Google’s Riona MacNamara presented at the Write The Docs North America conference on “Documentation, Disrupted: How Two Technical Writers Changed Google Engineering Culture“. In the video of the presentation below, Riona explains how she worked with a small team of writers and engineers to build a documentation platform in six months that is becoming a part of the standard Google engineering workflow.
We thought it would be useful to reflect on our plans for topics and courses in technical communications. In the past, some of the best suggestions have come from customers and prospects; it’s great to pick up useful ideas from others.
Today, you’ll find classroom or elearning training courses in:
- Technical writing (Technical Author/Technical writing Basic/Intermediate and Advanced technical writing techniques)
- Managing and planning technical documentation projects (Embedded Help writing strategies, Introduction to content strategy and Single sourcing and content reuse)
- DITA (DITA Basic/Intermediate, plus ad-hoc classroom courses in DITA planning and DITA publishing)
Our current thinking is to offer more topics around managing and planning technical documentation projects. In the past, we’ve offered an course on estimating projects. We also know managing project time is another important topic. Perhaps there are other topics that would fit under this category?
There’s also the issue of which courses should be online (recorded) courses, and which ones should be classroom-based (live) courses. Delegates say really like the two training venues we use in central London (we struck gold there), but online courses enable people to take a course pretty much anywhere and at any time.
If you have any thoughts, you can email us your thoughts, or you can use the comment box below.
Whenever Apple launches a new product range, there’s a great deal of buzz and excitement. There’s lots of speculation as to how the technology could be applied by different professions and by consumers. Yesterday’s launch of the Apple Watch was no exception.
The title of this post may give away the fact that this post contains wild guesses. We may well look back on in five years time and ask, what were we thinking?
Cherryleaf has been working on a project which shows people how to teach non-readers to read. We’ve been working with Elizabeth Ainley, who has written a book, go for it!, which can be used to teach illiterate and/or dyslexic adults.
Elizabeth asked Cherryleaf to help her re-write the existing instructions aimed at the adult coaches who will be using go for it! This involved making the instructions clearer, and clarifying the learning outcomes.
Schoolchildren in Sierra Leone have been the first users of the project. It means a 12 year old child who can read can now teach others. The school is run by Miriam mason-Sesay MBE for the Educaid, who sent Elizabeth these photos of the teaching materials in use:
Cherryleaf’s Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques will be held on 27th February 2015.
If you want to discover new approaches to technical writing, this one-day, hands-on advanced workshop is right for you.
You’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create.
The course has been designed to be independent of any particular authoring tool, and to work in both a structured and unstructured authoring environment.
One of the highlights from the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference was the keynote presentation from Microsoft’s Doug Kim. Doug is Senior Managing Editor for Office.com, and leads guidelines and best practices for Voice in Office. By Voice, he means the tone of voice and style of English used in the User Interface and user documentation.
The change in voice is something we explore on our advanced technical writing techniques course, so I was interested to see how Microsoft was addressing this topic. The good news for us is that Microsoft’s approach is consistent with what we advocate on the course (however, we will need to update the course before the next one in December to include some of the topics Doug discussed).
There’s an interesting discussion thread in the ISTC’s discussion forum regarding good and bad examples of technical writing. Incoming ISTC President Alison Peck has been asked by a researcher for a radio programme if she could provide some examples of technical writing: “well done, badly done and particularly innovative or strange”. As it’s a radio programme, these examples are likely to be read out.
This is not as straightforward to answer as you might think.
Firstly, most technical communicators work under non-disclosure agreements, so the best and worst examples often aren’t for public consumption.
Secondly, a lot of poor examples are from content that has been badly translated into English. They may have been well written originally, but they might have become mangled through the process of localising the content.
Thirdly, as Alison pointed out in her original message in the online forum, reading out very basic instructions out of context is not going to be particularly riveting or easy for the listener to grasp.
Fourthly, although technical communication is about clear communication – clear sentences – the role of technical communication is mostly about addressing the question, can the user do the task?
Minimalism, which most technical communicators use, focuses on:
- Adopting an action-oriented approach (to minimise the amount of reading)
- Starting immediately on meaningful tasks
- Supporting users in recognising errors and recovering from them
That requires more than clear and simple sentences; it requires information design as well. This means any examples ideally should show how well or badly they enable the user to complete the task. That requires an understanding of the task itself, and this makes it difficult to do this in a few seconds on the radio.
Jared Spool tweeted this morning:
PLEASE, PLEASE! Tell me that Apple is going to release Hypercard for the iPad!
— Jared Spool (@jmspool) September 9, 2014
HyperCard was a hypertext program that came with Apple Macintosh in the 1980s. It allowed you to create “stacks” of online cards, which organsiations used to create some of the first online guides. It also contained a scripting language called HyperTalk that a non-programmer could easily learn. This meant HyperCard could do more than just display content: it could be used to create books, games (such as Myst), develop oil-spill models, and even dial the telephone.