What's it like writing for the construction industry?

construction cranes on top of building surrounded by scaffoldingLike everyone else, builders, contractors, and project managers have stories to tell. All they need is someone to tell them. If you’re a niche copywriter looking to expand your areas of expertise, consider giving construction writing a try.
Entering the construction world fresh is daunting at first; the industry has a unique vocabulary that’s unfamiliar to most laypeople. And its work is inherently complex. As a writer, that means you have to work a little harder. You have to do more background research to really understand the topics, materials, tools, and machinery you’re writing about.
You also have to learn to dig deeper in interviews. Often, a construction project’s lasting impact is less than obvious. Take this example: You’re describing a contractor’s replacement of cast iron waste pipes in an office building with high-quality stainless steel ones. Once completed, the change is invisible. Employees of the building itself may not even know that construction took place. So who cares?
Keep searching, and you’ll find out. Sturdy new pipes mean big savings for the building’s owner. For the builders, it might mean a promise of future work. Maybe the contractor added value by completing the job ahead of schedule; maybe they provided extra services not specified in the job’s contract. These details may not be apparent from the start, and your interviewee might not think to share them. It’s up to you to ask.
Of course, don’t forget the skills you’ve already got. Principles that work for feature writing in other disciplines apply equally for writing about construction—and can be handy if you’re uncertain how to approach a new assignment. Get started with these tips:

  • Ask the right questions. It’s easy to get sidetracked during interviews. Keep a list of questions to ask about every construction job to be sure you have all of your bases covered.
  • Know your audience. Are you writing for other construction pros, who will be familiar with industry terminology? Or is your story for the general public? Fine-tune jargon, tone, and level of detail accordingly.
  • Structure stories this way: Problem—Solution—Results. This works particularly well for construction topics, because construction, by nature, is initiated to solve problems. The format also forces you to define a story’s “so what”—how your subject made a difference or delivered results to a client.
  • Find what makes each story special. Construction workers are used to dealing with the unexpected: A finish date gets moved up. Heavy machinery must be used in a facility filled with toxic chemicals. Find the unusual, challenging, or astonishing thing builders did to get the job done—and play it up.

Like any new skill, construction copywriting gets easier with time. Before you know it, you won’t blink an eye when subject matter experts expound upon the virtues of prefabricated materials, or the difference between air-cooled and evaporative condensers for home cooling. Don’t let unfamiliarity turn you away from this growing field. If you can write, you can write about construction.
This post was written by Mary Dixon, a writer and editor with Dragonfly Editorial. It was originally published in 2013, and has been updated. 

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