If there’s one thing the “My Blackberry Is Not Working!” sketch shows, it’s that your terminology may not always be understood by everyone:
For the holiday season, we’ve created a simple six question quiz for you to try. It includes questions on some of the topics we’ve covered in our blog during 2010:
- Cherryleaf Technical Writing Quiz (Opens in new window)
It’s just for fun, but if you’d like to tell us how you fared, please comment below.
According to Hyundai USA
There’s nothing worse than buying a new luxury car only to sit down and have to learn about it through a boring owner’s manual. Thankfully, every Equus comes with a 16GB WiFi Apple iPad, and instead of the boring owner’s manual, the Equus Owner’s Experience app teaches you everything you need to know through demonstration videos, interactive product and safety demonstrations.
Hopefully, you won’t ever need it when you have a flat battery.
Someday, some clever person will do a statistical analysis of the frequency of words contained in different user guides to help us gain a better understanding of how to make the best user guide possible. In the meantime, we can use Wordle to give us a glimpse into a few user manuals.
Wordle generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. To get it to analyse a complete guide, your documentation needs to be online and contain a RSS feed. Here are some Word clouds for three companies that provide RSS feeds to their documentation:
What is surprising is the lack of commonality – very few words seem to be popular across the three examples.
We’ve been asked to participate in an event at a school in Westminster promoting writing skills and literacy to their Year 8 (13 yr old) students. The goal is to showcase job roles in different sectors that use written communication skills as a key part of the job.
So how do you explain technical writing to students, and spark their interest?
As part of their English curriculum, the students must learn report writing and writing objectively, so one approach is to put these tasks into a work context for the students. We’ll also be talking to groups of students about the job, and set them an activity related to the role. Devising an activity that interests and makes sense to the students will be the biggest challenge!
Update: Our current thought is to see if they can describe technology that’s unfamiliar to them – old technology. For example, how to use a rotary telephone, a wet film camera or a gramophone.
Recently, I attended a Miller Heiman strategic selling training session (hosted by Tim Robertson), which led me to wonder if it’s time to rethink the way organisations create bid/proposal documents.
Typically, a proposal document sits outside of the sales prospecting and the Account Management systems and tools that a sales person may use. With the ability to create collaborative information systems, wouldn’t it make more sense to create a system that integrated the bid writing process into a wider sales management system?
We experimented with this idea in our sales proposal generation tool, to see if we could integrate a bid document more closely into the Account Management process. In particular, we wanted to know if we could we record some strategic sales information similar to that stored on a Miller Heiman “blue sheet” in the system.
When we did this, we found it resulted in a project-based narrative – something that helped people joining the bidding process or the Account Management team familiarise themselves with the project and the client.
We also found that by recording details on “players” involved the decision making process (their motivations and requirements), we could also take a strategic look at the proposed solution and check their key issues were actually being addressed.
For complex, strategic and technical sales, this approach certainly does seem to add value.
For more details on our solution, see our sales proposal generation tool
Note: For good reason, Miller Heiman protects the intellectual property contained in its blue sheets – if you’re a user of the blue sheets, you’d need to check whether you allowed to replicate these electronically. If you’ve developed your own way of reviewing and managing accounts, then this could be incorporated into a system such as this.
The technology adoption lifecycle model is a popular model for describing how products rise and fall in popularity over time. Many organisations use it to help them plan their position in the marketplace, as few can spread themselves successfully across the whole of the market.
If we look at the technology adoption curve for the different forms of User Assistance (UA), what would we put in each of the different stages? Additionally, what does this mean for the people producing it?
The four quadrant “wheel of sales” adaptation of this model, developed by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, is useful way to categorise these sectors:
Stage 1 – Birth
- This is for organisations who want to be first, who have bought into a dream, and who like being revolutionary.
- The technology is new and revolutionary, yet primitive. Products are capable of only a few basic tasks. The appeal and value is limited, but if it is successful it will give its users a real advantage.
Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Augmented Reality, game-based Help and DITA, perhaps?
Stage 2 – Fast growth
- This is for organisations who want a state-of-the-art solution. They want better performance and are willing to pay to get that.
- The technology advances, often dramatically and in big jumps. These advancements increase the options and complexity. Implementation is often tailored to each situation. The technology still has many sceptics.
