Technical Writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of formal writing and business communication, used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology. Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience.
Although not rare birds in urban high-tech environments, technical subject matter experts (SMEs) are a fascinating species to observe—and a challenging breed for corporate communicators to manage. This tongue-in-cheek field guide identifies four common sub-species, and explains how to spot each by its distinctive markings and how to cope with its behaviors for companionable nesting.
It's not a question of knowing. It’s more a question of feeling, when you read it, that the material was written at a company where professionalism governs everything. If you see writing that looks professional, then you believe that the coding — which you can’t see — is also professional.
Finding information in documentation is easy. Or is it? This blog post argues that there's no universal solution, and that each document and each delivery method offers challenges and requires a slightly different solution.
As new technologies revolutionize our communication options, technical communicators must be increasingly accountable for the outcomes of our products and messages. Research in the behavioral and cognitive sciences has provided many data tools that can be very useful to technical communicators. Techniques such as simple descriptive statistics, the Delphi method, trained observers, chi-square analysis, and aptitude/treatment interaction analysis can help technical communicators discover and document the impact of your messages by revealing what you did right, who says so, and who disagrees.
Technical writing as a field covers a variety of different skills and positions. Many people, when they think of technical writers, think of user guides and installation instructions. That is certainly one area a technical writer might work in, but it is far from the only area.
In Utah, technical writers abound but are hidden. Utah probably has at least 500 technical writers spread out across companies all over the state (most in Northern Utah), but communication among the technical writers is sparse. The community is a little disconnected.
Customer support costs account for as much as 60 percent of a high-tech company’s total costs. Documentation is the first line of support for most customers, and customers usually use documentation to find the answer to a problem they’re having. The inevitable result of poor or nonexistent documentation is that more people try calling the customer support lines for help.
After a review of some documents last week, a subject-matter expert told me essentially that one of the first principles of technical writing is to assume that the reader knows nothing about the subject matter. I saw a couple of things wrong with this, and so I would revise the SME’s statement to make two corresponding and related basic principles of technical writing.
Rensselaer’s Technical Writers' Institute, the first program of its kind, had a profound impact on technical communication. It enabled technical communicators without formal education in the field to gain important knowledge, provided a forum for communicators from different industries to meet in order to solve mutual problems, played a key role in defining the field and its needs, encouraged recruitment (including the hiring of more women), promoted professional societies and formal degree programs, and seriously affected industry training programs by enabling them to use institute teaching materials. Knowledge gained through the Technical Writers' Institute enabled Rensselaer to develop many other innovations.
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?
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.
Being asked to take the reins of a brand new documentation department is a challenge that many professional technical writers relish, even though the training and development activities they participated in may never have prepared them for such a rewarding challenge. This article looks at forming a new documentation department and determining what's needed, when it's needed and what resources are available to help the new department carry out its mission.
Maybe I’ve been very lucky but I believe women are far better as technical writers than men. Here are five areas where I think they have the edge of the guys.
Sometimes, the Agile software development methodology seems like it could be renamed the “Fly by the Seat of Your Pants” methodology. But really, it means that you need a somewhat different set of project management skills for your documentation. I could certainly improve in these skills, but here are a few I rely on in an Agile environment.
“Congratulations on purchasing your iPod shuffle.” Have you seen this congratulations sentence before? I see this same pattern of congratulations on almost every manual for products I buy. Could no one think of any other way to kick off the start of a relationship between a product and user? Take the coolest kind of product, an iPod that goes underwater, and then drown the user guide with a cliche.
Technical writing is known for high salaries, plenty of technical challenges, and the need to constantly adapt. Here are five ways to rise through the ranks and find success in the industry.
In an advanced technical and professional writing course, a pair of in-class exercises integrates the teaching of teamwork with other class topics of project management and observation-based research. The first exercise introduces teamwork in a positive way, by raising awareness of strategies for solving problems successfully. The second exercise follows up on the first, focusing on assessment of problem-solving teamwork. The pair of exercises is memorable and effective, showing students in an engaging, thought-provoking way that they have control and responsibility for the success of their teamwork. The materials for conducting the exercises, provided here, encourage reflection and discussion.
Recently, I was chatting with a technical writer of my acquaintance who has a near-native grasp of two foreign languages. When I asked him why he didn’t apply for jobs that require those languages, he replied If I did, I’d be giving up anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 in salary.