Fundamentals

I before E

i before e

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PDF, RTF, TXT, DOC, DOCW…. Which file extension do I use?

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

Technical Writing Defined

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.

Neil Dabb

Painless? Hints for Re-writing.

For some writers the act of re-writing is the bane of their existence. For most of us, it is an absolute necessity. There are very few writers that can get away without some re-writing, and while the process of re-writing can be an adventure, for some of us, this is not the case. Here are a couple hints that may make the re-writing process more effective, and perhaps a bit less painful. These tips are given from the point of view of a fiction writer, but they should help the non-fiction writer as well.

The first tip, read your story backwards. If you have a hard copy, start from the last page and read one page at a time till you get back to the front. If you are working on the computer, read one screen at a time beginning at the end and moving toward the beginning.

When reading from the beginning to the end of a story it is easy to get involved in the story and miss grammar and spelling errors (sorry folks spell check is far from perfect). It is also easy to miss tense and voice issues such as passive verses active voice, past or present tense. Reading a story from the back to the front will aid writers in finding these types of issues.

The second tip, writing is like a fine wine, allow your story to age (put it away for a while). Allowing your writing to age gives the writer time to forget how great the words sounded when they were first put on paper (or into the computer). This helps the writer ensure that the words still sound good when the writer becomes the reader. It also allows the writer to find elements crucial to the story that never made it onto the page and fill them in. Also, like reading your story backwards, forgetting can aid the writer in seeing grammar, spelling and tense or voice issues. Giving your story time to age gives the writer a fresh perspective on the story allowing them to see flaws in the plot that may have slipped past them the first time.

How long a piece needs to age depends on the writer, and the piece. Some pieces require only a few days while other pieces may require months or years to reach their prime. Some writers may use this as an excuse to procrastinate, taking time off from their writing, but working on other projects during the aging process keeps the mind functioning and may allow the writer to discover even better ways of expressing the ideas in the story that is aging. Put the piece away, but not the pen!

The rewriting process is one that usually requires patience. Some writers consider it the bane of their existence. While reading the story backwards is time consuming it will reveal a different set of issues to the writer than reading the story start to finish. Likewise the aging process is time consuming, but the act of forgetting may not be a bad thing in this case. My experience has been that both processes can yield a much cleaner piece of writing when used properly and consistently.

By Neil Dabb

Networking

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.