A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Johnson, Tom H.

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Adding the Human Element in Screencasts

Screen video alone is not enough. You need to humanize your content by getting in front of the camera and engaging your audience. And no, I’m not talking about long-winded monologues either. Several 5-7 second talking-head elements can go a long way toward winning over and maintaining the interest of your audience.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Multimedia>Video>Screencasting


Aligning Yourself with a Cause

When your organization lacks a compelling cause, you can at least take comfort in the idea that you’re pursuing your calling or vocation. Aligning with your calling is ideal, but this can be an issue for technical writers, because almost no one feels that technical writing is a calling.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Business Communication>Collaboration


“Anyone Can Write”: Changing Roles for Technical Communicators

This podcast is a recording of a presentation I gave to students at the Missouri State University technical writing conference on April 23, 2010. With this presentation, because the audience was students, I focused mainly on the changing roles technical communicators are playing. My basic premise is that many IT environments have an assumption that “anyone can write.” Because of this assumption, technical writers are changing their roles, becoming hybrids with additional skill sets, or moving beyond the basics of writing in order to provide both value and find fulfillment.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Presentations>TC>Writing>Technical Writing


The Appeal of Adobe InDesign

Working with InDesign is interesting. On the one hand, it’s not really a tool built for technical writers. It’s intended for people laying out magazines, brochures, other heavily designed print matter. As such, some things can be confusing. Cross references, figure references, a table of contents — get ready to search the help to figure these out. On the other hand, the power of the InDesign is somewhat captivating. You’re only limited by your own ignorance.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Document Design>Software>Adobe InDesign


Are Certificate Programs Helpful for Transitioning into Technical Writing?

If you do plan to get a certificate, I think the STC’s certificate courses, taught by professionals in the field, will probably prepare you well.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2011). Careers>Education>Graduate


The Art of Asking Questions

Asking questions is one of the most powerful ways to open up a text and begin a discussion. It’s not a new technique, of course, but it’s one a philosophy professor in college taught me years ago.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Interviewing


Avoiding Burnout as a Technical Writer

One of the problems I’ve had to combat over the years has been boredom/burnout — that feeling you get either when you’ve been on the same project for too long or a you’re on new project that just feels like exactly what you’ve been working on for years. How do you breath life into work that you’ve done many, many times before?

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2011). Careers>Advice>Technical Writing


Being Contrarian

Contrarianism inevitably leads to a conflict, but in a good way. Conflict is an essential ingredient to writing because where there is conflict, there is story. The more you wrestle with conflict, the better the story. And story is what makes our lives meaningful. It’s what makes life interesting, anyway, so naturally it’s the direction in which we gravitate.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Writing>Collaboration


The Blame Game of RTFM

It may surprise you to find that the wikipedia entry for RTFM is a actually longer than the Wikipedia entry for technical communication. The RTFM response captures the disconnect between technical writers and end-users. Presumably, technical writers include the information in the help material that users ask about. Yet users often don’t take the time to consult the manual to find the answer. If only the users weren’t so lazy, the writer thinks, and mumbles RTFM in response to their question. On the flip side, the user thinks, if only the manual/application weren’t so crappy, then I wouldn’t need to ask others for the information I need.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2012). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Technical Writing


Blog Versus Web Log: Back to Origins

Blogs today are too often focused on specific “brands.” They “target” specific niche audiences. The bloggers often end up thinking more about what their audience wants to read rather than what the writer wants to write. While this focus on audience is key for many types of writing, journals aren’t like that. Journals are much more internally focused, reflecting on the writer’s daily thoughts and events, with musings on what the writer feels is important or relevant.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2011). Articles>Writing>Blogging


Blogging, Podcasting, and Screencasting: Eight Characteristics to Attract Devoted Followers (Part I)

Devoted followers stay updated with each new post, podcast, or screencast, eagerly awaiting the next new one. They’re intimately familiar with your content and either comment regularly or regularly return to your site.

Johnson, Tom H. Tech Writer Voices (2009). Articles>Blogging>Podcasting>Screencasting


Blogging, Podcasting, and Screencasting: Eight Characteristics to Attract Devoted Followers (Part II)

Devoted followers stay updated with each new post, podcast, or screencast, eagerly awaiting the next new one. They’re intimately familiar with your content and either comment regularly or regularly return to your site.

Johnson, Tom H. Tech Writer Voices (2009). Articles>Publishing>Blogging>Podcasting


Blogging: A New Role for Technical Communicators

The online transition to web 2.0, with its proliferation of blogs, wikis, podcasts, tweets, and other user-generated content, has posed a question for the state of help content. Should help material concern itself with web 2.0? Do users want to interact and contribute to help content in the same way they contribute and interact with web content? What is the technical writer’s role in relation to new media?

