In episode 35 of the Write the Docs podcast, we discuss the newly released book Docs for Developers: An Engineer's Field Guide to Technical Writing with Jared Bhatti, staff technical writer at Google, and Zachary Sarah Corleissen, staff technical writer at Stripe (two of the co-authors). This book on writing documentation focuses on the end-to-end writing process (from audience analysis to drafting, editing, publishing, and more) and is written specifically with developers in mind. The authors use the scenario of documenting Corg.ly, an API that translates barks, as a common thread through each of the chapters.
I recently gave an online presentation about product overviews and getting started tutorials in API docs, sponsored by the STC Washington, D.C.-Baltimore Chapter. This post provides a recording of the presentation and related details.
Every now and then I catch myself wondering about the docs I wrote at my old job, looking to see if there has been new content added to the site, any radical redesigns or restructurings, any new doc themes or apparent moves. I’m not sure why I occasionally look, other than mild curiosity, but it’s led me to wonder about my future as well. What seems so important and urgent now is on a countdown timer. No matter what content I’m working on, give it a few years, and this content will probably go the same way, becoming neglected, slowly rotting away and becoming less relevant, less accurate, less needed. Some other writer will inherit the content and wonder about its history or even if it’s needed. The upcoming months will slowly wash the content away, until someone eventually deletes the page.
I added a new article in my API doc course about how to use Oxygen XML in a docs-as-code workflow. Oxygen XML is a robust authoring and publishing tool for technical content that allows you to author in multiple formats (Markdown, HTML, or XML) as well as publish to multiple outputs (HTML-based webhelp, PDF, and more). Although traditionally used for XML authoring and publishing, Oxygen XML has expanded its support with Markdown files, especially with the DITA's recent support for Lightweight Markdown. In this new article, you'll learn more about Oxygen XML, different workflows you can use to publish in a docs-as-code model, Git integration with Oxygen XML, supported Markdown formats, how to get started, and more. (Note that this is a sponsored post.) Read more here: Using Oxygen XML with docs-as-code workflows.
Last month I wrote a post about returning to normal, and as part of that return, I wanted to commute to work. Part of why I like the commute is because for the past decade, I'd been biking to work. That biking window provided me with a built-in time for daily exercise, and I also liked the space to wind up and wind down for the day. When I lived in California, I was fortunate enough to live next to a paved trail (following a canal) that took me 75% of the way to work; the remaining 25% was along a road with a bike shoulder, and only 5% on a treacherous road (which has since been fixed for cyclists). But biking to work from Renton to Seattle is a different problem to solve. In this post, I'll talk about strategies for the first mile (getting to the transit hub) and the last mile (getting from the transit endpoint to your actual destination). Even though this post will have specifics about my area, the same struggle likely exists for anyone trying to bike to work in any city.
I recently gave a keynote presentation at tcworld China 2021 on the topic of tech comm and marketing. This post provides a recording of the presentation, slides, and detailed notes for the presentation.
I added a new article in my API doc course called Ensuring documentation coverage with each software release. Getting a good handle on your release process -- such as understanding the cadence of releases, how features are tracked and tagged in different phases, and other checkpoints prior to the release signoff -- is central to thriving in any documentation role. Providing doc coverage for each release ensures you don't accrue documentation debt, and it boosts user satisfaction for the new features being released. This article adds to about a dozen other process-oriented articles in the processes and methodology section.
I recently added an article titled Processes for reporting status to business stakeholders to my API course. Sending documentation status reports can help foster trust and awareness with your business stakeholders. These stakeholders might be the core leadership within your organization or simply your management chain the next level up. Besides building visibility and relationships with these stakeholders, creating these status reports each month gives you a regular cadence for doc assessment and analysis, which is also helpful.
I recently gave a webinar to tekom Europe about product overviews and getting started tutorials. The recording and slides are below.
In Hashtag #TechComm: An Overview of Members, Networks, and Themes from 2016-2019, published in Technical Communication Journal (68.2 May 2021), Chris Lam identifies trends and themes in the tech comm field by looking 75,000+ tweets that used the hashtag #techcomm from 2016 to 2019. Previously, academics looked at job advertisements to identify trends, so this Twitter analysis for data provides a new approach to identifying trends.
I added two new sections in my API doc course exploring reasons for poor product overviews and sometimes absent getting started tutorials. I'm still adding to this section but wanted to share the current content. These are all first drafts that I hope to refine a bit with more imagery, proofreading, examples, and other detail, so if you have feedback, let me know in the comments. I'm trying to explore reasons why these two content types often fail or are weak. It's less of a best practices section and more like an analysis about causes.
Because it's NBA championship finals time, I thought it might be fun to write a basketball-themed post focusing on basketball strategies that succeeded or failed, and how any of these strategies might apply to technical writing. Beyond the specifics of any particular strategy, the larger application to tech comm is to simply formulate a strategy, to think strategically about how to "win" at technical writing. With that, let's jump into five basketball strategies.
In my experience writing documentation, at least two topics seem to be frequently neglected: product overviews and getting started tutorials. Not all the time — many companies also have great product overviews and excellent getting started tutorials. But I often have the misfortune of arriving at documentation portals and feeling lost, and I don't find much help in the product overview. If there's a getting started tutorial (not usually), my success rate for getting through it is low.
In this podcast, Fabrizio Ferri joins us for a discussion about adding both personal identity and personality to documentation. Why are the docs we write so often anonymous, and does that anonymity work against career progression? Are tech writers, typically introverts, averse to publicity, or does our industry not allow for it? And if you want to be a "personality" in the tech communications world, what do you do? How do you add personality constructively to your work without disrupting corporate brand and consistency?
Last week I wrote a post about ambiguous content and how one aspect of being a senior tech writer is taking on more ambiguous projects. In this post, I want to continue this thread on what it means to be a senior tech writer, or even a lead technical writer. But rather than exploring ambiguous content, senior/lead tech writers also have a lot more project/program management responsibilities as well. There are at least five key responsibilities I'll explore here: prioritizing work, defining doc strategies, organizing work among multiple writers, reviewing contributions, and reporting upward.
© 2023 Tom Johnson