Writing process

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.

Hit and Miss; Our Marketing Flier Mistake

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.

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

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.

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