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>TC>Writing>Blogging


Brainstorming Solutions to Volunteer Management/Engagement

The problem is not content strategy; it’s content tactics. The strategy is clear: draw upon the talent and enthusiasm of willing volunteers to write high-quality content. The details of how remain a mystery. Let me continue my brainstorm.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2012). Articles>Management>Content Management


Breaking into the Mobile Market: Joe Welinski at the STC Summit in Dallas

In this video, I talk with Joe Welinski from WritersUA about strategies for entering the mobile market, particularly in landing contracts for iPhone and iPad application help and user interface design. Joe runs the WritersUA conference each year.

Johnson, Tom H. and Joe Welinski. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Interviews>Mobile>Consulting


Breaking Things as a Form of Creativity

IT Author’s latest podcast, Testing testing 123, dives into testing. Rather than just commenting on testing from a technical writer’s point of view, Alistair Christie and his co-host Graham Campbell interviewed an actual tester. It’s a good interview with lots of informational nuggets. For example, “regression testing” is testing those software features that were tested previously. Every new feature has the potential to affect other features, so even if you’ve already tested something, you have to test it again.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Usability>Testing


Captivate Versus Camtasia Studio

I’ve been exploring Captivate lately because I wanted to translate some screencasts for a project I’m undertaking. It turns out, Captivate doesn’t work so well for screencasting. Slide-based eLearning, sure. But when you have a lengthy software simulation, it fails because you can’t edit the audio while watching the video play. Really? Yes. Really.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Multimedia>Software>Screencasting


The Case of the Stolen Documentation

The non-writer who takes over the documentation can act like a bull in a China closet, copying and pasting from Word, mixing styles, not understanding the setup, basically wrecking the consistency, the bullet levels, the formatting. If you see the documentation later and find that the client has added steps without numbers, included text that breaks every rule in the style guide, won’t that be unnerving? Yes, it will make you want to jump out the window.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Documentation>Project Management>Collaboration


Caught in the Current of Writer River: Building and Participating in Community-Driven Websites   (PDF)   (members only)

When hundreds of people engage in content-generation and exchange, impressive results can happen — namely, you find a lot of interesting, accurate content. Writer River doesn’t have nearly enough community to be on par with these sites, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Johnson, Tom H. Intercom (2009). Articles>Content Management>Community Building>Taxonomy


Changing Your Career to Technical Writing [Guest Responses from Bill Albing and Alyssa Fox]

Recently a reader wrote me asking for advice on changing careers into technical writing. I asked for some colleagues to respond. Bill Albing, an information architect in North Carolina, and Alyssa Fox, a technical communications manager in Texas, responded to the question. With permission from Bill, Alyssa, and “Cedric” (the name I’ve given the reader), I posted the conversation here.

Johnson, Tom H., Bill Albing and Alyssa Fox. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Careers>TC>Technical Writing


Collaborative Post: Giving Guidance to a Masters Student about Technical Writing Careers

I received the following email from Anna, a literature PhD candidate who is considering changing career paths from teaching into technical writing.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2011). Careers>Advice>Graduate>Technical Writing


Company Strategies for Blog Content That Avoids Controversy

Companies face a tough challenge – probably the most difficult challenge in the blogging arena – to establish trust with readers. In my previous post on Hiding Controversial Information, I explained the need for companies to address controversy in order to engage readers. If they don’t address it, they abdicate the conversation about these topics to their competitors. However, getting the green light from management to address a controversy or some other negative messaging issue can be difficult, if not impossible.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2012). Articles>Business Communication>Blogging


Complex Tools Versus Simple Tools

If you can put together an authoring-publishing workflow that is form-fit to DITA, then using DITA can be a good choice. For example, if you’re using Oxygen to publish to Oxygen’s webhelp output, or using easyDITA to push to MindTouch, or pushing content into Antidot’s Fluid Topics, or Mekon’s DITAweb, or Componize’s Alfreso integration, or some other defined DITA publishing solution, then I think DITA can be a good approach.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2014). Articles>Information Design>XML>DITA


Content Curation versus Content Creation

Content curation is much easier than content creation, because you don’t have to strain for original thought. Just note something interesting, maybe make a few remarks, and voila, you’re satisfying your hungry audience’s need for information.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Content Management>Content Strategy>Information Design


The Convergence of Web 2.0 with Help Documentation

This podcast talks about the convergence of web 2.0 with help documentation. It mentions examples of Web 2.0 sites, such as Flickr, Payscale, and Digg, and what help files need to incorporate these same Web 2.0 features.

Johnson, Tom H. Tech Writer Voices (2007). Design>Web Design>Documentation>Podcasts



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