Monthly Archives: November 2008


Post-undergraduate paths and careers

I recently read Tom Johnson’s post in response to an English and technical writing undergraduate major considering either law school or a pursuing more education in technical communication. Rather than post a comment, I thought I’d write a post on my blog as a trackback. Isn’t that what blogs are for, after all?

As a response to the original email Tom quoted, I’d offer the obvious – that deciding whether to get a masters or other advanced degree in technical writing is not an easy decision. I have interviewed two different people who took that path, and their interviews might be helpful to those who want to make a decision:

A recent graduate talks about her experiences getting a masters degree in technical communication

Should I get a graduate degree in technical writing? Interviews with those who have

A master’s degree worked well for me when I was a 22-year-old with a BS in Chemistry in hand. The summer prior to my senior year, I had completed a 3-month job as an analytical lab technician. When I found myself more interested in reading the manuals for the spectrophotometer than running tests for eight hours on second shift, I found out more about technical writing graduate programs. Miami University’s Masters of Technical and Scientific Communication degree program turned out to be the best combination of the practical, technical, and theoretical skills you’d need to transition from any undergraduate degree to technical communication.

Whenever I bring up this topic at lunchtime discussion or on email lists, the classic argument surfaces – learn by doing, or learn by being taught? I don’t take a side in that argument – I can offer examples of success either way. The pathways to a technical communicator job are winding and varied. You can learn a lot about choosing your path by talking to those who have gotten there in many different ways.

OLPC wiki writing

OLPC Book Ready for G1G1!

Tomorrow, Monday, November 17 is the launch of the new Give One Get One campaign for 2008 – meaning, once again you can buy your very own XO laptop. The tagline for this year is Give a Laptop. Get a Laptop. Change the World.

You can buy yours at

All our community author’s work has culminated into a book that’s now for sale on Lulu, and as soon as we can get it listed on Amazon, the book will be available there as well.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

The back cover of all FLOSS Manuals books say “Please copy!” We fully intend for the OLPC Laptop Guide to available to anyone who wants one. You can purchase a printed copy at Lulu for a modest markup (that funds future booksprints and the like), or download the PDF, or remix the content at

The neat thing is, once you’re done with a real book, you can pass it on to the next person who wants to learn about their XO. My hope is that XO users around the world will get a book and pass it on.

Shows front and back covers of the Laptop Guide for OLPC
Shows front and back covers of the Laptop Guide for OLPC

Does your CMS help your content tweet?

Wow, now here’s a neat content mashup.

It’s a PDF with links that automatically fill your Twitter status with a TinyURL to the catalog item. Download the catalog now. According to her email to the Twitter Moms network, apparently Megan Calhoun created the catalog with iPhoto and then had to figure out how to get it from 20 MB down to 2 MB. (Do tell!)

Et voila – the world’s first tweetable catalog. Neat!

The syntax for the Twitter links goes something like this:

When you click the link, you go to your Twitter home page and the status box contains the text after status=.

My thoughts naturally turn to ways this URL could be used in online user assistance, but I’d rather hear your ideas on that! I also wondered if there’s an API for TinyURL so that you could enter the long URLs in your CMS and have the CMS automatically turn them into TinyURLs for your content deliverable.

Certainly a simple, elegant, therefore brilliant use of pages, photos, and links. What do you think? Should content tweet?


How does search affect delivery and presentation methods?

Search technology and its application by our users is an ever-growing aspect of technical documentation today. How many times have you seen “I found the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article using a Google search.” (or have you been guilty of doing the same yourself?) I say “guilty” because it’s funny that Microsoft has built the best content site in their Knowledge Base and yet a competitor’s search engine brought the user to the site.

Sure, any knowledge base absolutely must have a search engine and search box available to visitors to the site. A manual of some sort was once a requirement for a consumer product, but I’m not sure if a book-like manual is a requirement any more. Will the custom crafted search engine go the same way?

In the case of someone finding the content using another search engine, it means that for that particular visitor, all the resources and time and money spent on providing a search engine specific to that knowledge base was wasted. There was zero return on investment for the search engine but all return on investment on the content itself.

agile DITA techpubs wiki

Structured Wikis and Software Engineering – Documentation Throughout the Process

Lisa Dyer and I have co-authored another paper about structured wikis, using DITA as the structure for the wiki. The paper contains specific ideas about using wikis both internally and externally for software engineering processes and software documentation.

Our assertion is this: While either waterfall development methods or Agile development methods could benefit from the collaboration a wiki offers, we believe that DITA typing combined with the wiki collaboration offers even greater benefits than DITA alone or a wiki as a standalone authoring environment.

We think this one is worthy of a price tag, so it’s available for sale here at Just Write Click. You don’t need a PayPal account to purchase if you click-through the links that don’t require you to login to PayPal, you just need a credit card. Once you purchase it, you’ll go to a page with a download link to the PDF file. We’ve discontinued the selling of this paper and thanks to those of you who purchased it, read it, and took off with the ideas!

You can now download the paper originally submitted to the Wikis 4 Software Engineering at WikiSym 2008.

We’ve revised it based on feedback from three reviewers who had excellent commentary and were not technical writers, so it should contain useful information for technical writers, developers, software engineers, business analysts, project managers, and quality assurance engineers.