Online Mentoring. A great article with some advice for individuals considering the technical writing field.
A Technical Writer has to stay up to date on the latest publishing software and trends within our field. We also have to be able to explain those software or trends to our employers or clients. I started to read about DITA about three years ago and I did not pay much attention. I was hired by YESCO Electronics as a technical writer. Their software choice was Adobe InDesign with their publishing choice being PDF. I was okay with this until I started documenting several different types of documentation that consisently required updating.
I started to read more about DITA and how efficient it could be. I tried to find a way to pitch DITA to the company. However, I could not find an article that really delved into the why should I care as a technical writer or why my employer should care; until now. “Why Should I Care About Dita? by Jacquie Samuals, published by TechWhirl, explains why technical writers should care about DITA. It also has some pointers to bring to management that would make any team look into DITA such as consistency and quality.
If you are a technical writer or a student in this field, I highly recommend that you read this article.
There are several different word processors out there, each has advantages and disadvantages. They each use different file tags and will access some of the universal tags differently. This is another area that Technical
Writers should be familiar with in order to survive.
A company will likely send a draft of what they want converted/translated/polished in a format using their preferred word processor. Yes, Word is popular, but there are still diehard Open Office, Wordperfect, and other word processor users out there and the extension (the three letters behind the dot that follows the file name) will be different for each.
Many word processors will convert files from other word processors to their format but the results may or may not be acceptable. PDF is another extension that is universal but typically information is lost and it is difficult to edit a PDF file.
There are two solutions to this dilemma. First, make sure that you have a working copy of every word processor used by any customer. This is the best solution but obviously this is impractical for most writers. The next best solution is to request that customers send files with a .rtf extension. Most word processors have a save as function and will allow users to send files with an RTF extension. The advantage is that RTF files can be opened by most other word processors. They can also be easily edited and saved into the same format without losing graphics and other information.
By Neil Dabb
When we first started this business, we printed up fliers to hand out to potential customers and clients. We created something quick and did not revisit it until almost six months later. Here is the original, keep in mind it is two fliers on one page, DragonTechone page flier
It has all the pertinent information such as business name, services, blog address, names, contact information, etc. However, it is a jumbled mess. There is no organization for a reader’s eyes to follow. There was no thought what so ever put into this flier; other then to get our name out quickly. This is a mistake that most businesses make, including ours.
Anything that has your businesses name, logo, or information needs to be carefully planned, discussed, and executed to make sure that it reflects your business and the audience you are targeting. It could be as simple as a flier or as complex as a website. The point is you have about 3 seconds to catch your audience’s attention before they move on to the next business.
This flier is part of our marketing campaign to introduce us to professionals and businesses that may need our services and it does not show who we are or the services that we offer. We quickly came up with a layout and design that reflected what we could do for other professionals and businesses. Here is the new flier, still two fliers on one page, DragonTech Writing, Flier. Can you spot the differences?
This flier has the exact same information as the first with some tweaks. It catches the eye and is organized for our audience to scan it quickly. Our business name and logo are now separated from the information by stylistic elements. Okay, it is just a line but it still allows a reader to zoom in on the business name. The second line lets the audience know that they are done reading. It also tells us where to cut the flier so we don’t accidentally cut out information.
This is the flier we should have started with to market our company. This is what we can do for you or your company, point out the flaws in your documentation then create a design and templates that represent your business accurately.
Here’s a definition of technical writing that I am going to use as part of a conference presentation:
A broad definition of technical writing: Any non-fiction writing of a technical or business nature. Sub-groups may include: Computer software and hardware documentation, process documentation, training materials, presentation materials, marketing materials, HR manuals, business plans, resumes and cover letters, engineering documents etc. A technical writer also translates technical jargon into English the rest of us can understand.
Alternate titles for a technical writer may include, copy writer, report specialist, documentation specialist.
I met with my partner, Neil, and we revisited the mission statement that I had created. This is what I had created:
DragonTech Writing is a contract technical writing service that provides documentation in the following areas software, process, business, marketing, and portfolios (resumes/cover letters) for companies and individuals. Our mission is to provide companies and individuals with documents that are clear, concise, and useable for their customers, clients, or perspective employers.
While he did like it, he felt that it could be stronger. Keep in mind that he has experience writing mission statements for non-profit organizations.
Our mission is to provide local businesses, individuals, and entrepreneurs with clear and concise business documents (such as resumes, cover-letters, business and marketing plans, instruction and operations manuals, portfolios, etc.) as well as instructions on how to use those documents. We will also aid businesses in documenting processes, hardware, and software.
What he did is he put the people and places that we are targeting first; whereas, I put the types of document first. Basically, that is our market people or businesses who need help with documentation. Our market is not documents, they are not going to make conscious decisions to hire us.
He then stated that we will provide these companies with clear and concise business documents and created a list in parenthesis that clearly shows what we offer. We offer a wide range of services that will continue to grow as our business develops. The parenthesis state here is what we have so far but we are not limiting ourselves and we will offer instructions for the use of these documents if needed.
I will admit I was upset at first; its that ego thing that gets in the way from time to time. In the end, I quickly realized that his mission statement wasn’t better than mine. They both state the exact same thing but his is stronger and targeted for our market.
Networking is currently a hot topic for most professionals today. However, there are a few of you, myself included, who may not fully understand how networking actually functions.
For instance, we have had a Facebook page since August. I noticed last week that we weren’t getting any traffic to the page. I decided to investigate. I quickly discovered that in order to get traffic to the Facebook page we needed to invite friends and family to like our page. I quickly invited people that I thought might interested in our services or people who might know someone who would be interested in our services. I then explained this to my partner, Neil, so he could invite people that he knew. One of the people he invited was me. Yes, I got so caught up in promoting the page to others that I forgot to ‘Like’ it myself.
The point is when you are networking the smallest detail can trip you up. You have to be willing to put yourself forward and say ‘Hi, my name is Melinda Anderson and I am co-owner of DragonTech Writing.” Then follow up with what services or products you have to offer and a business card. Chances are that the individual you are talking to might not need your services or products but they might know someone who does.