The Carol Johnston Memorial Award

This October, Cherryleaf celebrates 15 years in the technical authoring business.

Over the years we have had many exciting challenges and worked with some wonderful inspirational people: none more so than our friend and co-founder, Carol Johnston, who sadly died of a brain tumour in 2012. Carol was enormously talented: a brilliant pianist and singer, a Cambridge Maths graduate and an excellent author. She contributed so much to Cherryleaf, and we miss her as much for her sense of humour as for her problem-solving abilities.

To celebrate Carol’s life and contribution to Cherryleaf, as well as our 15 years in business we have created the Carol Johnston Memorial Award. Carol was a great teacher and trainer – knowledgeable, professional and patient. She trained many authors over the years and would be, we hope, very pleased to continue contributing to the technical authoring world through the Carol Johnston Memorial.

The Carol Johnston Memorial Award is the chance for two young European Technical Authors (or erstwhile Technical Authors) under the age of 30 and living in Europe to access all Cherryleaf’s online courses free for 12 months. These courses include: our ISTC accredited training course which teaches the fundamentals of being a tech author; our Advanced technical writing course, and our WriteLessons courses.

To apply, all you have to do is send us a brief statement explaining why you want to have access to the Carol Johnston Memorial Award courses.  We’ll draw two winners in December.

T&Cs apply.

 

Cherryleaf online courses are now available via an iOS app

Subscribers to Cherryleaf’s online courses can now take them using their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, plus the Teachable iOS app.

Here’s how you can download the iOS app:

  1. Visit the Apple App Store on your compatible IOS device (requires iOS 9.3 or later).
  2. In the App Store, search for, “Teachable Online Courses”.
  3. Click the cloud icon to download the app on your device.
  4. After downloading, open the app.
  5. On the login screen, enter the email address and password associated with the student account you’d like to access. This is the same email address and password you use to log into our courses through the web browser on your computer.
  6. When you log in, you’ll see all the Cherryleaf school you’re account is associated with, along with the specific courses you’re enrolled in.

Training, accreditation and CPD in technical communication

Below is an interview with David Farbey of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, where we discuss training, accreditation and CPD in technical communication.

We cover:

  • Becoming a technical communicator is different from becoming a lawyer, doctor, developer or an accountant in that, in the UK, there is no standard career path from school. How does that affect the profession and starting a career?
  • What training, if any, do you need to be a technical communicator?
  • The ISTC’s Professional Development and Recognition
  • Certifying technical communicators
  • The ISTC certified courses
  • What does a undergraduate or post-graduate course offer someone?
  • Where does CPD fit into this?
  • What are we likely to see in the future with regards to training and certification?

See also: Cherryleaf’s ISTC accredited training course: https://www.cherryleaf.com/training/technical-author-basicinduction-training-course/

New training course – Writing skills for developers

Today, we’ve released our latest training course – Writing skills for developers. The course teaches developers the key skills of technical writing for software user documentation.

writing techniques web page

Although it would be better for a professional technical communicator to write the end user documentation, for some organisations, this isn’t always possible.

It is for developers who:

  • Need a solid understanding of the fundamentals of technical writing
  • Want to communicate more clearly and effectively
  • What to know how little, or how much, they should write
  • Want people to answer their own Support questions

The course comprises 14 modules in total, which delegates can complete at your own pace. The course modules are delivered over the Web in small, manageable video presentations. The course handouts and exercises are downloadable as Word or PDF files.

We can also deliver this course as a classroom course for development teams.

For more information, see: Writing skills for developers training course.

What is the minimal amount of user documentation you should write?

In researching what developers wanted to learn about writing documentation for users, the most common issue related to how much, or how little, they should write. One developer said:

“I would want to know what is the minimum I should write. If you can persuade me what is the necessity of each thing I’m capturing, and the voice I should use to make it most acceptable, I think I’d tune in.”

We’ll look at this question in the Writing Skills for Developers course, which we will be releasing soon. In general, you need to:

  1. Meet the legal requirements (which differ depending on the product, and the country).
  2. Provide enough information so that users don’t give up using your product, if they get stuck. For example, how to install the software, and how to get started.
  3. Consider the support calls, and whether you could avoid any of those by having good user documentation.

That might appear a bit too vague, so let me go back to one of the sentences above:

“If you can persuade me what is the necessity of each thing I’m capturing”

Before you start writing, you should define the purpose and audience for each deliverable you create. There should be a use case:

  • Without documentation, is it clear what the user should be doing? is it clear what the user should be doing first?
  • Is it clear how they should be doing the task?
  • When they have to choose between options, do they have enough information to make the right decision?
  • When they have completed a task, do they know what to do next?
  • Are there any concepts or terms the user might not understand?

You can assess what topics to cover by doing some basic usability analysis. However, if you think about the tasks, the process (workflow), and any unfamiliar concepts, you will be on the right track.

Another Masters degree course for Technical Authors to consider

In August 2016, we blogged about a new online MSc course in Technical Writing Masters degree course from Cork Institute of Technology. There is another academic course for Technical Authors to consider:  a distance-learning Master of Arts degree in Content Strategy from FH JOANNEUM.

“The programme is designed to meet the needs of working persons and is specially suitable for students who are responsible for corporate digital content in their jobs. The share of online courses is very high, and classroom teaching takes place in blocks four times each semester. Projects can be completed in the framework of your job.”

The pros

  • FH JOANNEUM has arranged for some of the world’s leading content strategist to teach some of the course modules.
  • The teaching element is essentially free to EU citizens – so there’s an incentive for UK citizens to apply in the next two years. There’s a compulsory €19.20 per term ÖH (student union) membership fee.

The cons

  • During the first three semesters, there are two attendance weeks and two attendance weekends per semester in Graz, Austria. In the fourth semester, there is one attendance week and two attendance weekends. The second attendance week in the second semester takes place on a voluntary basis as an excursion – provisionally to London.
  • The Content Strategy programme yields 30 ECTS credits per semester, i.e. 750 hours. This corresponds to a second full-time job when you complete the entire programme in your free time. You can reduce this workload in your free time by integrating projects at work into your course projects.

If you have the time available to commit to the course, then this could be worth doing.

If you want to consider non-academic options, Cherryleaf’s WriteLessons – a range of online courses in technical communication is an alternative approach.

Should you develop a comic instead of a user guide?

Page from Biological Psychology – An illustrated Survival GuideListeners to BBC Radio Four this morning heard a report that a new study by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) discovered comics are a better educational resource than traditional textbooks.

In a related article, called How the humble comic book could become the next classroom superhero, SHU’s Paul Aleixo explained:

“We found that the use of comic books actually enables students to better remember information. Our research showed that the students that read a comic book version got more memory questions correct compared to when the same information was presented in text format alone – or in a combination of random images and text.

This shows that the way comic books are structured – to include a special combination of words and pictures in a certain sequence – increases students’ ability to remember information.”

The key word in the section above is “remember”. The purpose of a user guide is not necessarily to get the reader to remember, but to solve their problem. We want them back working as quickly as possible. Indeed, one of the key principles of Minimalism is “Support reading to do, study, and locate”.

Having said that, there are some interesting findings in the study:

“There are good theoretical reasons why comics might be better at imparting information to students. A lot of which has to do with what the influential cognitive psychologist, Allan Paivio, called “dual-coding theory”. This is the idea that we deal better with material which is presented in both a verbal and a visual manner.”

This means good layout and using graphics will help the readers of user guides.

Certainly for learning materials, comics can be very useful. Indeed, we’ve created a number ourselves.

DITA graphic novel - page 4

What has been your experience of using this medium?