A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S.

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Accentuate the Negative: Obtaining Effective Reviews Through Focused Questions   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

How you ask a question strongly determines the type of answer that you will obtain. For effective documentation reviews, whether they are conducted internally or externally as part of usability testing, it's important to use precise questions that will provide concrete information on which to base revisions. This paper proposes an approach to obtaining useful feedback that emphasizes negative, 'what did we do wrong?' questions. This approach focuses limited resources on areas that need improvement rather than areas that already work well and that don't require immediate improvement.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Technical Communication Online (1997). Articles>Usability>Methods>Testing


Actively Managing Your Schedule   (members only)

Uncertainty is the only certainty of a freelancer’s life, but it’s also a problem that afflicts wage slaves, as I learned during the first 15 years of my career. Something unexpected always seems to be popping up, disrupting our carefully crafted plans and leading to long days and late nights. Fortunately, there are ways to make life less uncertain than it might otherwise be, and each involves actively managing our schedules rather than waiting for others to define them for us. Active schedule management involves three types of activity.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2010). Articles>Project Management>Planning


Avoiding Repetitive-Stress Injuries: A Guide for the Technical Communicator

Writers and editors in particular put in an awful lot of miles at the keyboard every day. One serious problem is the risk of so-called 'repetitive-stress injury' (RSI)--simplistically, any injury that results from overuse of a body part without giving it time to recover. In fact, 'overuse injury' is probably a more immediately obvious term, and given how much time many of us spend using computers, overuse is indeed a risk.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2004). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>Ergonomics>RSI


Avoiding Repetitive-Stress Injuries: A Guide for the Technical Communicator

Writers and editors in particular put in an awful lot of miles at the keyboard every day. For example, I commonly spend a solid 8 hours typing. Writers and editors in particular put in an awful lot of miles at the keyboard every day. For example, I commonly spend a solid 8 hours typing. Then there's that darned mouse. W. Wayt Gibbs, writing in the June 2002 Scientific American, used the Mouse Odometer software (www.modometer.com) to monitor his habits and found that in a single 5-day period, he'd recorded 2440 feet of mouse movement and nearly 22 000 mouse clicks. It's no wonder computer users sometimes experience serious physical problems.It's no wonder computer users sometimes experience serious physical problems.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2005). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>Ergonomics>RSI


Backing Up Word Templates and Shortcuts

If you’ve used Microsoft Word for any length of time, you’ve probably begun using its key automation features, such as macros and automatic text. If you’re as gung ho as I am, you’ve accumulated a significant collection of these shortcuts. You probably even depend on them for getting work done efficiently. You’ve also probably spent some time adding words to the software’s custom dictionaries, and may even have created specialized dictionaries for certain genres that have their own jargon. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you somehow lost all that hard work?

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Corrigo (2016). Articles>Word Processing>Microsoft Word>Technical Writing


"Backing Up" Doesn't Mean Retreating

Recently, several friends and colleagues have lost important files as a result of viruses, power failures, computer crashes, and miscellaneous other disasters that accompany working with computers. Each person could have minimized the consequences if they had developed and rigorously followed a simple backup strategy for their data. The fact that this happened to experienced computer users in each case leads me to believe that data loss is symptomatic of a broader problem: As technical communicators, our tight focus on documenting how to use a product sometimes makes us forget to document the consequences of using the product.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2006). Articles>Technology>Security


Combining the Print and Online Media Offers Synergies

Companies had decades of experience in using printed materials to persuade readers to contact them, whether by phone, mail, or in person. This model of interaction with customers had worked so well and so predictably that we simply moved it online, largely unmodified. That was by no means wrong, but as Web technology and our comprehension of that technology both evolved, the approach proved limiting.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (2001). Articles>Document Design>Information Design


Conquering the Cubicle Syndrome

Cubicles aren't really physical walls--they're a state of mind. In effect, it's the belief that you've been compartmentalized and isolated that defines the cubicle. The four-sided, felt-lined livestock pens loved by evil office managers everywhere hides the truth: cubicles are all about being isolated and treated as part of the building infrastructure, whatever the physical location of your chair.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (1999). Careers>Workplace>Collaboration


