Technical Writing, Documentation, and Training

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Computer Languages

Technical Writing for the Cloud

By: Eric Sedor
Eric Sedor, a frequent contributor to the Shoap Technical Reader, is a senior software engineer at MongoLab, a cloud-based database provider located in San Francisco. Eric cut his technical writing teeth at Shoap Technical Services before returning to his true passion, software engineering.

The Cloud encapsulates the idea of a distributed system built of formable, destructible, re-creatable components. Even the data within cloud systems is redundant and spread out, capable of being restored in parts to specific points in time, if necessary. Cloud systems even overlap one another.
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Do a little research and the prevailing opinion expressed by those who write and those who want documentation is that it’s not done because (as I’ve written in a prior blog  — see http://www.shoap.com/why-bother-writing-technical-documentation/):

• It costs money.
• No one wants to do it.
• No one uses it.
While those facts remain true, the more important issue – what kind of documentation do companies actually need? – rarely gets addressed. Perhaps it’s time to talk about that issue.

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The user interface of an application – even one with a convoluted design – gives users some sense about how to navigate the application. It may be painful, but users can usually muddle through if they have to. APIs, on the other hand, offer no natural affordances or signifiers allowing developers to learn how to use the API. Therefore, good documentation is crucial for any API project.

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Paul Clifton is a Ph.D. student in Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has been an on and off technical writer with Shoap Technical Services since 2007 and is currently working in interaction and user experience design at Intel.

Recently, I helped my friend update his resume. I’d helped him make a brand new one a few years before, and it had been an extremely painful process, so when he asked me to help update it, I nearly just said no. To my surprise, the draft he sent me proved that he had been paying attention when I had originally explained the rules for making a good resume, why they were the rules, and why following them mattered. His grammar and spelling still weren’t very good, but grammar and spelling are the easy part. Clearly communicating complex information by meeting the expectations of the reader is the hard part, and I was happy to see that he had pretty well taken care of that.
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“Waterfall is dead, long live Agile,” many voices cry, heralding a transition in the software industry from heavyweight engineering efforts to an almost sports-like scrimmage. Waterfall didn’tkeep up, they complain. Projects turned into congested pipelines and out of desperation to reclaim fluidity, the entire cycle broke down into an environment of iterative re-development that gave birth to Agile. Increasingly, developers collaborate in short sprints to rapidly address evolving concerns rather than as construction crews working from blueprints. What does this new era mean for technical writing as part of software development? More specifically, what is expected of an Agile Technical Writer?
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The Work Management Process is an initiative of one of our clients to standardize the process of work identification, planning, and completion at power plants the Company owns and operates. This process aims to transition work activities at power plants from a reactive to a planned mode, thereby improving asset reliability and lowering costs.

The purpose of this training is to present an overview of the Work Management Process either as a refresher for existing employees or as an introduction for new employees.

The training is broken down into six lessons, each of which correspond to a particular step within the Work Management “Wheel.”  Unlike a training course delivered via a learning management system, this training is completely open-ended so learners are free to explore and learn at their own pace.

Although this training is open-ended, some managers wanted their employees’ progress  to be tracked to test their mastery of the content.  Learners can directly link to a short quiz stored within an online learning management system from the Work Management Process Training site.

Goals and Objectives

The original Work Management Process Training existed as a 180-page document that learners had to read.  Once our Technical Communications project team got our hands on that, we all recognized that we had an opportunity to create a unique eLearning experience from this training.

The primary goal of the training site is to create an interactive, online resource that employees can visit to learn about the Work Management Process.  Using a simple design, contextual links and actions, drill-down exploration of content, and leveraging interactive learning experiences, our training site easily stands out as a technology-based learning site unlike any other training initiatives we have created in the past.

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Using Visual Basic to Automate PowerPoint Printing

For the past three years, I have been trying to find a way to automate the tedious task of printing two copies of 30 plus PowerPoint Presentations to PDF, first as Notes Pages and then as 3 Slides Per Page Handouts.  Every six months I would spend a few hours testing various batch printing applications to see if they would complete this task for me.  Unfortunately, every time I would find they would only print the standard One Slide Per Page view without the Notes field included.

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