I have followed Tom Johnson, the founder of I’d Rather Be Writing, since 2006, when I officially began my career as a technical writer. I was a fan of his back when he lived in Utah, before his big move to San Jose, California. As a newbie tech writer, I wanted to find a virtual mentor or two. Johnson met that requirement.
The website makes a pleasant first impression. Rather than an immediate assault by ads, the reader engages in a cool, low-key experience, with white background and sufficient whitespace. The site’s name appears at the very top, with a few orange accents, followed by a tagline reading: “exploring technical writing trends and innovations.”
I welcome this brief explainer because “I’d Rather be Writing,” while catchy, doesn’t sufficiently explain what the site is about. Okay, so he’d rather be writing. What exactly does he want to write about? Technical writing trends and innovations.
Many sites make the reader hunt to find basic features, like how to subscribe, but Johnson’s email subscription function is at the top left, with an orange subscribe button. He displays his posts on the right side of the page, under the heading “Latest Posts,” in a sensible chronological order, with teaser sentences following headings in larger type. He invites interaction with the site, by displaying recent comments on the left, underneath the subscribe function.
Easily Navigate via Tabs
When I visit a website, I like finding my way around easily. Sometimes a website feels like nine miles of bad road. Other websites look fresh no matter how long they’ve been around, and invite you in with a clean, uncluttered design. I’d Rather Be Writing fits the latter category, with several tabs across the top to help the reader investigate the site further and find out what it offers:
- About – Who Tom Johnson is, how to contact him, information about his past and upcoming presentations, and information about advertising on his site. Yeah, he is kind of big noise in tech writing. Been around.
- Archives – The archives date from 2006, when I began following Johnson.
- Series – Of particular interest to me here are Testing Documentation, Get a Job in Technical Writing, Quick Reference Guides, Findability / Organizing Content, and From Overlooked to Center Stage. (This last item kind of describes what is happening to me in the office right about now. But that’s a topic for another column. Anyone interested in hearing about my experiences?)
- Jekyll – For those who want to know more about the static site generator known as Jekyll.
- Categories – Includes Beginner Tips & Career Advice, Findability, and so forth.
- Other – Includes User-Centered Documentation and more.
- Beginners – Lots of interesting links here, including Tell Me About Your Career as a Technical Writer.
- API doc – Pieces on API documentation here, including Documenting APIs: A guide for technical writers
- Podcasts – Johnson does many podcasts. That information lives here, including How can technical writers thrive in agile environments?
Last but not least, comments are allowed on I’d Rather Be Writing and Tom often replies.
I’d Rather Be Writing remains a fantastic resource for new and seasoned technical writers. I admit I visited his site more when Johnson discussed more general technical writing topics regularly. He has migrated toward API programming documentation and producing podcasts, whereas I am still enjoying myself quite a bit as a software technical writer. Still, I bookmarked his site long ago, and visit it whenever I need a refresher or an introduction to topics around the career I love.
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