Content is King

Not all content is created equal. In fact, the real issue isn't the primacy of content, since no user in their right mind will come to stare at a blank screen labeled Me.com; the real issue is what type of content you're offering.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (2001). Design>Web Design>Information Design


Content, Structure, and Relevance: The Ploy's the Thing

Attracting and retaining an audience on the Web requires the skills of a playwright, and like a good playwright, you have to be able to skillfully combine three inseparable elements: Content, structure, and relevance. Content is one of the hot buzzwords of the new millennium. Without content, your site can be aptly described by MacBeth's despairing lament: 'A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' (Substitute 'Flash and Shockwave' for 'sound and fury' and you've got the picture.) Despair describes the second of these three components, because if you don't create a site structure that helps people find all that fine content you've created, they'll give up and go elsewhere--or go mad with the effort of searching, with results every bit as tragic for your job prospects as 'the Scottish play' is reputed to be for actors. And the part about 'signifying nothing'? If the content that visitors do eventually find isn't relevant to their needs, they're not going to come back any more than Lady MacBeth will.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2001). Design>Information Design


A Day in the Life

If it's a good day, you arrive at work around seven o'clock, grateful for having missed the morning rush hour. Today's not a good day, so instead you crawl out from under the shakey shelf in your cubicle, glad that neither your cranky, obsolete computer nor the stale glass of Jolt cola fell on you during the night. Don't laugh; it's happened before, and putting yourself back together again cost you an hour of sleep you desperately needed. You smell the stench of cold pizza, and what's really appalling is that you're not sure whether it's coming from your shirt, your breath, or a hidden cache somewhere in the cubicle under piles of documentation someone left you to review. That's not your problem right now.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L. Humor>Workplace


Dealing with Difficult Employees in the Technical Communication Workplace

Some of the more intractable problems we face on the job are the human ones. But cranky though Microsoft Word often seems, most of its blowups are at least predictable; humans are anything but. The worst problems can arise when you find yourself in a situation where power relationships come into play, which is often the case when you're managing another employee and responsible for their work and their on-the-job behavior. For a variety of reasons, technical communicators are often seen as 'difficult' or 'problem' employees--this means that co-workers tend to complain about us and insist that our managers correct our behavior. Unfortunately, we often work in high-stress environments that make it difficult for us to work calmly and difficult for colleagues to work with us peacefully. Many communicators complain that developers and other subject matter experts (SMEs) don't bother to understand what we do and thus, don't respect our work. As a result, they often consider meeting their own deadlines far more important than helping us do our work, and when we must ask them to provide the information we need to complete our documentation or to review draft documents, we don't get what we need. The result? We're forced to nag, and that can get us labeled as problems, not colleagues.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2002). Careers>Management>Collaboration>SMEs


Defining Editing and the Top Five Rules

Do no harm: this means no harm to the author's intended meaning, reputation, or legal liability; no harm to the reader, such as by omitting necessary safety information; and no ethical harm, such as by knowingly distorting the truth.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (1999). Articles>Editing


Demonstrating the Value of Editing

Like all other technical communicators, we editors must sometimes struggle to prove our worth to employers. We know our value, and the more clueful of our authors understand, but sometimes it takes a bit more work to convince senior managers that we serve a useful purpose. Managers generally require specific examples, usually supported by hard numbers. In this article, I’ve provided a few random facts and figures that I’ve accumulated over the years that you can share with management.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Corrigo (2007). Articles>Editing>Technical Editing


Designing a Telephone-Based User Interface   (PDF)

Explains how technical communicators, drawing on their experience designing Web sites and software interfaces, can help design effective interfaces for telephone-answering and call-routing systems.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2004). Design>User Interface>EPSS>User Centered Design


Designing an Effective Review Process   (PDF)

Review processes can easily become frustrating and complicated. Hart shows how to create and revive a review process that can be tailored to the needs of your situation.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2006). Articles>Publishing>Editing>Workflow


