“Everyone is taught to write at school, so surely everyone can write in business?”
Although the quotation above would seem to make sense, the reality is that many people find it hard to write in a business context. They struggle to write clearly, and it can take them ages to produce a piece of content.
It’s not their fault. What we’re taught at school is how to write narratives, that is stories or articles. We’re also taught to argue a case – to use rhetoric to build to a conclusion. We’re taught writing to persuade and writing to entertain.
In the world of business, we often need different forms of writing. We’re often writing to inform or writing to instruct.
In these situations, people want to know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and get on with their jobs. They want the important information at the beginning, rather than the end. They want to scan and hunt for the information relevant to them, rather than always having to read everything from beginning to end.
Many people haven’t been taught how to write to inform or to instruct, and that’s why many people find business writing so difficult.
The airline safety video is about actions that could save your life, but it can be very dull and mundane if you’ve flown more than once. So airlines are using the third aspect in good design – emotion – to engage with their audience.
The latest video to follow this trend is from Delta Airlines:
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.
Mozilla is an organisation that always seems to be doing innovative things with their documentation. One of the experimental functions it has introduced to its Kuma wiki platform for the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) documentation is an experimental PUT API that makes it possible to create and update articles remotely.
Mozilla suggests a number of ways it can be used:
You can create a page for your project and update content in certain sections from automated build, testing, and deployment scripts. This can help you keep your community up to date with your project’s progress.
If your project offers documentation alongside source code, you can push HTML renderings into a subsection of MDN. This lets you maintain docs in a way that’s appropriate for your team’s workflow, while still contributing to MDN and allowing localizers to translate the content.
Fro example, Mozilla’s programmers are able to write scripts that automatically generate articles based on contents of header files they’re creating. The API uses HTTP, which means software engineers (and other writers) effectively have the freedom to use the application environment and libraries of their own choice.
Kuma itself is an open source platform written by Mozilla in Python, using the Django framework. Contributors can fork the Kuma repository on Github, make changes to the content, and push the revised content back to the wiki.
It will be interesting to see if this succeeds, and if this type of platform extends further out than its use for developer documentation.
Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt will be speaking at the Institute of Directors’ June 2015 Members Masterclass on “The written word – creating effective content”.
The written word is one of the key ways we communicate with others. Whether we’re telling or selling, it’s important we get our message across. Unfortunately, many people find writing time consuming, and it can often be difficult to get started on a new document.
In this session, we’ll look at some of the most effective techniques for creating the types of content created in today’s business world. You’ll discover some of the approaches used by professional technical communicators, copywriters and report writers.
Some of the issues we’ll look at include:
Clarity and persuasiveness
Getting started and organising your thoughts
How to structure documents
Getting to the point and being concise
This session is ideal for managers, engineers and other professionals interested in effective approaches to communicating more clearly and effectively in writing.
The IoD invites IoD Members and non-members to share their expertise and knowledge with other members. It will be held at 116 Pall Mall, London, on the 2nd June (18:00 – 21:00).
As the headline states, we’ve upgraded the software that runs our shopping cart and provides access to our e-learning courses. The main difference delegates will notice is an improved page for the links to the modules contained in a course. There are some minor improvements: how the VAT element is processed, integration with the payment gateways, and to the invoices. We think we’ve ironed out all the bugs, but if you experience any issues, do let us know.
It might seem like we’ve been quiet recently, but that’s partly because we’ve been working on an academic project that we hope to be announcing towards the end of the year.
As a spin-off from this project, we’re developing new training courses in technical communication. These courses are at a more advanced level than our basic/intermediate courses, and they include more references to academic research.
If you are considering any on-site training for your technical communications team, we can now offer these topics:
What is technical communication?
The business case for technical communication
History of technical writing standards
Usability and user centred design
Project planning and its effect on writing documentation
Researching and scoping documentation
Information design and content organisation
Writing the topics – overview
Presenting different types of information
Index, search and metadata
Single sourcing and reusing content
Researching technical communication – where to go
Governance and maintenance
What skills does a technical communicator need?
Content strategy and technical communication
Trends in technical communication
Publishing and delivering information
Managing the documentation project
We may develop online courses for some of these topics in the future as well.