Which UA technologies fit into this stage: DITA, Affective Writing techniques, AirHelp, User Generated Content and Web 2.0 based Help, perhaps?
Stage 3 – Incremental Growth
- This is for organisations who want a reliable, accepted product, and may want some adjustments to fit their situation. They have experience of using the technology and have definite opinions about what they need.
- The technology is accepted by the majority and is in widespread use. Although it continues to advance, improvements come in small steps. Products become feature-rich.
Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Web-based online Help, collaboratively authored Help, adaptive Help and screencasts, perhaps?
Stage 4 – Maturity
- This is for organisations who want a standard product at a great price. The want no hassle and a quick result.
- The technology is standardised and has near-universal acceptance. Advancements are few and far between, and may be resisted.
- The products are simplified, commoditised and the technology is frozen.
Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Windows-based Help, PDF manuals and FAQs, perhaps?
What does this mean for the people producing online Help?
If your interest lies in creating state-of-the-art solutions and you’re working for a company that wants basic online Help for the lowest cost, then there’s going to be some tension. If the organisation is creating something revolutionary, then perhaps so should the User Assistance. If an organisation is in stage three, then perhaps the User Assistance can give them an incremental edge over the competition.
Do you agree with those categorisations?
What have we missed? Let us know what you think.
This is post from guest blogger, Peter Wilford.
One of the biggest challenges you will face when considering a career change is giving your CV the punch and bite it needs to make an impact in a new industry or sector. You may think that little of what you have done to date will count, but you’d be wrong. We all gain and develop a wide range of skills that can be applied in many different roles.
What is a transferable skill?
As the name suggests, a transferable skill is something that can be taken with you and applied to any new job. These are core skills that all employers value, and include:
- People skills – your ability to communicate, motivate and lead a team, or successfully coach or train people.
- Technical skills – knowledge of popular computer programmes, or more practical things like an ability to construct or repair.
- Data skills – good record keeping, detailed statistical analysis, or research skills.
Think of your current role and how much of it is solely concerned with the industry you’re in now. Unless you’re a specialist working at a high level with complex information, much of what you do could easily be taken elsewhere.
For example, if you are a good trainer, that skill could be used in any role – every business could do with someone who can teach others how to work better. Likewise, if you’re a good organiser, any position that requires project management is there to consider. Client or customer service skills is another example. Almost anything can be a transferable skill. It’s all about how you sell it to your prospective employer.
How to identify your transferable skills
To start with, look at job specs across a wide range of industries and see what skills they have in common. You can do this quickly and easily using one of the large job sites. Review your findings against what you are doing now. Think about your working day or week and do a quick analysis of what your tasks actually involve. How many are people related? How many have to do with data or technical expertise?
This will help you focus on identifying skills you may not have even known you had. Don’t ignore things that come as second nature to you and that you don’t necessarily see as key attributes – they might be invaluable and of priceless value to a potential employer. As you go through this process, write each skill down and compare it to your findings from your job spec comparison. There’s a high chance that you will already have provable experience called for by virtually any job.
The ‘provable’ factor here is very important. It’s obviously not merely enough to say ‘I’m a great manager’ or ‘I’m really good with figures’. Make sure you identify specific achievements in your career that clearly demonstrate each of your transferable skills. By updating your CV regularly with each new success, you will improve your chances of landing the job you want when it’s time to move on.
Your CV must outline your relevant skills and that they must be upfront and clear to see. They must have key selling points. As you change your career the first task of your CV is to convince the reader why you are a better prospect than other candidates who have more relevant experience in the role or industry. Your personal profile is the ideal place to sell yourself with come clear and eye-catching statements.
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:
Clay Shirky’s book on the power of productive, collaborative groups. (I’d originally listed Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens when People Come Together by mistake)
How Transactional Analysis explains the different roles people can take on, when engaging with others.
This book offers great insight into the evolution, the structure and the relevance of all kinds of networks.
Although about sales, it explains how businesses need to adapt to meet different client situations.
Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck.
Any other suggestions?
Our latest guest blogger is Peter Wilford of Gateway Career Management Limited.
Peter is a Career Coach and Career Management Specialist.
I look for the strengths in any client and help them to build on them and to develop others by offering impartial but focused advice using a range of supportive skills including coaching, counselling and mentoring.
Peter will be blogging on moving from one career to another. Welcome Peter!