Trends in Technical Communication

In response to a reader’s question, I explore the impact of soft skills on the trends in technical communication. But, do the skills and trends have anything in common? Can the soft skills affect trends? If yes, how? Well, there are a lot of questions. And, I attempt to solve some of them in this post. Read the full post.

The Writing Principles

Have you ever come across a poorly written write-up? Have you ever felt that you could have written better? A couple of write-ups, which I read recently, drew my thoughts on writing about writing. I have always believed that anyone can write. But, if everyone can write, can everyone become a writer? I have explored this thought, and prepared a list (… which is not really an exhaustive one!) of guidelines that can help everyone write better. Read the full post.

The Inverted Tree of Information

I will start this post where I ended the previous one: the inverted tree structure of information categorization. As promised, I will talk about my interpretations on some of the verses in the Bhagwad Gita, which is a great source of inspiration for me on both, personal as well as professional grounds. Click here to read the full post.

The Ps that remained

The fact that I am a marketing graduate has had a considerable impact on the way I handle product documentation. I largely take things from the user’s perspective: Unlike the way a technical grad would handle documentation, I mostly like seeing it from the eyes of a marketer. While I was recently busy answering the “what’s-in-it-for-me” question (during the product documentation for an upcoming release), I stumbled upon this strange similarity between my education and my profession. Click here for the full post.

Reduce: To Improve

This post is about progressive reduction, which is what I’ve recently read about. From what I have gleaned, progressive reduction is about those gradual changes (mostly reduction) in the UI elements that relate to your time-lapsed incremental cognition of a product. In other words, progressive reduction is in continuously adapting the UI elements of your product based on the gradual improvement in its usability. Read the full post.

The Key Elements in Technical Communication

The bent towards information design is on account of its applicability – A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. The use of graphics minimizes the use of content. Rather, it squeezes the underlying message of the content into a graphics. Despite the usually observed bent of mind, I believe that the key elements of Information Design and Technical Communication are the same. Here’s how…

Choose Your Luggage.

If life is a journey, and not a destination, isn’t your life all about how long do you keep walking? The challenges that you face, the people whom you meet, and the experiences that you glean: it all adds up to count as memories in your life. And, unlike the materialistic aspect, your richness is not restricted to the amount of money you earn, but the amount of memories you gather. C’est la vie!

We meet different kinds of people in our life. Each one has their own, small (but important) role to play in our lives. Some get registered as family, some as friends, and some as enemies. But each of them contributes something to our journey. We either succeed with them, or earn experiences because of them. But, we never walk alone. Nobody does!

So, what do we do to make the most out of this life? What do we do to go really long? Or, at least, go longer distances than we initially thought? Let us see.

We travel with a lot of luggage. Although, mostly an unwanted one, the luggage packs our memories. We carry our aspirations, emotions, learning, pleasures, treasures, and experiences. All in all, we carry two sets of luggage: the positive ones and the negative ones.  The negative luggage (of agitation, anger, frustration, hatred, or jealousy) are like bundles of cotton. Each time we have those feelings, the bundles become wet. And, the more we have those feelings the more those continue to get wet. And, if you’ve realized where I am getting at, it becomes heavier, and consequently gets difficult (almost impossible) to walk with a heavier luggage.

But, if we choose to leave aside those presumptions, let go off that negative set of luggage, we will eventually cover great distances in our journeys … I have realized that irrespective of what result do we get, we must choose not to get disappointed. That’s because, we will either succeed or earn a sufficient amount of experience.

I choose to set aside this negative set of luggage, so that I can go longer distances. What about you?

#suyogsutra

It is always good to keep your (in)abilities well bracketed. #suyogsutra

I know what I can do. But, I also know what I cannot – which is equally important. That helps me set achievable goals and workable standards so that I keep myself motivated. Although, it may not always be a great idea to not strive for goals that are beyond your capacity. But, it is seldom that you try to achieve something that you know you can’t!

By keeping the inabilities “well bracketed”, I mean keeping them well in check. Brackets, here, are symbolic to categorized restriction (premise?). So, when you can keep a check on what you cannot do (or find impossible to achieve at a point in time), you can easily calculate what you can do.

At times, knowing what to reject works better than knowing what to accept. And, bracketing your inabilities is an important tactic in the strategy of rejection.

– Suyogsutra

Is Technical Writing Skill or Ability?

I often say this to myself: Anyone can write, but everyone cannot become a writer. But, when we can (and do) learn to write, why can’t we learn to become writers?

Language is a skill, which can be learned and mastered over a period of time. We must learn to follow the rules. Although subconsciously, notice that we almost always associate “writing” with “ability.” But, if that is true, why is writing (which is an ability) regarded as a profession (which is a skill)?

I recently read that writing features in a list of top 15 jobs that have survived for centuries, and assume it will continue to be there through the next century. This contradicts our current thread of discussion. Is technical writing really a skill or an ability? We can look to answer that question. But, first we must find if there are any rules for writing.

