A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Pratt, Ellis

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Applying Web 2.0 Technologies to Technical Documentation

This article is based on my presentation at the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' annual conference in October, 2006. Every now and then, there is a change in the value of what technical authors deliver. These are moments when organisations pay attention to technical documentation. This is because they recognise that these changes mean they can create something that will be of real value to the business and to their customers. In recent years, there have been three "waves of interestingness". The first wave was the introduction of Windows Help (WinHelp). The second major wave was the introduction of the Internet and intranets. This was a time when organisations looked at how they could transfer large amounts of information from paper to online. They were faced with issues such as how users could access and understand all this information easily - issues that technical communicators deal with on a day-to-day basis. I believe we're just about to approach the new wave, which we have called "Tech Writing 2.0".

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2006). Articles>Web Design>Documentation>Technical Writing


Building Intelligence into Business Documents

Often business documents, such as sales proposals and annual reports, are a joint effort between various people and departments. It involves collaborative writing and incorporating existing content. For printable documents, this collaboration can make it really difficult to maintain a consistent level of quality, writing style and “look and feel.”

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Articles>Business Communication>Content Management


Can the Experience of Paper Be Replicated on a Screen?

A number of organisations are experimenting with how the experience of reading a paper book or a magazine can be replicated when they are displayed on a screen. Underlying all of these, is an assumption that people can and want to read content online (or on screen) in the same way as they read paper books and magazines.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Articles>Web Design>User Experience>Publishing


Can You Design Your Way to a “No User Documentation” Approach?

For simple, commonly known actions in a closed environment, you probably can design your way to a “no user documentation” approach. Good design can also lead to less documentation. However, customers may expect to do more than that with a product and, in those situations, documentation can play a key role in meeting those expectations.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Minimalism


Confessions of a Technical Author: What Can Technical Communicators Learn from David Ogilvy?

David Ogilvy was an advertising genius who distilled his successful concepts and techniques into a bestselling book I've just finished reading, called "Confessions of an Advertising Man". I wanted to read his book, because I often find it useful to look at other professions and ask whether their ideas could be applied to the world of technical authoring.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2008). Articles>TC>Writing>Technical Writing


Did Technical Documentation Play a Role in the White House's Decision to Move to Drupal?

The reasons for the White House's decision to run its Web site, whitehouse.gov, on the open source content management system Drupal are being discussed on various Web sites. Alongside Drupal's functionality, flexibility and openness, some are suggesting that Drupal's documentation was also a key factor for deciding to use this system.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Documentation>Content Management>Government


Do Technical Authors Do Anything Important?

Often, the more important the job, the more important it is for people to have clear information to hand, explaining what to do and how to do it.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2012). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing


Documentation as Flash Cards

Here is a nice use of flash cards as a way of providing user documentation. Traditionally, these type of documents have looked great but taken a lot of time and effort to produce. However, with more and more technical documentation content stored as re-usable chunks of information in XML-based Content Management Systems, it’s a lot easier to do.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Documentation>User Experience


Fitting Technical Documentation Into a Social Web Strategy

Social Media experts, such as David Armano, of Dachis Corp, are proposing new business measures for assessing the effectiveness of social media marketing. Armano is proposing five key measurement factors. So can technical documentation be “re-framed” to meet these criteria? If so, will its value to the business become clearer?

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Social Networking


Review: Five Non-Technical Writing Books Technical Writers Should Read

Looking for a present for the Technical Author in your life? Here are five books, tangentially related to technical communication, that Technical Authors/Writers should read.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Articles>Reviews>Technical Writing


The Guilty Pleasure of Writing Policy and Procedure Documents

We have a number of projects running at the moment that involve us improving organisations’ policy and procedures documents. It may not seem likely, but these projects are enormous fun.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2012). Articles>Documentation>Policies and Procedures>Business Communication


How Important is Video to Technical Authors?

I’m sure neither of us would argue that video will replace text. Instead, people will expect information to be delivered through a variety of media. The questions for Technical Authors are: can they be sure they will be the people creating this type of information?

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2011). Articles>Multimedia>Technical Writing>Video


How Many Technical Authors Are There in the UK?

