TechWhirl: Technical Communications Recap for January 13, 2012

TechWhirl’s coverage of Technical Communications is supported by Platinum sponsor ComponentOne & their Doc-To-Help Help Authoring Tool |

From the Desk of the Editor

“Basics” may be one of those words that mean quite different things to different people.  Judging from the responses to our new poll on must-have technical communication skills, interviewing (i.e. interviewing subject matter experts) and research skills are two most technical communicators can agree on.  But, with a third of respondents in our admittedly unscientific poll ticking the “other” checkbox, we’re pretty sure that there’s a lot “basics” that change depending on your industry, your experience and your aspirations.  If you haven’t already voted, take a few seconds to check out the poll, cast your vote, and if you think there are other basics that we’ve missed, let us know what they are by posting a comment.  TechWhirl Poll: Must-have Skills for Technical Communicators

If you’re trying to reboot your mindset by focusing on the basics, or if you wonder about the luxury of actually having an editor to work with, read up on Working with a Technical Editor.  And what could be more basic than identifying and setting goals for your tech comm work?  It’s a big part of the focus and success of Adam Polansky, Information Architect at Travelocity, and the subject of a LavaCon interview by Lois Patterson.

By the time we wave good bye to January, our focus on basics will cover improving productivity with the most ubiquitous of office software tools, getting a handle on planning and producing the right amount of documentation, refreshing and extending your writing skills with a new look at grammar, and a few other nutritious tidbits of knowledge.  Then the challenge becomes acting on all this useful advice and knowledge.

Looking ahead to the longest month, in February we’ll be talking about visual communications, and in March we turn to globalization/localization.  We invite you to join the conversations: drop us a note about the specifics you’d like to see us cover, start some new threads on the discussion list, or post your comments on current and past articles.  Your perspective strengthens the technical communications community and we hope you’ll share your opinions, ideas and wisdom.

– The gang at TechWhirl

p.s.:  Relax all you paraskevidekatriaphobiacs, it’s only one day, and if you need to wait until tomorrow to read this, we won’t hold it against you.


In Case You Missed it: This Week  @ TechWhirl

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What You’re Talking About

A quick What you talkin’ ‘bout to our Tech Writers and their discussions in our email discussion group:

  • Roger Goodman’s boss asked him for “Ideas for Help 2.0” that would be “really kicka**.” Whirlers responded with lots of opinions on the impeding demise of tri-pane help, the futility of most-popular answers, and a range of server-based options that may or may not  rank as “kicka**.” Kudos to Jen Jobart who concisely described the tech comm dilemma. “As techwriters, we’re at a crossroads.  We can either ignore the fact that that’s happening, or we can embrace it and realize that docs are now a multi-way conversation, of which tech writers only have a single voice. Our job is still to make the most of that voice, but it’s also to facilitate the rest of the conversations and make them more accessible to users.”
  • Chris Morton is dealing with possible “FDA (b)anality” over the wording of a caution statement in the documentation for his company’s software solution.  In many technical communications environments software would not be considered a “device,” but experienced technical writers in the FDA-regulated world have assured us that software, once loaded, becomes a part of the device and advise Chris to comply with his compliance officer’s request.
  • Whirlers have provided a lot of advice and differing opinions to Anonymous, who is challenged by “Staffing with unskilled workers.” It seems to be a not uncommon scenario to be asked to train someone completely outside the technical communications world to write and produce help files.  Sage advice from those who suggest documenting all aspects of the situation, including the amount of time Anonymous must spend in training, editing and rewriting tasks.

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Platinum B: ComponentOne Software, Madcap Software

Gold: Vancouver Island University, Society for Technical Communication (STC), EC Software