Now, the answer depends on what you would like to write. If you are writing prose, your work – in general – should be involving and interconnected, and contain a story. If you are writing verses, the work should have flow and be rhythmic and soulful. Still, none of these are rules. None of these [guidelines] can either be taught or evaluated. It is only the response to your work (or if I may say the reader connect) that can be evaluated.

So, can our work be evaluated based on the response? Certainly, it can be! And, it is a skill to drive the intended response. And, hence writing is a skill as well; a skill, which has some underlying principles, guidelines, and rules that govern the overall structure and quotient of impact and usability.

My take? I think, as I try to answer this question, the following points become noteworthy:

  • It takes a lot of practice to practice technical writing.
  • You need to be a writer (or think like one) – have a natural flair for writing, as they say!
  • You should love using technology.
  • It takes a lot of reading. But, read quality material.
  • You should enjoy walking on the thin line that separates skills and abilities

One last thought: You can have the inborn ability to smell the ingredients, but it still takes some learning to hone to skills of cooking. You can have the inborn ability to understand the poetry, but it still takes some learning to home your singing skills. On the flip side, you need to have some inborn qualities that match with your skills to create the “X-factor.” So, my take: Skill is to language; Ability is to writing. And, technical writing is skill-oriented ability.

Tech Comm and the Glossary of Biz Economics

Premise

In the regular classes on Business Economics, during my graduation, I learned about certain concepts that still apply. Two of such concepts, Buyers and Users, are applicable in technical communication to a great extent.

Can those concepts lend any insights to us? Do we prepare our documentation considering the buyers or users? Or, do we concentrate on merely describing the features? The discussion follows in this post.

Observation

The easiest way to begin the conversation is to see what demarcate buyers and users.

It is strategic to choose which side you represent as a technical communicator. At large, all of us fall on the same side of the table – the sellers. We obviously don’t “sell” our content, but we do contribute (both actively and passively) to the sales cycle. Deep down, however, we aim to write from the point of view of the buyers and users. Note that I am using an “AND” between buyers and users.

I prepare and release technical documentation, just as any of you do. And, like you do, I too focus on what my company’s products deliver. But, the basic concepts of Business Economics help me demarcate the buyers and the users.

Definitions

The same demarcation that applies to Customers and Consumers, applies to buyers and users as well. Consider the following introductions to customers and consumers, based on what I have gleaned from the subject:

Customers. They may or may not use the product (and hence may not always qualify as end users), but they are the ones who buy. They implement a purchase decision. They influence the purchaser, and hence the purchase decision. They do not consume the products but can use the services and hence can impact your communications. The brand-level changes affect their perceptions.

Consumers. They use the product but are not necessarily the ones who buy. They either feel or create a need to purchase. Therefore, they are the ones who create and govern the purchase decisions, but under the influence of the buyers. They consume products and avail services. The feature-level changes affect them. They mostly know what they need.

Analysis

The points mentioned above are generic, but they communicate the scenario effectively. Let us now take an example to further outline the comparison of behaviors. Pick, for example, a health drink for children; Let me define it as “NutraChamp.” As customers (or buyers, in this case), you are affected by the brand philosophy (or value proposition) of the product.

But, the fact that the product is available in the flavor of your choice, which is a feature-level change, will affect you only if you are the consumer (or the user) of the product. The choice to go for a particular flavor, or even color of the packaging will belong to the consumer, but the decision to finally purchase it will still belong to the customer. And, in all probabilities, the purchase decision will not be governed by the color of the packaging and the flavor, but the information supplied with the product. This is where documentation plays its part in the sales cycle.

The information supplied – in this case, the supplements fact sheet – plays a strategic role when purchasing a product. For technical communicators like us, it is therefore important to understand the buying behaviors to communicate only what contributes to the learning curve of our customers as well as consumers and hence affects their purchase behaviors.

Conclusion

In similar situations, I focus on providing what my customers need. Additionally, my documentation becomes more “sellable” if I also include what they want. My learning, from the Business Economics class, has paid off! Need is extremely important, and hence, in our example, if the NutraChamp health drink contains a combination of health benefits, taste, and flavor, both the buyers as well as the users will be happy and satisfied with the purchase decision.

As a marketer, I might think differently, but as a technical communicator, I will try to communicate the health benefits, by providing the supplements fact sheet, and miscellaneous documentation, if needed.

I understand that as a technical communicator, I do not write in the marketing terminology. So, the purpose of this post is not to tell you to package and present wants as needs to buyers and users. But, based on our interaction so far, it is not difficult to assume that our documentation should contain feature-centric, benefit-oriented information.

I do not intend to tell you to make documents more “sellable”, but when the documents should address the needs as well as wants, the points mentioned above can come in handy.