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Top 10 holiday gifts for technical writers

by Tom Johnson on Dec 18, 2018
categories: technical-writing writing

Wondering what to get the precious technical writer in your family or workplace for the holidays? Here are some gift ideas.

I posted my question about holiday gifts for tech writers on Twitter, and a host of people responded. You can read the thread below:

Although many people offered relevant writer-oriented suggestions, one person (@plaindocs), wisely noted:

I agree. This pretty much cancels out anything like Udemy courses, professional memberships, style guides, screen recording software, or other writerly accoutrements. What’s left? You have to get a bit more creative.

Back in 2008, I published Top 10 Gag Christmas Gifts for Technical Writers. This time around, I decided to create a holiday list based on products I personally own. (By the way, this is a fun, not-so-serious post.) With that introduction, here are my top 10 holiday gifts for technical writers:

1. Metro Vacuum ED500P DataVac 500-Watt, 75-HP Electric Duster


Technical writers spend most of their day with their hands on a keyboard. Being able to type quickly on a responsive keyboard is essential to a happy writing day. But if you get crumbs under your keyboard (which is especially problematic for keyboards on new MacBooks, which have less space under the keys), you end up with sticky keys. For writers, there’s NOTHING WORSE THAN STICKY KEYS!!! To have a happy relationship with your Mac keyboard, you need a high-powered duster to get the crumbs and skin cells out. I bought this high-powered DataVac duster because it’s what our IT shop uses. The duster is about as loud and scary as a blender at full speed, but it completely removes any crumbs. View »

2. Lumos Smart Bike Helmet Wireless Turn Signal Handlebar Remote Built-in Motion Sensor

Lumos helmet

You might be thinking, how is this related to tech comm? Well, chances are if you’re employed as a technical writer, you’re in a big tech city. And if you’re in a place like the Bay area, traffic in these tech hubs is atrociously slow. You might have pondered bicycle commuting in the past but were perhaps deterred by safety considerations. Since I bought a Lumos helmet, I feel safer on the roads. Cars see me. The helmet lights can blink fast or slow (or stay solidly on). You can even activate turn signals through a button on your handlebars that communicates wirelessly with the helmet. A tech helmet perfectly suits a tech writer. View »

3. MightyText


When I receive texts at work from my kids, I hate responding with the on-screen keyboard on my phone. I have big hands and text slowly, with a lot of errors. The MightyText app more or less gives me a virtual representation of my phone on my computer, allowing me to type out my texts using my regular keyboard. Typing on my computer keyboard, not only can I keep pace with my kids’ text messages, I can double their speed! Through MightyText, you can also see when people call you (if it’s spam, don’t even bother to dig out your phone). You can also view and dismiss app notifications on your phone as well. In short, you can leave your phone in your bag all day and just use MightText. Leaving your phone out of site lets you focus more immersively on any writing task. View »

4. Fire HD 10 Tablet with Alexa Hands-Free and table stand

Fire HD 10 Tablet with Alexa Hands-Free

This tablet is one of the best devices Amazon makes. It’s essentially a mini-portable television (assuming you have streaming services like PlayStation Vue, Hulu, Netflix, or even just Amazon Prime). I often prop this tablet up on an easel stand next to my computer while I’m writing at home, especially if it’s a low-level task like formatting. I usually have sports playing (soccer, football, basketball, tennis, etc.) so it’s not too distracting. I find that having a side monitor for background video makes any tech writing task a little less boring and lonely. I also prop it above my kitchen windowsill while doing dishes. The 10-inch screen is huge and the image sharp. View »

5. 1Password {#1password}


When your head is full of technical details about code or systems you’re documenting/learning/figuring out, the last thing you want to do is tax your mind by trying to remember passwords as you jump from site to site. Let your mind focus on what matters. 1Password is a password manager for your computer, with a Chrome extension that lets you use keyboard shortcuts to easily populate login screens with the right username and password. I bought 1Password on a whim about 2 years ago, and now I’m not sure I could live without it. Not only does it make my passwords more secure (because I don’t have to resort to using the same password for nearly every site), it also makes me more efficient. View »

6. Ozeri Brezza III Dual Oscillating 10” High Velocity Desk and Table Fan


You can’t write well if you’re too hot. Last year it started getting a little warm at my work, so I bought this oscillating fan. This fan is hands-down the best fan I’ve ever owned. You can set it to oscillate left and right, up and down, or both at the same time. On rainy days when I arrive with a bunch of wet clothes and gloves, I prop this oscillating fan in front of whatever’s wet. This fan also doubles as a white-noise machine to drown out chatty cube neighbors so you can concentrate. (Music can also drown out noisy neighbors, but music sometimes brings its own distractions.) Overall, this multi-purpose fan is an essential item that has earned a permanent space on my desk. View »

7. Emergen-C Fizzy Drink Mix with 1000mg Vitamin C

Emergen-C We all know we need to hydrate by drinking lots of water, right? Good hydration keeps the blood flowing through the veins and the synapses firing, which is essential for writing. But plain water is sooo booorrrring. To compromise, I like drinking sparkling water (e.g., La Croix). Sometimes, the “hints of flavor” in these sparkling water drinks are too subtle. To liven up the flavor, open a packet of Emergen-C and pour it in. I’m sure 1,000 mg of Vitamin C must be good for you, but it also makes the La Croix taste much more interesting. Watching the liquid fizz is also somewhat mesmerizing. View »

8. Pad of Butter

Pad of Butter

I received this fun notepad gift as a token of appreciation for presenting at a local company in the Bay area. It’s just a stack of post-it notes cut and wrapped like butter. There wouldn’t be any reason to actually use the notes; instead, it’s more of an item of intrigue to keep on your desk. Everyone needs various items of intrigue on their desk. It’s part of the wonder of a writer’s environment. I still remember my manager looking confusedly at this and asking, “Tom, is that … butter on your desk?” I laughed. It’s a reminder about how the ordinary can be converted into the extraordinary, which is surely what you’re doing with the notes engineers gave you to convert into documentation. View »

9. Multi-Tasking Wood Lap Tray with Phone and Tablet Holder

Laptop desk

Although I don’t actually use this lap tray, my wife regularly does. She loves getting set up in bed to study, type, or do other computer work. The wood tray seems to work out well and can be stored under the bed. In Silicon Valley, houses are tiny (Ikea is super popular here), so we have to make use of all the space in our 1,000-square-foot space (shared among six humans). A portable desk combines the comfort of your bed with the efficiency of a desk. No more whining about how it’s too cold to get out of bed and sit at your desk to write. Just pull out your lap tray and write in your cozy, warm bed! View »

10. Laptop stickers

Laptop stickers Let’s face it — many older technical writers face stereotyping from younger engineers. One easy way to combat this is to add a few intriguing and identity-busting stickers on your laptop. When I received my initial computer at work a few years ago, I ordered some stickers from Stickermule that I thought represented me a bit — a bicycle sticker, a “Fork me on GitHub” sticker, an Amazon dog sticker, a Write the Docs sticker, a Lumos sticker, an Amazon icon (“Peccy”) dressed as a soldier, and a Jekyll sticker. I think stickers help challenge people’s identities about you and can promote more of a sense of uniqueness. If you need sticker suggestions, you can’t go wrong with the “I’d rather be writing” sticker and “TODO: Write docs” sticker or “I am silently correcting your grammar.” However, if you want to throw them off, go for this Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em sticker, this grumpy karate cat sticker, or the spacey bubble of silence sticker.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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