When clients tell me that they can write their own user manuals because, after all, they say, they already know how to write, I’m reminded of a quip from an old friend, frustrated by his software developers’ inability to complete a payment application on time: “Why does it take so long? It’s just typing.” Sadly, I sometimes think, people think the same about technical writing: It’s just typing. Which got me thinking: What does a good technical writer have to know to be a good, dare I say, great technical writer?
These days, business speak surrounds us. It doesn’t discriminate against company size or position status. College interns and CEOs alike find themselves dropping buzz words in conversation. But to what end? When is enough, enough? The next time you want to move forward, deliver, or buy-in by all means go for it. But don’t expect people to know what you’re talking about. The more time your employees spend guessing the meaning behind your jargon, the less productive they are. Ben Franklin sums it up best: “Time is money.”
By the time you enter the 3rd grade, you know what summer is. It’s that time of year when you don’t have to go to school or do homework. Instead, you can just play all day with your friends, go on vacations, watch TV, or anything else you’d like to do. Summer is always a time of relaxation, an unwinding from all the busyness and tension of the school year—even at the age of 7. It’s exactly what summer should be—lazy and carefree. Summer break is a break for a reason, right?
I used to take Microsoft Paint for granted. I saw it every once in a while in the Accessories folder when I was looking for the Calculator or Notepad but never really used it. Then I starting using screen capture programs at work to take screenshots for user guides, manuals, online helps, etc. When I was on my personal computer, I had no idea how to take a screenshot without a fancy program, and then I finally remembered Paint. Since then, I’ve used it for screenshots, creating and editing pictures/photos, and testing.
It’s quite often that I’m confronted with one of the most typical questions of today: so what do you do? My reply is that I do marketing for a technical writing company. The inquirer’s response: “cool” or “what is technical writing?” and I’ve never really had a good answer.
Why do companies fail to see the value of documentation? Simple answer: virtually no one reads it. While true, does this mean that the few people who do read it are the only ones who benefit from the information in the documentation? The answer is a resounding No.
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).
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:
Whenever I can squeeze an hour out of the month, I like to attend the TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) presentations of what they call technology “Rock Stars.” This past week, Val Rahmani from Damballa spoke about her experience moving from almost 30 years at a large corporation to running an internet security start-up.