Is it possible for Technical Authors to write content more quickly?

Approximately 50% of a Technical Author’s day is spent writing. However, when Technical Publications teams look for efficiencies, they tend to focus on the 50% of time spent on non-writing activities, such as researching, reviewing and planning. They assume the content itself cannot be written more quickly. To an extent, they are right, as the querty qwerty keyboard is not an optimal layout.

We’ve been going through a process of transcribing our early e-learning modules, in order to have scripts upon which we can base future course updates. As part of this project, we’ve been using a free application called Plover to help us write the content. With Plover, you have the potential to create content (in Word, RoboHelp, Flare, Oxygen XML etc) at up to 225 words per minute (wpm).

Plover is based on chorded typing. You press more than one key at a time to create words. Chorded typing isn’t new – for example, it was demonstrated in Douglas Engelbart’s famous “The mother of all demos“.

Below is a five minute lightning talk on Plover and some of the emerging hardware:

So far, in my case, I’ve been able to double my typing speed. Realistically, those of us participating in this project at Cherryleaf aim to get to 180 words per minute. The reason for this is that most people speak at 160-180 wpm. At that speed, you are able to transcribe subject matter experts in real time – which means there’s no need to record an interview and then type it up at a later date.

There is a learning curve to this method, but it is based on over 100 years of theory and practice. It is tremendous fun – a bit like learning to use a querty qwerty keyboard for the first time.


John Sarra

I’m with Richard. Transcription is just writing down what is said. Speech to text technologies can do that.

Richard Friedman

Sorry. Technical writing isn’t speech, and speech isn’t technical writing. Very few technical people can speak in complete sentences. That’s why there are editors and technical writers. I wouldn’t want to read the transcripts of some of my professors back in college, or the engineers I work with daily. I was hired because I COULD speak in complete sentences, and write as well. Otherwise, it’s just typing.

Stephen Helms

Interesting – thanks Ellis. (I think you were searching for AZERTY – the French keyboard). I think PLOVER would be better for original prose than stenography but for capturing new technical details & language could be good – I can copy / paste text phrases and put it into a good English sentence pretty quickly.

Ed Heel

I agree that typing more quickly will speed up the writing. But the writing task also includes the time spent thinking about how best to phrase something, time spent checking the best or most consistent word to use, time spent reorganising a topic so that it’s structured better, and so on. If 50% of a tech author’s day is spent writing, that certainly doesn’t mean that all that time is spent typing.

Ellis Pratt

Thanks for the comment Ed. Some of the other 50% is spent planning, but you’re right to say thinking is still a component of writing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.