How is writing for trade magazines different from consumer publications?

Writing for trade publications, which are business to business, can be different from writing for consumer magazines.

Vicki Clark, senior editor of The O&P Edge and Amplitude magazines in the United States, sees these differences in her company’s trade and consumer magazines. “The most common consideration is the language we use in the editorial content and the length of the feature articles,” she said. “The trade magazine can be written at a higher knowledge level as it’s addressed to professionals.”

Jonathan Chilton-Towle, editor of Pharmacy Today in New Zealand, writes for pharmacists and also uses more specific language and technical terms to describe complex subject matter. “I use less descriptive phrases, so many stories are likely to come across as more of a dry writing style,” he said. “I imagine if a member of the public was to pick up a Pharmacy Today, they would find a lot of the stories boring or would not understand what they were reading about. However, pharmacists enjoy it because the articles are about things that directly affect them.”

Writing for a specialist audience can also have its challenges. Chilton-Towle said writing stories with different angles from the “general news” with more technical information can sometimes be difficult for journalists who don’t have specialized knowledge of the topic. Having also worked at a newspaper, he finds sometimes it’s harder to get comments from sources, especially for negative stories.

“My theory is that many sources don’t want to draw attention to themselves in a forum read by all their peers,” he said. “Unfortunately, this means we have to take care not to speak to the same contacts again and again for articles.”

While a good trade editor knows where to look for stories and is able to keep a bank of ideas, the scope of topics may be narrower than consumer publications.

“While we never have trouble finding enough stories, we have far less to write about than, say, Woman’s Weekly,” Chilton-Towle said. “After being here for a few years, I’ve found myself often writing about new developments on the same themes. It reminds me a bit of working for a regional newspaper in a small town where after a while you tend to get a sense of déjà vu about your stories.”​

Another challenge is that because trade publications target a specific audience, their subscriber base is limited by the number of readers in the industry they cover. This can mean a narrower range of advertisers and, consequently, tighter budgets. Dickon Ross, editor-in-chief of Engineering & Technology magazine in the United Kingdom, started in trade magazines, then went to consumer magazines before moving back again. He doesn’t see writing for trade or consumer magazines as all that different.

“Trade magazines sometimes have more to pass on in journalism skills, such as investigations, while consumer magazines can sometimes teach more about style and presentation,” he said. “But both are about writing for your audience in a succinct, sharp, independent and entertaining style.”

While Ross recognizes every industry has its jargon, he finds it better to explain more than you need to rather than less. New people enter industries all the time and levels of knowledge among readers vary. “It’s all about the readers,” he said. “There has sometimes been a tendency in trade publishing to think of readers as only human resources of the profession or trade, but of course they are also people with all the loves, hates, relationships, obsessions, anxieties, and passions that everyone else has.”