How do you become a 10X technical writer in the workplace (10X means 10 times more efficient and productive than others)? In this post, I raise the question and then offer a few tips I try to follow: (1) Record your meetings with engineers, (2) Respond quickly to emails and messages, (3) Iterate on content with ever-expanding layers of reviewers, (4) Put some work back on those who request it, and (5) Learn to say no so you can focus on fewer projects with deeper engagement.
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Jessica Parsons, a documentation engineer from Netlify, joins us for Episode 19 of the WTD Podcast. Jess recently conducted a Static Site Generator workshop at the Australian Write the Docs conference at Melbourne. In this episode, Jess illuminates the world of static site generators, comparing and contrasting Hugo, Jekyll, Sphinx, Gatsby, and others.
Yesterday I gave a presentation called Tech Comm Trends: Providing Value as a Generalist in a Sea of Specialists on The Content Wrangler BrightTALK channel. The recording is embedded below.
Every year, when I re-examine my site analytics, I take the time to reflect on trends I’m seeing with traffic to my own site. Not necessarily industry trends, just trends about which topics are popular on my site. Based on these trends, I assess and re-evaluate some of my directions. This year, I found that the increase in traffic on my API documentation site (which accounts for 59% of my overall site traffic) suggests that more engineers are writing docs. This confirms my earlier predictions at the beginning of 2018 that specialization will drive more engineers to write API documentation, with technical writers playing more supporting editorial and publishing roles.
The 2017-2018 STC Salary Database was recently released, and the employment and salary levels for technical writers are looking really good — especially for some areas. 'San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara' (a Metropolitan Statistical Area or MSA) had a 34.5% increase in tech writer employment for 2017 and continued to be the highest-paying MSA for the fifth straight year in a row. In this post, I'll share a few highlights from the report.
As we enter into 2019, it's fun to think about what's in store for the upcoming year. I've already written about tech comm trends ad nauseam this year, so I won't repeat the same arguments. (If you missed those posts, I argue for an increased emphasis on subject-matter familiarity as a requirement for tech writers to be competitive, which many would say, duh — of course.) Instead, I'd like to explore another, more entertaining angle: the absolute worst that can happen in 2019. We all love the dystopian imagination, so let's indulge it. Okay, let's go really overboard and think about the absolute worst series of events that could happen to us this year. After all, isn't it better to plan for the worst and hope for the best?
I recently ran every page of my API doc site through Grammarly to identify and correct style and grammar issues. Grammarly provides a lot of valuable feedback that is worth considering as you edit your writing. However, the issues flagged are more helpful for conceptual and narrative information rather than for technical procedures, in part due to the restricted vocabulary, unique tech terms, and more frequent passive voice in tech docs. Also, data privacy issues probably prevent Grammarly from gaining more traction in the enterprise.
My father passed away on Dec 26, 2018, due to stomach cancer. He was 84 years old. The following is the obituary I wrote.
In this post, I summarize the findings of an extensive research project about how developers at Google find and use code documentation. The research found that for simple code, sometimes developers prefer to read the code directly. However, for more complex code, developers consult documentation, often by looking in the formal class declarations for information they need; other times they look at comments in the implementation code. Besides the location of docs, the researchers also identify what type of answers and guidance developers want in code documentation.
Wondering what to get the precious technical writer in your family or workplace for the holidays? Here are some gift ideas.
I recently chatted with Ellis Pratt on his Cherryleaf podcast. The episode is called Podcast 49: Should you specialise? Interview with Tom Johnson. We chatted about a whole bunch of topics, not just the should you specialize question in the title. Topics include purposes for writing, the influence of blog and podcasts, long and short forms of content, evidence for trends, what employers are looking for in jobs, unicorn candidates, how to define yourself, and more. If you like podcasts, definitely listen to this one.
The recording for the full-day API workshop that I recently gave in Menlo Park, California, is now available. This recording provides more than 5 hours of instruction about writing API docs -- for free. I also share some thoughts on cardioid versus omnidirectional microphones, and which is better in a workshop setting. The audio narration of this post switches around the microphones so you can hear the difference.
In my Simplifying Complexity series, I added a new post called, Principle 11: Be both a generalist and specialist at the same time. I also recorded this essay as a narrated podcast.
I'll be giving an upcoming presentation and workshop at the STC Summit in Denver, Colorado, held May 5-8, 2018. My presentation is on trends and the dilemma between being a specialist or generalist; my workshop is on API documentation.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates below. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.