Thinking About a Social Media Strategy: A Few Elements to Consider

In my writing role at work , I occasionally post updates on behalf of our IT organization to various social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, our blog, and a user forum. Most of my activity on these social media channels is sparse and sporadic -- a few minutes on an occasional hour. However, lately I've felt that we aren't tapping into social media's potential. We're hardly using it at all, despite the fact that we h...

Technical Communication Metrics: What Should You Track?

In 2004, when I returned from a teaching stint in Egypt and began working as a copywriter for a health company in Clearwater, Florida, my manager insisted that I track something related to my writing. We decided that I would track word count, because this was the easiest thing to track. Each week, I graphed the number of words I published, and during a weekly meeting, I held up my graph. If the number decreased for the week, I formatted t...

Conferences I'm Attending This Year

I'm attending three conferences this year: Confab, the STC Summit, and Lavacon.  Why did I pick these conferences, over others? Ben Minson and me at a previous STC Summit I attended Confab's inaugural conference last year and felt it was a good fit for my web publishing role at work. Although my job title is "senior technical writer," I spend about 60% of my time being a web editor for LDSTech. LDSTech has a blog, wiki, and forum, and in ...

Why don't technical writers use wikis — or do they?

The following is a guest post by Sarah Maddox, a technical writer at Atlassian. Sarah Maddox In a recent conversation, Tom mentioned that he's been pondering this question: "Why, in a time when collaboration is more important than ever, do wikis still remain mostly unused as a help authoring tool in tech comm departments?" Tom asked me to join his ponderings and write a guest post on the topic. Thanks for the invitation and the thought-p...

Incensed at "Laid-back" Categorization of Technical Writing Career

I was completely incensed to read Yahoo's categorization of technical writing as the #1 laid-back career. In 5 Low-Stress Career Options, the writer makes the ridiculous claim that technical writing isn't just a low-stress job, but is apparently the #1 lowest-stress job of any career in America! Laid-back Career #1: Technical Writer Technical writers often write articles, manuals, and instruction booklets on a variety of topics, including...

Why I Love Audible

I just got back from a 4 mile jog up and down the night sidewalks of my city. I'm not much of a jogger, but after a day of sledding, parenting, traveling, cooking, and changing baby diapers, I needed to get out for an hour on my own. It's relatively cold in Utah at night. About 34 degrees right now, so I wear a balaclava and gloves. And of course I have on a sweater and exercise pants too. But more important than anything, I have my iPhon...

My New Email Strategy: The Email Game and ActiveInbox

A while ago I tweeted about how poor I am with email. I've tried various methods. I tried automatically filtering all the non-essential email into subfolders, but as some commenters pointed out, I soon never checked these subfolders. I tried unsubscribing from everything, but this seemed an impossible task. Then Will Sansbury recommended that I try The Email Game, and I actually love it. The Email Game The Email Game works only with Gmail...

Webinar Recording: Designing Quick Reference Guides

Listen here: A couple of weeks ago I gave an STC webinar called Designing Quick Reference Guides. This was a general STC webinar, and usually I am not allowed to repost the recording, but due to some audio difficulties, I had to re-record it, and the STC gave me permission to post the re-recording. Here are the files to watch or download the webinar: zip (includes mp4 video) Slides only Audio only

Webinar Recording -- Organizing Help Content: Breaking Out of Topic-Based Hierarchies

Quick reference guides 1.0 Quick Reference Guides: The Poetry of Technical Writing 1.1 Quick Reference Guide Formats -- Tips for Finding Attractive Layouts 1.2 STC Presentation this Thursday: "Quick Reference Guides: Short and Sweet Technical Documentation" ...

Looking at The Peter Principle, Dilbert Principle, and Parkinson's Law

After my last post about being an individual contributor, a reader asked if I had heard of the Peter Principle or Parkinson's Laws. I hadn't, so I read about them on Wikipedia, as well as a related principle, the Dilbert Principle. The Peter Principle The Peter Principle states that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." In other words, employees who perform their roles with competence are promoted int...

On Being an Individual Contributor

For someone who has the job of "technical writer," I spend very little time writing. It amazes me how quickly the day fills up with non-writing tasks. Meetings, reports, issues -- they seem to surface again and again at work, requiring my attention. I sometimes try timing myself and find that if I can get in three hours of writing during the day, that's good. This seems utterly ridiculous to me. I get a lot of satisfaction from writing. T...

A Life of Its Own: An Essay About an Article That Was Never Published

Last year I worked on a news article that showcased certain technologies at my work. The news article was an assignment, the kickoff of a series of articles. I worked especially hard on it, as it was the first one to introduce the series. I came up with a sensible structure, gathered interesting facts and information, and then meticulously crafted the content. I structured the information in a logical way, making sure each paragraph conta...

A Reverse Approach to Help Authoring: Writing Documentation Post-Release

When I first started as a technical writer, a senior writer taught me how to write documentation. Her approach, which aligns with the traditional way of doing technical writing, generally followed these steps: Get involved as early as you can in the software development process. As soon as prototypes are available, or a functioning development environment, start the documentation process. Think of all the main tasks users will do with th...

Brainstorming Solutions to Volunteer Management/Engagement

I am constantly reflecting on the answer to this question: How can I draw upon the enthusiasm, intelligence, and skill of willing volunteers all around me to take our organization's site to the next level? This goal mostly relates to my involvement in my organization's technology blog, which has about 80 volunteer writers. In my post about what I learned during 2011 as a technical communicator, I wrote: Community collaboration is extremel...

Messages from Sponsors -- January 2012

Below are a few messages from my blog's sponsors. Check them out and see if any interest you. Many of them have upcoming webinars. News from Madcap MadCap Software is pleased to present free live webinars from industry experts covering a variety of topics essential for today's technical writers.  Sign up today to advance your professional skills and learn about the latest trends in technical communication. Moving from FrameMaker to Flare ...