I recently co-presented in a WTD Australia event titled Techcomm in the times of pandemic on May 28, 2020. The other presenter was professor Kirk St. Amant. A recording is available below.
A reader whose company recently laid off two-thirds of their tech pubs staff asked why technical writers are often seen as unimportant in a company. I asked Jeremy Rosselot-Merritt, an academic at the University of Minnesota who has been doing research into tech comm value in the workplace, to respond to the reader's question.
The results of the Pandemic survey are available here. The survey is still open, but with 230 responses, I'd like to describe a few highlights and thoughts about it.
I recently participated in an online radio-style chat about documentation with the folks at Readme.com. In an ambitious undertaking, Readme created a 24-hour streaming radio show (called "WAPI FM"') focused on APIs, from March 26-27, 2020. They are publishing some of the recordings week by week. During this hour, Ryan Openshaw and Greg Koberger chatted with Andrew Baker from Twilio and me about a host of documentation topics.
I'm curious to know how the quarantine/pandemic is affecting tech comm. I created a short survey to gather some insights about possible trends. It's unclear how tech comm will play out — there could be gains in places and losses in others.
MadCap Software's 2020 release for MadCap Flare and MadCap Central include significant enhancements to micro content, code syntax highlighting, privatized output, and more. Through search analytics in MadCap Central, if you identify search phrases, and search phrases that return no results, micro content can be created to address these gaps, making your content much more discoverable for your users.
This is a gloomy topic but one that until recently I'd never even considered. When you die, what "user manual" will your family members follow to carry out tasks that need to be done? About two years ago my father passed away, and while it was emotionally difficult, I realized that figuring out the logistics of one's passing was also challenging. In preparing for the worst with the Coronavirus, I started to think about what needs to be done in case I die. (Of course, I hope this doesn't happen, and I'm not sick or anything. I'm just thinking ahead to worst-case scenarios.)
One of the most challenging aspects of my API documentation course is with the OpenAPI specification. Describing how to code this detailed spec line-by-line is not only tedious but highly prone to error, confusion, and frustration. Recently, I decided to shift the approach in my course to begin first with coding the OpenAPI spec in a visual editor using Stoplight Studio, and then later, if desired, transition to a code-based approach.
I recently appeared on the Knowledgebase Ninjas podcast in an episode titled Metrics Don't Work. In the podcast, I chat with Gowri Ramkumar about documentation processes, why metrics are problematic, advantages and disadvantages of docs-as-code models, why measuring doc traffic falls short, the value of internal documentation, people I've learned from in my career, advice for my younger self, and more.
I'm giving a presentation on May 27 in the API The Docs Virtual series titled How Trends in API Documentation Differ from Other Tech Comm Trends. You can register for free on EventBrite. API The Docs is typically a one-day conference event but has gone virtual and is experimenting with different formats in interesting ways. In this post, I also share a few thoughts on the first virtual sessions and the challenges of finding the right online format for conferences.
In this episode, we chat with Eric Holscher, co-founder of both Read the Docs and Write the Docs, about the recent Salary Survey that the WTD group conducted. This survey was launched in Fall 2019, and the results published were recently published. The salary survey covers details such as types of employment, job titles, roles, length of time in role, work location, annual salary, salary breakdowns by state, additional benefits, satisfaction, reasons for dissatisfaction, organization type, respondent demographics, and more. In addition to exploring the survey, we also chat about tips for working from home, especially given that both Eric and Chris have been working remotely for many years.
How is the role of the technical writer evolving? It seems we're moving away from writing and more towards other roles, such as reviewer/convener, user champion, editor, publisher, and promoter. However, it's difficult to gauge change, especially across different job categories. In some scenarios, writing might never have been why we were hired.
How can users shape and influence the documentation you're producing? In this podcast, I chat with Nupoor Ranade, PhD candidate at North Carolina State University, about how the roles of technical writers are changing. Instead of writers authoring content for passive users, users are actively directing and shaping the knowledge that writers produce. In this podcast, we look at ways docs-as-code workflows are facilitating that shift in roles. This podcast is more of a conversation, where I first ask Nupoor a series of questions, and then she asks me questions. There's also a transcript of the podcast.
In an ideal world, developers include technical writers in all relevant meetings and keep them updated about changes they're making that might affect the docs. If this is the case for you, count yourself lucky. More often than not, however, technical writers are left out of the loop until the last minute, when someone remembers that the docs likely need to be updated (or should have been updated prior to release). This scenario is just as true whether everyone is working from home or in the office. One solution for this is to embrace a technique for information sleuthing.
Write the Docs podcast episode 28 is a recording of a Berlin WTD meetup focused on UX writing processes and considerations. The event was live streamed on March 9, 2020 at the Humanitec in Berlin by Chris Ward.