We explain things

Danielle M. Villegas has just pointed us towards a five minute lightning talk by Rick Lippencott on the future of technical communication, and its value. Rick covers in five  minutes a great deal of the content I covered in my 45 minute presentation at the same conference – it’s worth watching.

He summarises the value of Technical Authors in three simple words :”We explain things”.

Rick added some notes to the description on YouTube:

The clay tablet “first example of tech documentation” is about ten thousand years old, not two thousand.
The odd photo at about the 4:50 mark (where I say any of us could have explained it better) was a hotel room layout map posted at the elevators. It gave room locations based on compass points, but there was no way for the reader to know which way was actually north. It was completely useless.
“All of this has happened before, and it will happen again” was originally from Peter Pan.

Measuring the value of Help in desktop applications

One of the challenges for Technical Authors is quantifying the value of what they produce. For example, how can you tell how many people are reading online Help when the software is installed on someone’s desktop computer? One application mentioned in passing as last week’s UAEurope conference, ApplicationMetrics, might be able to provide the answer.

ApplicationMetrics collects usage and platform data, behind the scenes. It’s a product that is no longer being developed any more, but you can still download it. It may enable you to collect “operational funnel” data that’s similar marketing funnel data – test and track whether users are going to the help and resolving their issues.


Do Technical Authors do anything important?

Chatting at the Royal Institution just before Christmas, someone asked me “But do you do anything important?”. They were slightly embarrassed when they realised what they’d said, but it’s still a valid question to ask.

As it happens, there are a number of projects Cherryleaf is involved in that illustrate Technical Authors can do things that are important.

A recent project involved creating a four page user guide for military equipment that is being used by infantry soldiers in the British and Pakistani armies. If the soldiers don’t attach the equipment correctly, then it might fail in the field and leave them vulnerable. We changed a very wordy guide into something similar to an Ikea installation manual – containing pictures and arrows to explain, simply and clearly, how to install and use the equipment.

An upcoming project is for a charity that provides support for those who are feeling suicidal. They want to make sure their procedures are presented in a form that mean their volunteers can always find out the right action to take, should they ever be unsure of what to do.

Another project involves communicating to staff working in mental health, policies to ensure patient records are kept private and confidential – that they are never sent to or seen by the wrong people.

I could mention medical equipment we’ve documented, and software applications that fulfil important tasks, as well.

Often, the more important the job, the more important it is for people to have clear information to hand, explaining what to do and how to do it.