Links for the week

Writing Policies and Procedures Manuals: What’s a Policy? What’s a Procedure? at Technical Communication Center

Useful links for tech writers at Everyone’s Blog Posts – Technical Writing World

Advice about breaking into tech comm at Kai’s Tech Writing Blog

Subtle Differences at Technical Writing Tips for the Oil Patch

Ivan Walsh – A Technical Communication Interview at Technical Communication Center


Software We Use

There seems to be a debate as to what is the best software for Technical Communicators to use. It would be nice if you could choose your software, but there are those of us who are told to use what the company uses. And that’s what we have to use. Yet for ourselves, if we had enough money, we could choose to install the software we felt most comfortable with. However, for us mere mortals, that is just a dream, and we use what the computer comes with. Perhaps we supplement with some freeware or software that is old enough to be marked down in price. But the concept is the same – most professional software is well beyond our reach.

If you had your druthers, what would you choose? And why?

The next question I have to ask is why is software so important to recruiters and hiring managers? It really doesn’t define what we do, yet that seems to be what they look at first. Some people are FrameMaker people, others are Word people. Some people use Help Authoring Tools (like RoboHelp), others create them from scratch (by using DreamWeaver or some other HTML authoring tool). Just because the company uses one brand of software and you prefer another brand, doesn’t mean you can’t learn the other brand. And it shouldn’t mean that you are automatically counted out of the running. (Shouldn’t, but we all knows that sometimes it does.)

What do you think? As usual, comments are always welcome!


There is a debate going on today as to whether or not tech writers need certification in their field. STC is offering a certification, and the debate rages on as to how much value it is worth.

I am of two minds of this. On the one hand, it’s always nice to have initials after your name, to show that you’ve studied something and passed their tests. For instance, I’m currently pursuing a CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) certification – Project Management certification for those without the managerial experience. I want to augment what I can already offer, and it’s not outrageously expensive. I’ve been studying it for a while, and am almost ready to take the test.  And I know of others who are certified in other complimentary fields; to show they have the breadth of knowledge to do whatever writing job is necessary for their field.

But the CPTC (Certified Professional in Technical Communication) certification is another story. Their prices are much larger than PMI’s prices, and are currently well beyond my means. They say that you can ask your employer to help – that may have been fine for the 90’s, but for today’s penny pinching climate, some of us need to do this on our own. And it’s not just a test; you have to turn in a portfolio of your work. Which some of us can’t do because of non-disclosure agreements that we have with the companies we work for.  Now, I happen to have a relatively new portfolio because of the work I’ve done for my Master’s degree – I can easily use that. But what about those practitioners who got their degree years ago? Or those who can’t pull together a portfolio without erasing most of the information because it’s all proprietary? A résumé just doesn’t cut it with this certification.

So, unless it comes down in price, I will be forgoing the CPTC certification for now. It’s something that I would love to get, but it’s just not possible, given the current economic status.

Are you pursuing the CPTC? Or other certifications? Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear your opinion!

Talk to your user?

I’ve almost completed my Master’s degree in Technical Communication, and most of the classes say the same thing. You must talk to the user to see what they need. (This may be different from what they say they want, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

I know it is rule #1 in all of technical writing – Talk to your user. You can’t create a product without knowing what the end-user needs. Yet I’ve been in multiple positions where we were so removed from the end consumer that it’s very hard to know what they really need. I’ve spoken to the client about what they need, I’ve asked to speak to the end-user, and yet the client always says that they know best. So I’ve done what any good writer does – given the client what they ask for.

But then I get some feedback (usually about 6 months later) about how the end-user liked the product I delivered. And it’s usually not as well as I had hoped. They need feature A and I was told to deliver feature B. Or they were expecting feature B and I delivered feature L – something totally different and unrelated to what they need.

And I always find it amusing that the client comes back to me and expects me to take the blame for this. Because it’s my fault that I delivered what I was told to deliver, instead of what the end-user needed.

What do you do in a situation like this? How do you explain to the client that you really do need to communicate with the end-user? Please leave your opinions and comments below – they’re always welcome!

Links for the week

Arnold Burian – a Technical Communication Interview at Technical Communication Center

Do cave paintings reveal the origins of the Health and Safety user manual? at Cherryleaf Technical Authors

A day in a Technical Writer’s life at Technical Writing ToolBox

Writers Are Leaders at Technical Writing Tips for the Oil Patch

I am conflicted about typos at mike’s web log (very interesting point of view)

Technical Communications

I’ve been wondering about the difference between Technical Writing and Technical Communications. When people ask what you do, do you say “Tech Communicator” or “Tech Writer”? Everybody knows what a Tech Writer is, not many people have heard of a Technical Communicator. (Just look at Tina the Tech Writer on Dilbert!)

But the college degrees out there aren’t in Technical Writing, they’re in Technical Communications. You learn so much more than writing. You learn many different skills that you need for today’s market. For instance, since I’ve started taking classes for my Masters degree, I’ve learned how to make a podcast, a screen cast, a tutorial in Captivate, a decent PowerPoint presentation, and a proper project schedule in MS Project. And this is all on top of the writing topics in XML to DITA standards, writing properly cited term papers, and all about UX. There are terms I had heard before (like Information Architecture) that are a part of writing, but not the nuts and bolts of putting pen to paper.

There’s currently a discussion going on about the new paradigm of technical communications. Are we still writers? Yes, but that’s just a fraction of what we do. Are we communicators? Yes, but that’s not all. We are so diverse and multi-talented that it is hard to explain who we are and what we do. But, until we come up with a new term, Technical Communicators will have to do.

What do you think we should be called? What’s your opinion on the “technical writers / technical communicators” shift? Comments are always welcome!