Extra date for Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

You’ll find we’ve added a new training course date on our Web site for our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

It will be held on Monday 25th February.

The January course sold out within ten days, so it’s wise to book early.

If you’ve read the technical writing blogs and magazines, you’ll have noticed a growing interest in new approaches to technical communication – asking whether all of the tried-and-tested writing methods from past decades still make sense today.

In this course, 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.
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Announcing: Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

You’ll find a new training course on our Web site called Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

If you’ve read the technical writing blogs and magazines, you’ll have noticed a growing interest in new approaches to technical communication – asking whether all of the tried-and-tested writing methods from past decades still make sense today.

In this course, 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.

If you want to discover new approaches to technical writing, this one-day, hands-on advanced workshop is right for you.

To start with, we’ll be offering this course on-site or in-house (i.e. at our training centre in Central London), with public courses following later on. As an on-site course, the exercises can be based around your existing content.

For more information, see Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

The best book for Technical Communicators in 2012

The best book I’ve read in 2012 wasn’t written for Technical Authors. It wasn’t even published in 2011. It was written by one my fellow speakers at the STC Conference in Chicago, and it was one that was the most thought provoking books I’ve read this year.

One of the subjects it explores is curiosity:

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Nine myths about technical writing

“We can design away the need for a user manual and online Help”

The idea of a product that totally is intuitive to use, the product that sells itself, sounds terribly attractive. Often these are called commodities, and consumers tend to go for the cheapest one, or the one with the best brand image.

There are situations where good intuitive design can sell successfully, and the Apple iPad is probably the most well known example. However, even iPad users seek Help and want user guides.

iPad books at Heathrow Airport

iPad books at Heathrow Airport

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Does looking at online Help make users forget?

Treasury at Petra, JordanOver the weekend, Dr Chris Atherton suggested I look at “the doorway effect”. You may well have experienced walking through a doorway and then finding you’d forgotten why you’d stood up in the first place.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have discovered your brain is not to blame for your confusion about what you’re doing in a new room – the doorway itself is.

 

 

From Scientific American:

The researchers say that when you pass through a doorway, your mind compartmentalizes your actions into separate episodes. Having moved into a new episode, the brain archives the previous one, making it less available for access.

The doorway can be a virtual doorway as well as a physical doorway. The researchers’ experiments involved seating participants in front of a computer screen running a video game.

So is this effect also happening when users need to leave a screen in a software application and read Help – be it delivered as a .CHM file, on a Web site or on paper?

The solution? If we deliver User Assistance (Help) in a way that it is actually located within the application screens, not only can we minimise the need for users having to go through a virtual door, we can also embed the learning into the users’ specific situations.

More: Scientific American article

Why Technical Authors make the best Project Managers for Agile projects

Red Gate Software’s Dominic Smith mentioned in his presentation at UAEurope conference that the company had found Technical Authors were ideally suited to take on the role of Project Manager for small Agile software development projects. In fact, Red Gate had morphed most of its Technical Authors into to a hybrid Project Manager role.

Dominic made a strong case why Technical Authors made good Agile software project managers:

  • They are focused on the user
  • They understand the user
  • They understand a lot of the technological aspects
  • They are used to delivering projects on time
  • They are more extravert and people-orientated than programmers (yes, this is broad generalisation)
  • They ensure User Assistance isn’t forgotten in the project plan, and that it is considered from the very start
  • They can provide a business focus to the project, and are able to kill projects that don’t make business sense any more.

Do you agree?

Disclosure: Red Gate is a client of ours.

How software users become champions

Matthew Syed is a British sports journalist and former three times Commonwealth Games gold medallist, who has been investigating what is needed to make people excellent at doing any task involving complexity.

He argues that natural talent, your genes, are far less important than many people think. What’s important is practising what you can’t quite do. He argues we grow if we test our limitations, because our body adapts.

So what on earth does that have to do with developing software and Technical Authors? Syed argues there are two opposing views regarding success:

  1. One “school” believes talent is what makes success. This means that if you fail, you believe it’s because you don’t have enough talent. Therefore, you’re likely to give up.
  2. The other “school” believes success is all about practice – the quantity of practice, the quality of teaching and the willingness to test our limitations. This means that if you fail, you believe you can succeed with more perseverance and effort. It’s an opportunity to adapt and grow.

I would argue the whole philosophy of User Assistance is based around the belief that talent is all about practice. It’s easy to forget that others may think it’s all about talent – your developers may believe some users fail because they are stupid, and some of your users may believe they’re just not good enough to succeed. It’s worth checking what they believe.

Another implication is that we should provide assistance and guidance to users as they are doing the task. We should try to avoid interrupting their flow. This suggests providing Help and advice within the application screens themselves.

Thirdly, we should praise people for their effort rather than for their talent.

Bounce

BBC Radio 4 Four Thought

What do you think?

What does the iPad 3 mean for Technical Authors? Part 2: Hardware

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the iPad as a medium for delivering User Assistance. In this post, we’ll look at the iPad’s hardware, with a view for it being used by Technical Authors to create User Assistance.  In further posts, we’ll look at iPad software Technical Authors can use.

iPad as a tool for Technical Authors

With prices starting at £329, the iPad is what QVC calls “a considered purchase”. Unless your heart rules your head, you’ll take a moment to think what else you could buy with your hard earned cash. Having said that, there’s enough people are buying iPads to make it the hottest piece of technology around.

As a device, the iPad is well balanced, very tactile and, let’s face it, cool. It’s also robust, able to take a lot of knocks and bumps.

The iPad makes for a lightweight companion – it weighs in at 650gms. However, if you’re you’re writing for long periods of time you’ll probably also need the external keyboard. So realistically, the weight is around 1.1kg, which is roughly the same as the 11.6″ Macbook Air and other Ultrabooks. Remember, Ultrabooks are at least double the price of an iPad; if you were to buy a £400 notebook, then you’d be lugging around at least 3kg.

The iPad’s retina display not only make images stunning, it also reduces the amount of eyestrain caused by looking at screen for long periods of time. If you find you can write for only a limited amount of the day, then the iPad may be the solution for you.

If you’re working at a desk, then, in addition to an external keyboard, you would probably want a stand for the iPad. If you wanted to connect the iPad to a VGA screen, then you’d also need to purchase Apple’s £25 VGA adapter cable.

The iPad has a built-in camera, which means you’re able to take high quality photos of programmers’ whiteboard scribbles, and make ad-hoc video or audio recordings of brain dumps from subject matter experts. The camera can also take high quality images of products and any components.

The iPad does not have a slot for SD cards or USB stick, so external storage is only available ‘in the cloud’.

Battery life is very impressive, at around 10 hours.

If you’re not tied to a desk (i.e. you do work in more than one single location) then the iPad delivers as a lightweight portable device. Even if you are tied to a desk, then it still may be worth considering for those who suffer from eye strain.