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

Draftback – could it reveal how Technical Authors actually write?

James Somers is releasing an add-on for Google Docs, Draftback, that enables you to play back and analyse the creation of any Google Doc you have permission to edit.

It means you can see how a writer created the document, the sections they spent time rewriting and rearranging, the elements that were pasted into the document from elsewhere, and so on.

From an organisation’s perspective, the graphs Draftback that produces potentially could be used to show when and where the writer spent most of their time:

Timeline of activity

I could see this illustrating the impact of last minute changes to a product, review comments and other external factors. Potentially, it could also highlight areas where a writer might need assistance or training.

What do you think?

Cherryleaf “green screen” videos

We’ve been putting together some short length videos that we can use on the Cherryleaf website. These are “quick and dirty”, three to four minute videos, shot behind in front of a green screen.

One explains why technical communication is changing:

Another looks at recruiting a Technical Author:

Each video takes a couple of hours to create, and we hope to add more over time.

Microsoft’s “No more robot speak” in action

 

Our post about how Microsoft is changing its writing style (Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation) generated a lot of interest, so I thought it might be useful to post some examples of it that we’ve spotted.

These examples are from Office 365 Premium Edition.

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Reframing technical communication as marketing

We’ve noticed a few slidedecks and blogs recently that have been looking at the value of technical communication in marketing a product successfully. With the trend towards earning revenues over a lifetime (rather than in a single upfront payment), the marketing strategies employed by organisations is changing.

Scott Abel has posted a slidedeck called “The Future of Technical Communication is Marketing”, which you can see below:

Acrolinx has also been posting blog posts on a similar theme, such as How Technical Communicators Help Build Customer Relationships and Building Customer Relationships: Why Content’s in the Driver’s Seat.

Marketing is becoming, particularly on the Web, about designing User Interfaces for prospects and for customers.

Technical Authors will need to understand how marketing is changing in order to understand and explain how they can add value to that activity.

What’s happening with the ISTC’s marketing?

I’ve had some time in the last few days to initiate some the ideas mentioned in my post Marketing the technical communication profession. This relates to improving the marketing of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators. Most of the work we do for clients is confidential, so it’s a pleasant change to be able to talk about a project as it’s progressing.

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“Bad information is Marketing’s fault problem. Good information is Tech Comms’ specialty. Let’s do the maths.”

inbound marketing and technical communicationsThe quotation in the title is from Roger Hart’s presentation at last week’s TCUK14 conference. Roger is a product marketing manager who spent a few years as a Technical Author. In his presentation, Collateral damage: do marketing and tech comms have to fight when users get informed?, he explained some of the most powerful marketing content today is high quality user information – especially the content that Technical Authors produce.

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