When I talk to most technical writers, video is a format they haven't done much with. This surprises me, because I find that, as a user, video tutorials are often the most helpful type of material for me to learn software. Video most closely simulates the universal desire we have for a friend to show us how to do something in an application. Perhaps I'm a visual learner, but the majority of us (some say 60 to 65 percent) are visual learners.
But video doesn't appeal only to end users. Video can be an appealing format for technical writers as well. Creating videos can turn your career around, especially if you find technical writing a little dull.
For example, in 2005, Ken Circeo at Microsoft wrote:
I don't know how you can become a tech writer either, because I just kind of fell into it myself. The reason this question surprises me is because there are so many interesting and exciting professions out there, I don't know why anyone would ever choose to become a tech writer. Of the seven people on my team at Microsoft, none of us wanted to be a tech writer. We all set out to write novels, or news stories, or software - pretty much anything besides technical manuals.
He ends the article with a word of advice:
There. I hope I've done some good by saving you from a life of instructing users to "make sure you click this before you click that." Please heed my advice. Maintain your sanity. Turn back. The bridge is out. (Tech Writing, Just for the Fun of It)
I commented on Ken's post, encouraging him to try other formats, such as video. After I posted my comment, I realized his post was several years old. Later that day, Ken responded:
Thanks for taking time to comment, Tom. You must be prophetic, for shortly after I wrote that article I reinvented myself as a video producer here at Microsoft. I've converted my office into a sound studio and I now spend my days creating video-based instruction for Microsoft unified communications products. It has turned my attitude around completely. For the first time since college (when I was a lay-out artist), I can say that I truly enjoy my work.
He's good at it too. Here are a couple of videos Ken created.
Watching the videos, you can sense Ken's enjoyment in producing them. My point is that videos are not only a highly user-friendly form of software help, they can also turn around your technical writing career, giving variety and interest to the "click-this, select-that" writing hypnosis.
If the video format is new territory for you, I encourage you to download a copy of Camtasia Studio, buy the best microphone you can find at a local electronics store, write out a script, and then go for it. Even if your manager doesn't ask for it, doesn't require it, and doesn't understand it, your users will love it. And you might too.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.