Monthly Archives: April 2011

techpubs work writing

Playing with the Future of Technical Communication

I have a great group of mom friends who also happen to be technical communicators. One day last month, my friend posted this picture her 6-year-old daughter made and asked if technical writing is genetic. Ha!

The first 12 steps for making a dinosaur of Play-Doh

Her mom says, “These are her first 12 steps of 20 that show how to make a Play-Doh apatosaurus.” You may know the apatosaurus as the brontosaurus.

This elementary-school student definitely “gets” that the future of tech comm is in pictures. She knows her audience – likely a non-reading audience that can recognize numerals. Plus she starts at the very beginning, piecing the steps and not making any assumptions. She even shows how to pop the top off the container of Play-Doh.

I loved this illustration and just had to share. I got permission from the copyright holder through her legal representative, her mom. 🙂 Thanks to both of you for sharing your talents!

So, how do we learn how to get the steps right? One educational exercise I’ve learned to demonstrate technical communication is to have students write out instructions for how to prepare a bowl of ice cream. You can have students write and illustrate the steps, and then exchange instructions to test the quality of the steps. Ice cream may never land in a bowl, or there may be no scoop tool, but it sure is fun to take a task and put it into the smallest self-contained step that you can. Students learn quickly that you should write down prerequisites and ensure your assumptions about the starting point match the end-users concept of the start point. I find myself coaching technical writing now that I work with a volunteer writing group. I wonder if I can run an ice cream demo at one of the doc sprints sometime. What are some other coaching ideas for technical writers?


Learn about Leveraging the Social Web for Customer Support

The webinar and interview we recorded last week thanks to MindTouch is now available for your listening and viewing pleasure. I had a blast talking to Scott. I thought we might argue a bit on some of the points, but we were in much vehement agreement that day! It’s just over an hour long.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

After the webinar, I answered a few questions on Twitter that were interesting and we didn’t get time to discuss during the hour. I liked this one from @bmdesignhki, Asko Kauppi:

How about making LESS documentation, by having customers scrap out the unnecessary parts. Who likes documentation?

My response was:

Love the question about making LESS docs – I think web analytics will let us be ruthless in our deletions! 🙂

I am still ruminating on this a bit, though. How can we enable our customers to be ruthless about deleting the documentation on a site? We’ve carefully crafted this content, might even have a strong feeling about it, even (gasp) ownership! A customer won’t have this difficulty letting go of the words, so to speak. But if the analytics say it’s gotta go, it’s gotta go. Nearly all the web analytics work I’m doing right now is tightly access controlled. We can send reports to the community, but I don’t know if I’d want the community to do my deletions. Especially if one of the community members was prone to say “Who likes documentation?” Hee hee. Not sure about crowd-sourced deletions, but it does seem like it’s a great job for a fresh cleanup crew. Maybe instead of Earth Day clean ups, we need more Content Day clean ups. Definitely got me thinking more about clean lines and clean docs.

Another question that came through on Twitter was from @djtowne, DJ Town, she asked:

What metrics should social support sites provide?

My response was definitely truncated as 140 characters is hardly enough to respond within, but I said:

re: social support metrics: new v. return visits, time on site, what are they searching for? Comment response metrics for sure.

The longer answer is contained in this post, Web Analytics for Technical Documentation Sites. I have more ideas as well but I’m doing some research with my own OpenStack community documentation to test out some theories. Until I blog again, enjoy the webinar.