Technical

DITA

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.

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

The Changing Face of Technical Writing:

At a recent job fair, one of the recruiters said something to the effect, “They don’t have those any more do they?”  Many of the vendors at the fair were looking for engineers and other technical professionals, but I did find several firms looking for technical writers, many on a contract basis.

The question is, Is the field of technical writing going away?  The answer is no, unless, engineers and other technical professionals learn to use language that clients and customers can understand and are willing to write the marketing and training materials that go with the procedures and products they produce.  However, the technical writing field is changing.

I was recently reading a blog that was discussing changing the title of Technical Writing to something more current.  The problem is, while the field of technical writing is expanding, attempts to change the title would only give upper management an excuse to lower the  wages and professionalism of our field; not too mention create confusion among the field itself and emplyers.  Currently, many firms are eliminating their full time technical writers and hiring contract technical writers or temporary technical writers as the need for documentation arises.

These new developments make work in the field of Technical Writing a different creature.  There are challenges, but there are also opportunities to expand the field as well.  The face of Technical Writing is changing.

DragonTech Writing, championing the cause for technical writers.

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

Revised Mission Statement

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.