Do You Have 1000 Words on Technical Writing and Visual Communications?

Call for Articles from the TechWhirl Editor

Somewhere in my job descriptions for technical writer, it must have said (probably in invisible ink), “make it look pretty.”  I can  see you cringing like hearing fingernails on a blackboard.  Technical writing for good or ill, requires both the ability to make it accurate and relevant, and the ability to make it appealing.  That means thinking visually, since if you can’t make them open, scroll or turn the page, you can’t get them to read those elegant words of wisdom and precision.

During February (and beyond), TechWhirl and Tech Writer Today are focusing on visual communications as it relates to technical writing. Our wonderful Special Writers Unit members are hard at work on some ideas, but this is a topic with many branches that need exploring.  So I’m looking for some equally wonderful members of our technical writing community to contribute a guest article (probably 800-1200 words) on one of the topics I’ve outlined below.

  • Pies or Bars: Guidelines for choosing data representations – one member of the SWU has expressed an interest in developing a how-to tutorial, but we need a co-author to flesh out what makes a good graphic, how to choose between which type of data representations, which tool to use, based on the type and subject of the technical writing.
  • How to create a how-to storyboard – if you have an interest in doing video, animations, or e-learning, this one is a good one to take on.  We know there are some good sites/references to use as a starting point, and we should be able to come up with a downloadable template, if you don’t already have one. Why do a storyboard, what are the elements, what happens next after it’s approved?
  • Comics in technical communication – what are the pros and cons, cases where companies are using them effectively, what to look for in a freelance comic artist or tools that can help with drawing them.
  • Changing visual cues and conventions in technical documentation– lots of us use the stop, warning, danger icons to indicate warning notes in a document.  Now that PDFs are just one of many ways that information is being communicated, what’s happening in iconography–for example, we seem to be standardizing on an icon of a gear to indicate settings/configuration.  What are the more common new icons and visual cues for help, tutorials, etc, and is there any work going on in developing standards?  If you have contacts in graphic design or user experience, this would be a great topic to ask them about.
  • Monthly Technical Writing Tips & Tricks: improving document design – we’re talking traditional print, pdf, web pages (and help topics), as well as mobile/smart device outputs.  Some tips and tricks (using specific tools is an option here) or principles that are tool-neutral (how much white space, when to use lines bars, shapes, how to size graphics for a page, etc.)
  • Role of video in technical documentation  –  video is a very hot topic in technical writing and technical communications right now, as you probably well know.   You’ll see a lot of differing opinions on video on the list, and in other forums… for example, I loathe searching Youtube for videos on how to do something in Dreamweaver, but I will use Adobe tutorials from time to time (and I’d rather have static text that I can print out if I want).  Others don’t want anything remotely resembling a user manual.  So this article could potentially go in a lot of different directions (and possibly spark a series).  We have an SWU team member on standby to help with this one as well.
  • The art and science of writing captions – so we can get one writing-specific topic in this month.  Is there an art or science to writing good captions (journalism authorities would tell you yes). When do you need captions, what are the elements of a good caption, that sort of thing.
  • Hiring a technical illustrator or photographer – let’s face it, not all of us are good at this graphics thing.  And maybe sometimes you’ll even get the budget for a freelance or staff illustrator or photographer.  What do you look for, how do you scope a project, where are the good freelancers, what are the pitfalls.  It might be possible to find an illustrator or photographer to do an interview, or co-author with you.

As with any article idea (the ones you’d like to pitch or the suggestions here), think about it in terms of what information you as a technical communicator would want to know about the topic. Sometimes not knowing a lot about it before you start can be a good thing, so don’t shy away because you think you don’t know enough. Research the archives, and don’t be afraid to post a topic to the email discussion group. If you have a contact that would be a good guest author, we want to know that as well. TechWhirl (read  Al, me and the members of the SWU)  are always ready to talk through questions, outlines or approaches.

January was a banner month for great content on TechWhirl, and we want to see the greatness continue and expand. It’s an opportunity to try your hand at the journalism side of the writing biz, and we’ll give you a byline, and a chance to toot your own horn with a bio and picture. Find out more about writing for TechWhirl, and use the submission page to get in touch, or drop me a note via email,

TechWhirl: Technical Communications Recap for February 3, 2012

12 years ago

[…] interactivity with images and get an introduction to 3D graphics, but as I pointed out yesterday in my call for articles, the topic of visuals in technical writing gives us so much territory to cover. Many Whirlers have […]

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