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Generalist versus specialist: What should you focus on with knowledge building in your tech writing role?
I've been thinking about how I should focus my time with knowledge building in my tech writing career, especially given my context in a large organization. Lately, rather than primarily writing content, I've been playing more of a content curator / tools developer / publisher role. I'm okay with this. But sometimes I feel like I have to choose between acquiring deep technical knowledge versus acquiring deep tech doc tools/publishing knowledge.
Write the Docs Podcast Episode 2 (which Focuses on Findability) Now Available
Episode 2 in the Write the Docs podcast is now available. The topic of episode 2 is findability: How do you allow your users to find what they're looking for in your documentation? We talk about various tools for findability: search, tags, faceted filters, sidebar navigation, inline links, related links, terms/glossaries, and breadcrumbs. In this post, I also share a few more details about Lunr search.
Updating a single page versus updating the documentation as a whole
This past week I made some contributions to the Jekyll documentation, and in making the pull requests, I realized why technical writing is often so difficult. Making a request to one documentation topic often requires you to adjust other topics as well. So often we place the bar for contribution at whether someone can write. In reality, it's not just whether someone can construct clear, grammatically correct sentences. It's whether the person can integrate the information into a larger documentation set.
Write the Docs Podcast episode 1: New podcast from the Write the Docs community
The Write the Docs community now has a podcast available. The podcast follows a discussion-based format with several co-hosts talking about recent articles or topics related to tech comm. The podcast is available on almost every podcast platform.
Recording of Open Authoring -- Collaboration Across Disciplines presentation, by Ralph Squillace
Recording of Open Authoring -- Collaboration Across Disciplines presentation, by Ralph Squillace
Ralph Squillace, a senior content engineer for the Microsoft Azure Infrastructure team based in San Francisco, California, recently gave a presentation to the STC Silicon Valley chapter (on November 14, 2016) on Open Authoring -- Collaboration Across Disciplines. In the presentation, Ralph talks about Microsoft's approach to scaling their authoring and publishing efforts across the company by embracing Markdown, Github, open source tools, and other processes that allowed everyone in the company to write and contribute to Azure's documentation.
Review of Coding for Writers course by Peter Gruenbaum on Udemy
Peter Gruenbaum has a new course on Udemy called Coding for Writers. Overall, this course takes a unique angle in not only teaching you the basics of coding (in this case, mostly JavaScript and Java), but also teaching you how to document the code, such as focusing on parameters, responses, and data types. He even talks about style conventions in the documentation, including verb tenses, code formatting, and sentence structures.
Should you ever apologize for something product-related in your documentation? Looking at Apple's dongle documentation
Apple's recent dongle fiasco raises an interesting tech comm question: Is there ever a time when you, as a technical writer, should apologize for something product-related in your documentation? I looked at Apple's end-user docs about their ports but didn't see any acknowledgement that they were inconveniencing their users in an extreme way. Instead, the tone was merely straightforward and factual about which adapters you would need. When an issue is controversial or obviously of deep concern to users, documentation should address the issue head-on. You don't need to try to communicate about the issue in an emotional way (though that tone might be welcome to users), you just need to include the information, mostly following Redish's documentation-as-conversation model.
How to avoid becoming extinct in your technical writing career
In contrast to other non-IT professions, the rapidly evolving pace of technology means that our experience a decade ago is practically obsolete. With new platforms, programming languages, workplace methodologies, and other changes coming on the tech scene every year, IT professionals must implement an approach of continual learning to survive.
How to get crisp text callouts like in Apple's new Touch bar documentation -- and why you might not want to with translation projects
Apple's new Macbook laptops include a Touch Bar that replaces the function keys at the top of the keyboard. You can program these keys with your own custom functions. I was curious to see what the documentation for the Touch Bar looked like. In looking at the Apple docs, the most interesting element is the image sizes -- the original image sizes are 4 times the size of the shown graphic. This technique helps create a sharp, crisp look to text when the large image is constrained to a smaller size in the browser. However, if you're translating your content, text callouts can be problematic.
Markdown or reStructuredText or DITA? Choosing the right format for tech docs
In the deliberation about authoring formats -- whether to use Markdown or reStructuredText or DITA (or something else) -- one detail that is frequently overlooked is the importance of the accompanying tool or platform that uses that format. You almost never use these authoring formats alone but rather with a tool that stores, processes, and renders the source into an output. The tool you use with the authoring format is almost as important as the authoring format itself.
How to tell if you're a content strategist
Recently MindTouch published a list of the top 25 Content Strategist Influencers. In contrast to previous top influencer lists, this year's list shifts from the term 'tech comm influencer' to 'content strategist influencer'. They also broadened their measures for determining influence, including less online presence and more offline influence, such as conference presentations. I just barely made the list this year. It got me thinking about whether I am in fact a content strategist or a technical writer.
Apple's Two-Step Verification versus Two-Factor Authentication, or, When Marketing's lingo makes it impossible to communicate with plain speech
In the latest episode of This Week in Tech (TWIT episode 585), the hosts talk about how confusing Apple's two-factor authentication is compared to Apple's two-step verification. The hosts, who are all tech gurus, had trouble sorting out the difference, and their experience with the service was even more problematic. This naming fail points to a core challenge in tech comm that happens when Marketing's choice of terms makes it difficult or impossible for tech writers to communicate plainly.
How to respond to product disasters: Analyzing Samsung's response to their exploding phones in contrast to Dyn's response to the DDoS attack
What would you do to rebuild trust in your brand after a product disaster like Samsung's exploding phones? I looked at Samsung's recall notice and newsroom articles to see what strategies they employed, but I found the communication brief, plain, and short of any detail that would help rekindle trust. If company's want to gain user trust, they must share more information and details with users, as Dyn did in their company blog posts after the recent DDoS attacks. Particularly, the information the company shares should align with the kind of information users want to see.
How to deliver newsletters for your Jekyll site
Although email may seem somewhat antiquated, it has by far the greatest reach of any online communication method. If you have a Jekyll-based site, here's an easy approach to sending out an email newsletter. This approach involves using a for loop to get a summary of your latest posts and then pushing the content into simple HTML formatting that you can paste into Tinyletter's email template.
Coding the sidebar navigation element for documentation websites
Sidebar navigation is one of the more complex components of a documentation site, and it is critical for helping users understand and find documentation. I hacked together a sidebar menu for a doc site that's hosted on a somewhat inflexible platform, using Jekyll to generate the sidebar. Important features of a documentation sidebar include multiple levels of depth, expand/collapse options, accordion effects, fixed navigation, dynamic menu highlighting, and more.