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!

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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!

Technical Writing World

I wanted to give a great big shout out to Technical Writing World.

It is a social group for Technical Communicators – but anyone can join. I find that I learn something new every day, and it is a very valuable resource – a wealth of information. There are members from all over the world, which puts an interesting slant on the conversations – you know you’re truly getting a global view on any topic. And while I might not log in every day, I do check it every day – and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

There is a list of blogs where you can read about the latest trends and thoughts about everything from single-sourcing and DITA to Wikis and Web 2.0. I check this list (the TechComm Superfeed) every day, and learn more about the latest trends, trials, and tribulations than I do in my college classes. (Don’t misunderstand me; I’m learning a ton of stuff in my classes, but the latest topics and ideas area always here.)

There is a terrific community there, where people ask questions and anyone with an answer can and will answer your question. And you can ask anything – from tips and tricks in a word processing software, to the latest theory in online help and how to integrate comments into your help. And there’s never a lull in the conversation – I check it about 3 or 4 times a day, and there’s always something new that I didn’t read before.

So if you’re looking for some information on technical writing, or another community to join that relates to technical communications, be sure to check out Technical Writing World. I know it’s someplace that I feel welcome and not afraid to ask anything, and it’s definitely a place where community is the best asset.

What I Do

I’ve been looking at the graphic I use and how only 10% is actually writing. And it doesn’t matter if it’s composing something for a Word document or an HTML file – I count both of those as writing.

So it occurred to me – what else do I do? I came up with this list of non-writing tasks that I do every day:

  • Formatting documents
  • Editing documents
  • Manipulating HTML files
  • Generating pre-written documents from a database (culling the information together without writing it)
  • Logging completed projects into a tracking database
  • Entering project info into MS Project
  • Status Reports
  • Meetings

What else do you do? What am I missing? As always, I’m looking forward to your input!