converters in industrial applications or in solar inverters.

Harvest robots could make green asparagus more affordable 

What is the real reason that asparagus is one of the most expensive vegetables in Europe? It is because harvest workers have to painstakingly prick each asparagus spear individually. A robot developed by engineers at the Bremen Centre for Mechatronics (Bremer Centrum für Mechatronik; BCM) could change this. It works using harvesting tools that move on precision tracks developed by the British company Hepcomotion – a specialist in linear guiding systems, with a branch in Feucht, Bavaria.

The introduction must be able to stand alone. Basically, you begin the subsequent main part of the article separately, which now leads into the topic.

  • Writing style: lively, objective, informative

Aren’t “lively” and “objective” mutually exclusive? No. Try to plant images in the mind of the interested party – what problems does the product solve? Which applications and industries is it relevant to? Avoid anything that tends towards personal opinion or advertising. There should be no gushing praise in a trade article. The more informative it is, the more credible it is.

The length of a sentence does not reflect the richness of its content. This is why you have to make sure that the statements in your sentences are clearly identifiable, not hidden behind artistically crafted sentence constructions and unusual vocabulary.

Where possible, avoid the nominal style – that is, the stringing together of nouns or the “nominalisation of verbs” – and passive sentences. Instead, try to use the active voice. A simple example. “The company manufactures….” instead of “…are manufactured” or “manufacturing comprises…”

Do not exaggerate by using unnecessary superlatives, unless you can explain the difference between “precision”, “high precision” and “the highest precision”.

  • Structuring and enlivening the text using subheadings, quotes and info-boxes

Subheadings anchor the text. They improve readability, structure the article and can be used to re-emphasise important facts. A clearly structured text also generates more desire to read from the outset.

On the one hand, quotes enliven the text. But on the other hand, if you use them too quickly and frequently, they can disrupt the flow of reading. For this reason, you should use them in low doses and ensure that they express a relevant statement. 

Info-boxes are an effective means of emphasising information, providing additional information and giving an overview of the technical facts. Sometimes, info-boxes can provide a compact summary of the article, catering to readers who are in a hurry.

  • Should you draw a comparison to the competition?

An objectively laid out comparison of different systems, procedures, etc. is very informative for the reader. However, it is advisable to proceed with caution when it comes to comparisons like this: do not mention the competitor by name in a trade article and, if you’re unsure, do not claim exclusivity “the only manufacturer of …”.
Writing a comparison that is as neutral as possible also means that your competitor is allowed to score some points.

  • Characters and keystrokes

For publications in a printed magazine, editors use 6,000 to 8,000 characters as a guide for length. This is a little confusing, because the specification of “8,000 characters” actually means “8,000 keystrokes”, i.e. characters plus spaces. An easy way to check the length of an article is using the Word function “Word Count” in the “Review” tab.
An editor who has to quickly check that your trade article does not exceed the agreed length will find it helpful if you provide some information at the end of the text about the number of characters and keystrokes.

Even if it is difficult, try to follow the editor’s instructions as best you can. That is, do not hand in 15,000 characters if you had agreed to 10,000. Anything else just means unnecessary work for both the editors (who will have to shorten the text) and for you.

If your PR trade article is published online, there are fewer limits to its length. Your text might be published as both a long online version and a short print version. Talk to the editorial department about this in advance to prepare yourself as well as possible for the content and length.

  • Company names and trademarks

A tiresome topic for every writer: figuring out how to write company names in PR articles while paying heed to calls (from the same company) to please retain the brand style and registered trademarks. Whichever way you decide to submit the PR trade article in order to keep the peace: the editor will review it and your capitalised or uncapitalised company name MÜLLER or müller will become “Müller”, and middle initials (MüllerHuber) will be revised (Müller-Huber or Müllerhuber) too. Even the famous iPhone brand name has fallen victim in Germany to this principle and has had to come to terms with the spelling “Iphone” – no matter how strange it looks.

So, if your company name can be pronounced, it will be adjusted as shown in these examples. In order to ensure that the flow of reading is not disrupted, registered trademarks are not taken into account.

In more scientific texts, you might have to name your sources and literature. The best way to do this is at the end of the text.

  • Units of measurement

A detailed explanation of how to write out units of measurement would go beyond the scope of this article, which is why we have dictionaries. So, let’s limit ourselves to what is most important: readability and comprehension:

– There should be a space between the number and the unit of measurement
– 1,000 (1.000) is more readable than 1000
– Consistent style in the same context: “Track A is three metres long, track B fifteen metres.” / “Track A is 3 m long, track B 15 m.”
– The (angular) degree symbol comes immediately after the number: 3°. To make this more readable: 3 degrees. Temperatures are usually given in degrees Celsius: 3°C / 3° C 
– Write mathematical equations in numbers

  • Images! And image captions

Images are not a necessary evil, nor are they an optional embellishment. They can actually be the deciding factor in whether your article is published or not. The more professional your image looks, the more credible your text. In technical articles in the B2B trade press, images serve to visualise and explain the written text; they expand upon the presentation of the subject matter. It therefore makes sense to choose images that match the text, e.g. relating to use. Illustrate your text where you can by using graphics and diagrams (e.g. relating to temperature progressions, long-term stability, etc.), detailed photographs (of the sensor being used in the machine), etc.
Depending on the layout of the issue, editorial departments have different ideas about what the opening image should be. Discuss this beforehand. The standard that applies to images in print magazines is always a resolution of 300 dpi.

You will score points with image captions that re-emphasize important facts or provide additional information – and don’t just show what the reader can already see.

Example:

Instead of “Spacemat by Suspa”, a better caption would be: “In heavy-duty applications, the special SpaceMat component extends the lifetime of a gas spring and enables the gas spring to be mounted with the piston rod at the top.”

<< Checklist for B2B trade article
You should clarify these six questions with the specialist editorial board before you begin writing:

1. What kind of PR trade article is it supposed to be? (Product description or comparison, case study, interview, etc.)

2. Which facts does the editorial department believe have to be explained?

3. What kind of technical depth is desirable in this case? Who is the readership?

4. How long should the B2B article be?

5. How many images are you allowed to use? Are there guidelines for the opening image?

6. And, of course: when is the editorial deadline? When do you have to submit your text?

>>

  • The four-eyes principle

Get somebody to proofread your text. After immersing yourself for hours in technical data, interviews and research, oversights might have occurred or, even worse: you might not have conveyed the matter the way you intended to. Treat your text to a colleague’s critique. This will also give you more confidence.

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