Designing for the Other Half

Whenever we design something, we confront the problem of how to account for differences in our audience's needs, skills, and background. We accept that audiences are diverse and include people with widely varying skill levels, physical abilities, background knowledge, and cultural differences. They range from power users--who could teach us something about the product--to the greenest of neophytes. Some have significant visual or other limitations. Some can understand the most abstract concepts, whereas others wouldn't recognize a metaphor if it bit them. And some come from very different cultures, such as the gap that divides Macintosh and Windows users. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the more obvious differences sometimes leads us to make ridiculous assumptions, such as considering women and men to be different audiences, or believing that it's impossible to produce something that works equally well for experienced and new users.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (2000). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


Devil's Advocate

The problem with wearing the technical support hat, I discovered, is that it tends to slip over your ears. Over time, you stop hearing the shrill cries of the users you're supporting, then you stop listening so carefully, then you stop speaking the same language as they do. And since you're busy putting out fires all over the building, who has time to start listening again? Problem is, once you no longer empathize with 'them,' you forget that they've got their own unending stream of crises to deal with. But if you want to tame those devils, you're going to need to take the time to understand their needs as well as you understand your own, and find a solution that meets both sets of needs. More often than you'd suspect, the result is a win-win solution.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. TECHWR-L (1999). Articles>Usability>User Centered Design


Documentation is a Profit Center!

Everyone knows that documentation is a cost center, and that downsizing writers and moving documentation online save money. Unfortunately for 'everyone', it's trivial to demonstrate that documentation is actually a profit center--and we don't even have to wrassle with messy stuff like customer satisfaction to prove it.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (2000). Articles>Documentation>Workplace


The Domino Effect: Changes Have Unforeseen Consequences

It's obvious that almost all the changes you make will affect your user community, but considerably less obvious how helpful that community can be about providing feedback before you make the changes.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (2000). Articles>Technology>Collaboration


Don't be a Researcher: Be a Finder!

One of the fascinating things about science is just how many breakthroughs have come from mixing the knowledge provided by entirely different disciplines, and I suspect that this lesson has yet to be learned in our own discipline of scientific communication. Technical writers have been grappling with the issues of rhetoric, audience analysis, and usability testing for years, and have developed effective solutions and techniques for addressing these issues. Scientific communicators have largely ignored these breakthroughs and clung to our familiar models of communication.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (1998). Articles>Scientific Communication


Don't Feed the Subject Matter Experts

I found myself wondering; was there any statistically significant relationship between feeding and cooperation?

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Usability Interface (2004). Articles>Collaboration


Don't Wait to be Downsized!

Sure, the economy's booming now, but as the Asian crisis becomes the North American crisis, it pays to remember Newton's famous law of gravity: what goes up must come down again. And, of course, when the economy comes down and pension fund managers start asking those awkward questions about why they should remain invested in your company's stock, managers have a lemming-like tendency to trim staff to make room for short-term profits and long-term plausible deniability. As a technical communicator, you're obviously well up on the hit list, which some might see as a bad thing--but there's a silver lining to every cloud (or, in our case, a copper lining; they don't pay us well enough for silver). In fact, the good news is that it's easy to ensure you're the first one fired, so you can leave before the job becomes mundane without looking like a quitter. Then there are all those perquisites (severance pay, a little downtime)...

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (1999). Careers>Unemployment>Planning>Technical Writing


Dr. Strangemeeting (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy the Donuts)

Experts claim you'll spend 1500 hours in meetings during a typical 30-year career--that is, if you can duck some meetings by looking busy and if you can retire early. If you duck slowly or plan a long career, you could easily spend more time in meetings than you spend working. Fortunately, a little planning and some quick thinking should let you turn meetings into a blessing--or at least a tolerable evil.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (2001). Careers>Workplace>Collaboration


(e)Xpressive Markup Language?

Conveying the emotional tone of a Web page has, up until now, been impossible with HTML, and the XML standard fails to address this issue. As an interim solution, developers have proposed several new tags to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Geoff-Hart.com (1998). Humor>Computing>XML>Emotions



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