Technical Writing, Documentation, and Training

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Expert tips, advice, opinions, and viewpoints.

Do you know about Wikipedia’s Simple English?

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly Googling anything and everything and I frequently end up on Wikipedia’s website. One day I was looking at all of the possible languages I could read an entry in and noticed “Simple English” was one of the options. I was reading about something complex and “Simple English” simplified the topic and made it easier to understand (you could say it’s a “red carpet” to the “English” entry).

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It’s Time to Stop the PDF Madness

Often, the quickest way to get a document deployed is to write it in a Word doc, create a PDF, and post it somewhere for users to access. This happens a lot for both end user and developer documentation. So why, then, is distributing PDF files for online reading a top web usability gaffe? Continue reading

Documentation yields cost savings

In most companies, documentation is simply a cost center.  But did you know that documentation can save you money?

It’s a common misconception that documentation is at best a necessary evil—something that facilitates processes that would already happen.  But documentation is more than just a catalyst; it can fundamentally change the way work is done, bringing improvements that cut costs.

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Why Bother Writing Requirements?

We’ve recently been approached by two different companies about writing requirements. The first, a small company, wanted to develop a dashboard to replace a third-party application it was using. The owner, who had most of the information in his head regarding what the new dashboard should look like, what it should do, etc., suggested we send one of our writers to his location to study the existing dashboard, spend a little time with him and some of his key people to learn more about the functionality the dashboard needed to support, and “capture” this information so he could give the requirements to a developer or offshore the project.

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Score Free Advertising By Thwarting Bandwidth Thieves

This week we had an opportunity to claim some free advertising space in a somewhat non-traditional way, and I’m going to tell you how we did it.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, hotlinking is when a website other than your own uses images that reside on your servers by linking to them directly. Even if you aren’t concerned about protecting the content, this is still a cause for concern since you give up a little bit of your bandwidth (which you paid for) every time the other website loads that image, without getting anything in return. It’s like if your neighbor powered their toaster by running an extension cord to an outlet in your garage – not much impact on your bill if it happens once, but it sure adds up when they do it over and over every single day.  (The general consensus on the Internet is that this is a Bad Thing.)

So, you ask… how do I turn this into the free advertising that you speak of?

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RFP Responses Go Technical

With the tightening economy and more competition, more and more companies are relying on the RFP (request for proposal) process to find the best vendors/products.  This process often involves a team effort with members of product development, finance, and marketing (to name a few of the most common groups) involved in drafting a response.  We’ve worked with several companies recently helping them respond to RFPs and wanted to share our findings on the matter.

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Technical Writers Need Coaches?

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Atul Gawande argues quite persuasively that like participants in sports, surgeons (like himself) can benefit from coaches.  Even the elite stars, like Rafael Nadal, he points out, have coaches, observing, watching every move of the tennis great.  Why, he wonders, don’t doctors – even senior, experienced ones – have coaches?  As he says, “”I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my [tennis] serve.  So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?”

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How Documentation Can Create Trust

When you are a company dealing with your customers’ most valuable personal information, you need them to trust you. One easy way to do this is to have your documentation flawless (or close to it). Also, performing a test run with a small group of people before releasing it to the masses is a good idea. The group of people should be 3rd party users who can find the mistakes you can’t find (since you’ve read and reread the form 40 times and never want to see it again).

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Will work for…work

As “Intern Emily,” I may be a bit biased, but I think that everyone should be using interns.  Among the plethora of reasons, here are a few I see:

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No More Words in Word, Please

Through great marketing and market saturation, Microsoft Word has become the de facto tool for documentation.  This should come as no surprise since Word is the most popular word processing tool—in fact, the “most popular software in the world for personal use” as MS Office Live Director of Marketing Michael Schulz said.  Naturally, when people chose a tool to create documentation, they used what they knew: Word.  The question is, is it always a good choice?  The answer is a resounding no.

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