Your editor may ask you to include the following with your work:
- What you will learn from this tip: A tight, 1-2 sentence explanation of how this tip will help the reader solve a problem or understand a technology.
- Who will benefit from this tip: See audience section.
- Extra information: Please note if you have intense coding or images included with your tip.
Choosing a topic
A good tip offers concrete advice. If you can summarize your tip with words such as "In order to solve X problem, do this…" or "how to accomplish or implement Y," you've probably got a good topic. If your abstract would run more along the lines of "here's my opinion on a certain issue," then you'd be better off submitting it as a column.
Beyond that, good tip topics include issues that appeal to your audience and deal with current technology issues or common errors that IT people make. Whether long or short, stick to the point.
The audience you're writing for varies across the different TechTarget Web sites but generally can be considered an audience of your peers -- other IT professionals in the field. Specific tips may be geared toward a more specific audience: managers, administrators, or CIOs. Work with the editors to define that specific audience.
In the Networking Media Group, our audience can be divided into four "job function" categories.
- Manager/network executive: Translates business goals into IT strategy; involved in decisions about major vendors or carriers.
- Architect: Designs and builds optimal and effective networks based on company needs; develops concrete network plans to fulfill the company's needs. Must understand how the network interacts with other IT systems and collaborate with other departments.
- Engineer: Responsible for implementing and maintaining networks, installing new equipment/software, and keeping it running. Analyzes data about network performance and security status and makes necessary changes.
- Operations: Provides day-to-day maintenance and support of the LAN. Monitors the network for potential problems and take steps to mitigate them or pass on information to engineers.
It's a good idea to keep in mind that your tone should generally be professional, but not excessively formal. Think of delivering a presentation at a mid-level IT conference. You should most often be writing in the third person (pronouns "he, she, it"), just as you did when you were writing a term paper. Sometimes tips work in the second person ("you"); this guide is written predominantly in the second person. However, try to avoid the first person ("I, we").
Readers usually do not need to know how you came to write the tip. Just get to the point, and try not to inject yourself into the subject unless there's a personal experience that's relevant.
The appropriate length of your tip depends whether you are delivering a brief nugget of technical advice or an in-depth explanation of technology processes. Generally, 500-800 words is acceptable.
Getting started on a tip (or any piece of writing, for that matter) is often the hardest part. A common structure that can be helpful is to point out or explain a problem, then how the article will help.
Provide a context for your tip. For example, instead of starting off, "When building VLANs in IOS, you need to use spanning tree..." the writer really needs to explain why a reader would be building a VLAN, what it stands for, and that IOS is the Cisco router operating system. That not only helps the reader, but it's very useful in helping the editors to relate the article to other content -- which will ultimately help boost search engine results.
Using acronyms and abbreviations
Acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms like RFID, SAN, NAS, TCP/IP, HTML and BASIC are so common in IT journalism that it is necessary for us to create guidelines for their usage. Although the onus for getting them right falls on our editors, there are a few things contributors can do to help. Here's an interesting discussion of acronyms and abbreviations for further reading.
TechTarget style is to spell out terms first, then use the acronym or abbreviation on second reference. With the first reference, include a parenthetical reference to the shortened form, like this: sales force automation (SFA).
Consider spelling out "bits" or "bytes" rather than abbreviating "mbps" or 86 b/s.
- Keep images under 500 pixels in width.
- Submit your images in attachments, .gif or .jpg files
- When including multiple images, create a naming convention for filenames (such as "router diagram 1," etc.) and be sure to note clearly where each image will appear within the text of your tip.
Amy Kucharik, Sue Fogarty, Kara Gattine, Dana Brundage, John Hogan, Ed Tittel and Ben Vigil contributed to this document.
This was first published in May 2006