The four words that account for 19 minutes of a typical Technical Communicator’s day

Peter Norvig has some interesting statistics on word frequency in the English language. It turns out that four words – the, of, and, to – account for 16.94% of the words we write.

In field of technical communication, Technical Authors typically spend 50% of their time writing and the rest on researching, planning etc. If we adjust for the fact that these four common words are half the length of an average word in English, that means Technical Authors spend an average of 19 minutes every day typing those four words. In a 37.5 hour week, that amounts to 1 hour and 35 mins.

The need for empathy in technical communication

One of the subjects Doug Kim covered in his TCUK14 presentation, on the changes to Microsoft’s user documentation, was how Microsoft now normally begins its Help topics with an empathetic statement. The writers seek to understand the user at the moment they’re reading the content.

For example, if someone is reading the topic on auto save, it’s likely they’ve just experienced a crash and have lost some data. So they express empathy by saying, crashes happen:

Microsoft Help screen

By doing this, Microsoft is moving away from the norm – the generally accepted way to structure task topics in DITA and other standards is to dive straight into the task without any introduction.

We think Microsoft has go this right – there is often a need for empathy in technical documentation. Of course, this is difficult if your content could be reused anywhere – you lose the understanding of the user’s point of view. However, being empathetic, from the research Microsoft carried out, is what users, today, prefer.

See also: Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

Not so cool tools for Technical Authors – speech recognition software

Our method for creating online courses involves making an audio recording of the presenter, transcribing it, editing the script and then recording the final, video presentation. We’ve tried using speech recognition software to create the transcribed script, and it has been a deeply frustrating experience.

While speech recognition is proving successful for searching and issuing commands (using Siri, Google Voice and Amazon Echo), we’re not sure it will replace the keyboard as the way we create written content.

Continue reading

Cool tools for Technical Authors – travel equipment

We’re sharing some of the tools we use at Cherryleaf. This time we’ll look at travel equipment.

The role of consulting technical communicator can involve travel to exotic places, such as San Diego, Cologne and Swindon. Your travelling experience can be affected by what equipment you have on your travels, so it make sense to take the right stuff with you. You don’t need to wander around places like Frankfurt Airport too many times, with a heavy bag across your shoulder, realise travelling for work can be both tiring and painful.

Continue reading

Cool tools for Technical Authors – video equipment

We’re sharing some of the tools we use at Cherryleaf. This time we’ll look at video recording.

screencast screenVideo is becoming an important medium in technical communication. In addition to screencast videos (walkthroughs of application screens), software like Camtasia and Captivate enable you to include video of people in your presentations. Doing this creates a more TV-like presentation and a more professional feel to your output.

Continue reading

Cool tools for Technical Authors – audio recording

We’re sharing some of the tools we use at Cherryleaf, and this time we’ll look at audio recording tools.

It can be very useful for a Technical Author to be able to record what someone is saying. If you are gathering information from a Subject Matter Expert, you can let them just speak naturally and quickly. This can reduce the demands on their time, and it often leads to a more relaxed conversation. There can be other instances where it’s not practical to use a notepad or computer to write or type notes.

Continue reading

Cool tools for Technical Authors – note taking

I thought I’d share some of the tools we use at Cherryleaf, starting with note taking. I’ve not covered audio recording tools, as we’ll probably look at those in another post.


Moleskine notebooksMoleskine notebooks are a great way of taking written notes. The 13cm x 21cm size provides a decent page size, whilst being small enough to fit into an external jacket pocket. The large rule notebook contains 240 pages, which means you’re likely to need only two or three per year.

The elastic closure stops the notebook from falling open, and the bookmark helps you find the next empty page. These can be handy also if you sometimes wake up with an idea in the middle of the night. They enable you to open and find a blank page in the dark, without having to turn on the light. Once the thought is recorded, your brain can settle down to returning to sleep.

Uniball eye pens

Uniball pensThe Uniball eye is a popular, everyday pen you can pick up from pretty much anywhere that sells pens. They are reasonably priced, so it doesn’t matter if you lose one, and they seem to last for ages. You can write with minimal pressure, as the ink flows smoothly. The pens are also comfortable in the hand.

CamScanner Pro

One tool we all use is a mobile phone app called CamScanner Pro. CamScanner enables you to scan a document using your smartphone’s or tablet’s camera. It means everyone has their own personal scanner wherever they go. The app converts the image into a PDF, and then enables you to upload the document to a cloud storage service (such as Dropbox) or email it to someone. The Pro, paid, version can also convert scanned images to editable documents.

Which tools do you use to take notes?

Let us know, using the comments box below.