Best Technical Writing Tips and Tricks from the TechWhirl Email Discussion List

In 2012, Techwhirl’s email discussion list was alive with opinion, facts, recommendations, suggestions, and ideas on technical writing, job hunting, planning and production of content intended to help users. As we close out the year, we thought it would be worthwhile to mine this vast expertise and provide you with some wide-ranging tips and tricks you can use in 2013 and beyond. Continue reading ...

Technical Communication Poll: Content Consumption Preferences

Back in the old days, when I was a student in mass communications, I recall a professor discussing the fact that everyone has an opinion about advertising. We're all exposed to thousands of commercial messages in any given day, across every possible medium, and with all that exposure we're bound to have an opinion or two about those messages--at least the ones that cut through the clutter. Given the prevalence of assumptions about how customers don't read the documentation, it's pretty likely that everyone has an opinion about technical communication content as well. Continue reading ...

technical communication recap

TechWhirl: Technical Communications Recap for April 27, 2012

In honor of National Passive Voice Day: A conflict has appeared concerning career prospects for technical writers. It was reported in the US Occupational Outlook Handbook that job growth will occur in the 16 percent range and is considered high growth. Information was published by Careercast (publicizing was done by Gurpreet Singh) showing growth in technical writing will be poor, on par with mathematicians and statisticians. In addition, a drop has occurred in the ranking of technical writing as a career from 26 to 37. A reason for this conflict has not been determined, but research should be done. Continue reading ...

Session Summary: Integrating Help, Support, and Training Content

Where do you go to find answers? Google? Yeah, so does everyone else (including your users). Paul Mueller of UserAid knows this fact and stressed the need for a one-stop-shop approach for help content in his talk at WritersUA. “Users only want to go to one place to find answers,” said Mueller. A common approach to having your help content be “Google-able” is to take the help files and throw them up on the web so that users can find them through a Google search. But why should the user have to figure out where to find the info they need and sort through it all? Decide what your customers need and deliver it in one integrated solution Continue reading ...

Technical Writing Tips and Tricks

Technical Writer Tips and Tricks: PDF and Online Help Documentation Translation

Over the past few years, I’ve had to manage the translation into French of user guides and online help for TSX SecureFile. The documentation consists of PDF user’s and administrator’s guides produced using unstructured Adobe FrameMaker, and web-based online help produced using Quadralay’s WebWorks ePublisher. This article is based on a relatively simple scenario – a lone technical writer with a small number of manuals being translated into one language. Continue reading ...

LavaCon Session Summary: Corey Ganser on “Who Cares About Your Content?”

Corey Ganser presented a thoughtful session about the importance of engaging technical writers and customer support agents with the goal of decreasing support costs and increasing client satisfaction. Three stakeholders in the question of who cares about content are the company, the customers, and you (the technical communicator). During his session, he explained how his employer, Mindtouch, forged relationships with its customers and found opportunities for selling its products and services Continue reading ...

The Five W’s of Online Help for Tech Writers

Lately, I've become a vocal critic of modern online help for a variety of reasons. But my biggest criticism is that despite the usability improvements offered by context sensitivity and modern indexing tools, many help systems become formulaic descriptions of procedures that fail to truly address the needs of their users. This problem arises partially from the inherent difficulty of writing online help, since users may need a range of reference, contextual (e.g., why a dialog box exists), or task-based "how to" information at different times and in different places. Continue reading ...

Managing Edits for an Online Help Monster

As a technical writer developing large online help projects, I faced challenges in managing the editing process–specifically, ensuring consistency across each of the help files and controlling versions of the help as edits are made. In this article, I describe the editing structure and process adopted in our department to help address these problems, which, […] Continue reading ...