Documentation Honesty and Poor User Interfaces -- An Ethical Dilemma?

Rilynn from New England writes, Tom, I notice that a lot of companies use release notes to post a list of defects (bug) that were fixed with the corresponding software release. This is something that I appreciate as a software user. I realize that I'm not the user of my company's products, though. Also, management at my company is really against adopting this practice, seeing it as "airing our dirty laundry." This bleeds over to more gene...

What I See -- James Hall's Essays and Florida

James Hall's book of essays, Hot Damn On my father's recent visit from Florida, he brought me a stack of books, one of them James Hall's collection of essays, Hot Damn! James Hall is a poet and crime novelist, but he once wrote essays for a newspaper for several years. This book is a collection of those essays. The topics of Hall's essays range widely -- from adventures in Florida to experiences as a boy in a library, to buying a house, ...

The Podfading Roller Coaster

Podfading Podfading is a term used to describe podcasters who start regular podcasting shows, but then fade away -- either quickly or gradually. Podfading is a regular theme in the podcasting world. For example, Benjamin Grundy of the Mysterious Universe podcast recently went into "deep space hibernation." Brian Oberkirch used to podcast, but hasn't published a new podcast for months. Even the host of the WordPress Podcast, Charles Strick...

Podcast: What Is the Technical Writer's Role in Interface Design? Interview with Bogo Vatovec

Listen here: In this podcast, I interview Bogo Vatovec, an expert in change management, user experience, and knowledge engineering, about the technical writer's role in interface design. Specifically, we cover the following in the podcast: What the technical writer's role should be in the company Why the technical writer's skills are often "accepted but not respected" Why a technical writer needs to do more than just wh...

WordPress 2.7 Released - XML-RPC and AtomPub Changes || Joseph Scott

WordPress 2.7 Released - XML-RPC and AtomPub Changes || Joseph Scott What if, instead of writing a page of release notes for the next version of your software, you created a cool video set to jazz like this?

When Trust Becomes a Characteristic Flaw in a Project

In tech comm, you often have three layers of clients: (1) the project manager, (2) the business department sponsoring the project, and (3) the actual end users who will be using the system you're developing. In most places I've worked, the project manager (PM) has been wary of me interacting with people beyond level one. The PMs usually see it as their job (or the business analyst's job) to gather the customer's requirements, to analyze b...

Twitter Hashtags and Virtual Gatherings

I occasionally write for LDS Tech, a blog/forum site for the LDS Church's IT department, where I work. My latest article is titled "Twitter and LDS General Conference." Here's an excerpt: When participants add hashtags to their tweets, such as #ldsconf, Twitter enables a community of people to gather virtually during an event. Through the hashtag, you can connect to a community of all other twitterers adding the same hashtags in their twe...

Generations Change, But Help Formats Remain the Same?

Today should have been a day of great excitement, almost like a coronation. Having struggled with a 175 page user manual for several months, I finally finished a first draft. Today I met with the client, alongside the senior project manager, the project manager, and a few others to present the sacred document, with the words "Reference Manual" on the front. I say it should have been a day of celebration. Instead, it was an event I knew wa...

Helpful Little Tips for Life

Today I bring you a random compilation of helpful little tips -- for work, for home, or for dealing with kids, etc. -- that I've learned in life. If you're tired at work, rotate tasks on the half hour to stay productive. If you want to save money on toys, take your kids to a thrift store and let each child choose his or her own toy. If your bath tub drains slowly, remove the plug and use a bent coat hook to pull out the endless hair that...

Writers See Stories Where Others Don't

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Chad Hymas, an inspirational speaker (not the Chris Farley type), who related several powerful stories that changed him. A quadriplegic after a tractor-hay bale incident, Hymas shared how one can live a happier, more fulfilled, more productive life even without the use of one's limbs. We all sat mesmerized while Hymas related story after story. His speech wasn't polished or his diction articula...

Twitter Part II –- One Step Deeper

Webworks and Twitter -- Innovative uses of Twitter with documentation Earlier this week I asked how others are using Twitter in their documentation and branding strategies. Alan Porter at WebWorks wrote me with details, saying: As you know we have a branded Twitter account (webworks_com) that we use for product announcements, information on speaking engagements, webinars and just general company updates. We also have a hashtag set up for ...

The Name of Your Department Does Matter

Although some feel the name of your tech writing department doesn't matter a whole lot (for example, TexasWriter says "Find out what people now call it. Ask what they mean by it. If it's accurate, use it. You aren't marketing, don't make it up"), actually your department's name does have an impact on the role you're expected to play. For example, our current department's name is "User Education." Because of this, every time a user has a h...

EServer TC Library: The Most Popular Technical Communication Website in the World

EServer TC Library (tc.eserver.org), an indexed library of technical communication articles, is the most popular technical communication website in the world, according to Alexa.com, a site that measures web traffic and Internet reach. The EServer TC Library doesn't produce original articles itself, but rather has a team of indexing scholars adding links to worthwhile content across the web. The indexers sort the content into twelve categ...

Does Twitter Fit into Your Branding Strategy?

Twitter, often referred to as the water cooler of the Internet, teaches us the art of brevity by limiting communication to 140 characters or less. But unless you can compress instructional content in ingenious ways, you'll find Twitter limiting as a method for delivering documentation. Instead, Twitter is better used for the following: Eavesdropping on customer conversations Putting a personal face on your company Increasing the reach of...

Top 10 Gag Christmas Gifts for Technical Writers

Fortune cookies with fortunes rewritten as numbered lists. Bobblehead with favorite SME's face pasted on the front. Stack of how-to manuals from everything you assembled for Christmas. Copy of that House episode with the agoraphobe tech writer and comment "Saw this and thought of you." "Certificate" of year's achievements with typos on it. Jigsaw puzzle of the current interface the tech writer is documenting, but rearranged. Photo calend...