The profession of Technical Author in the UK is yet to be recognised as a distinct profession under the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities, so it’s very hard to determine how many people work as Technical Authors.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Careers>Writing>Technical Writing>United Kingdom


In a Downturn, Is It Better to Use Contractors, Permanent Staff or an Outsourcing Company?

In a downturn, priorities in a business often change, and these changes can affect technical authors as much as others. At the London Connections event earlier this week, where I was promoting Cherryleaf's technical writing services, I was chatting to Mike Southon about business strategies in a downturn. Mike is Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University, amongst other things, so I value his judgement. He said, in a downturn, businesses should focus on its Return on Investment, minimising risk and watching its cashflow. So, does this mean you should favour contract technical authors over permanent staff, or vice versa? Should you outsource technical writing work instead? Actually, each option has its merits.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2008). Careers>Management>Outsourcing>United Kingdom


Lessons for Technical Communicators from the Telecommunications Sector

It’s often useful to look at the economic and technological pressures in other industries, to see if the trends emerging there are relevant to the technical communications/publications sector. In recent Blogs, we’ve covered the issues emerging in education, but the telecommunications industry might also provide some useful insights.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Careers>TC>Technical Writing


Manager’s Guide to DITA: Dealing with the Documentation Headache when Integrating Products from Different Suppliers

In the same way that the system needs to integrate all the various components from different suppliers, creating the user documentation can create a challenge: How do you take existing content from partners and incorporate it in your documentation set?

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2010). Articles>Management>XML>DITA


Managing a Documentation Project Successfully: More Jelly and Ice Cream

This video on simplifying business, using the metaphor of organising a children’s party, made me smile and consider how successful documentation projects are managed. The presenter is suggesting managers need to, in complex systems, give up rigid control from above. Instead, they should watch for organisational patterns, encouraging the good and discouraging the bad.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Management>Documentation>Project Management


Managing a Documentation Project: A Guide

This a short video overview of managing a documentation project. It's something we put together as a test of some of the functionality of Techsmith's Camtasia software.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Presentations>Documentation>Project Management


The Marketing of Technical Authors

In May 2004, I did a presentation to the London group of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators on the future for technical authors. This article expands one of the topics discussed - how to promote and market technical authors.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2004). Careers>Writing>Marketing>Technical Writing


Moving Technical Authors from Institutional Thinking to Network Thinking

In this video clip, Ecademy’s Thomas Power talks about how business leaders will have to switch between “institutional thinking” (closed, selective and controlling) and ”network thinking” (open, random and supportive). There’s a similar challenge for technical communicators - between traditional “closed” user documents and collaborative, conversational, “open” online user assistance.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Collaboration


Nine Trends in Online User Assistance

Whilst applications are becoming more complex, many people believe that online user assistance hasn't changed much since WinHelp was introduced with Windows 3. This is a misconception. There have been many developments in this field aimed at increasing end-user productivity and satisfaction.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2003). Articles>Documentation>Online>Help


Reducing Translation and Localisation Costs

These days, staff in localisation departments spend their time essentially on project management, translation and quality assurance. However, by using one of the emerging systems that integrate content creation, localisation and content management into an efficient system, many of these activities can be automated or avoided all together. We are now seeing the emergence of technical content control systems that can be used to improve the turn-around time, translation costs and the quality of the translations themselves. In recent projects, where these systems have been implemented, organisations have seen substantial savings in localisation costs, with word count reductions and translation costs of around 30%.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2004). Articles>Language>Localization


The Return on Investment of Documentation and Support

The benefits of user documentation (reduced support calls, increase in the perceived value of the product, happier customers, better customer retention, increase product usage etc) can be identified, but it can be hard to measure them and accurately quantify the Return on Investment.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2008). Articles>Documentation>Management


The Selecting the Right Technical Author to Recruit for Your Organisation

Advice on selecting the right Technical Author to recruit for your organisation.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2011). Articles>Careers>Recruiting>Assessment


The Six Biggest Mistakes Project Managers Make with Documentation and How to Avoid Them

Professional business writers, such as technical authors, typically break a document down into small, discrete units of information, organised around a skeleton of topic headings. If you use this 'component' or 'modular' approach, you can plan and structure the document using the heading 'labels' that describe each section.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2007). Articles>Documentation>Planning>Project Management



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