Have you thanked your technical writer today?

The Mojo of technical communication and writing as mused by Dr. Lu Kondor

Thursday, December 19, 2013

End of year thoughts and interesting article

As it gets to the end of year, I always wish I wrote more on this blog but unfortunately work and what I call the time slip seem to happen far too often. This is the time of year I catch up on reading and writing (for my own work) and reflect on past, present, and future (think A Christmas Carol).

So I wanted to point out an article from the STC web site What I Wish I Had Known. It is a discussion on one technical communicator's experiences writing for a living. Perhaps my favorite recommendation in the list is  If you like something, do it. I agree with this wholeheartedly - even the risk taking. The Author said "Don’t be afraid to fail. The person who has never failed nor gotten fired is not stretching themselves enough." This is a similar saying from an old acquaintance in the entertainment industry who once said to me "You are not anybody in Hollywood until you have been fired at least once and quit at least twice."

Not that I am advocating getting fired but I think both speak to risk and reaching for those goals you wonder about. Taking a chance. As we come to the end of another year and the beginning of still yet another, I will reflect on that and evaluate goals anew. I have found that every time I take a new turn in my path, I come upon an unexpected but thoroughly exhilarating experience. I look forward to the New Year and new journeys along the path but most of all, meeting people along the way.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative

Confession, I do read Bloomberg when I get a chance (among the multitude of various blogs, magazines, e-zines etc. you get the picture). So I found the recent article on Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative very interesting since I teach online. OK - this is a bit off topic for technical communication but it applies to transferring of knowledge in a technical manner. I was excited to read schools like Wharton placing their course curriculum online. In my opinion the future of academics will definitely be in the realm of online education. I think it is essential for many students who can not commute on a daily basis for a variety of reasons to have options. As the article says it won't replace face-to-face education but I think it allows learning to continue for many of us where obligations prevent us from spending extra hours in a car or other form of transportation to get to a campus or those who have a spouse and/or children  need to be able to take care of those obligations.

 The most common negative element I have heard grumbled from colleagues in academia is the lack of communication among professors and students or students in a class room. That has not been my experience with online classes. More contact is made because there is an abundance of technologies and ways to connect with students and teachers. With all the latest technologies, I can't see communication taking a back seat. I should know, I went through a hybrid program for my doctorate and I have taught both online as well as in a classroom.

While some university professors look down on online education and feel it is inferior, I must disagree strongly. Education at any institution is what you make it to be as both a student and a teacher. Understanding the difficulties people have in leaving their comfort zone of the way education has been taught in the past, I struggle dealing with many who would rather bash new methods of teaching than research finer details first. The thing that is important is we must all keep an open mind. There was a point in time where women were not allowed in most Universities because of their gender and that change was hard fought and won, yet the university systems didn't fail because of change. Online education is here to stay as a change as well.  I hope that in the future technology can be embraced as just another learning tool in the tool box professors use to teach with.

Bloomberg article Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative

Friday, October 11, 2013

Writing Surveys to Collect Technical Information at Organizations

I have recently finished writing a number of surveys to acquire technical information from users. I actually love creating surveys because I learn a great deal about asking all the right questions for the information I need. They are also a collaborative effort sometimes involving quite a few individuals from subject matter experts to management.I thought I would write about it because I think this aspect of technical communication is rarely thought about. Here's what I have learned on creating surveys from my recent batch of them. I'm not getting technical like the type of instrument such using a Likert scale, but more in the area of basic ideas to keep in mind.
  1. Focus on writing a quality survey. Talk to your subject matter experts for research
  2. Do some usability testing - this step for me really counts. I find having a few people in your target audience try out the survey really helps.
  3. Change it as necessary - feel free to change or customize a survey for best results, especially if users test and you discover readability issues.
  4. Never assume users understand the questions. Make sure you rid yourself of a question if it isn't meeting the scope of the survey or standards you work by.
  5. Keep an open-minded attitude on the survey and the data collected. This is definitely something I learned getting my doctorate. Also watch for outliers and think about them. You may or may not want to discard them but don't ignore them.
  6. Focus on data and metrics that are actionable. Remember you need results to tell you something about what you are asking.
  7. Finally, get more involved feedback from users, subject matter experts etc. That way you can continuously modify if the survey is ongoing.
Now my approach for my current surveys  is slightly different from research I have conducted for academic data collection I have performed in so far as I am involved with far more individuals while designing the survey than I was in grad school. This means there will be far more compromises on the questions as far as rigid research standards go but I do find better data collection usually takes place because as everyone works together better questions are formed to retrieve the data organizational management wants. The one thing that doesn't differ however, is the grave attention to detail. That is a must for any survey. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Edward Tufte

One of my students in my Information Design Course reminded me of Edward Tufte and a course he had taken with Mr. Tufte. It reminded me of how inspirational and thought provoking his work is. I thought I would mention him because I feel he makes working in a technical field creative without losing focus. It reminds me we are visual creatures no matter how technical we get. His site is at http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Student surveys on their Digital Experience...

I have a colleague that shared the fact he conducts a survey at the beginning of the semester with his students on their digital experience. I thought this was brilliant. He shares the fact that he can use this information to better tailor the students' educational experience. He uses the survey results to assign study groups, let students see how their background compares to others, and as classwork to study.

I really like the idea gathering data to help students and allowing it to be multipurpose. As a teacher and adjunct faculty I think this could be a really great tool  to enhance the learning experience of many students. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

FEMA course materials for tech writing

I thought this was a great discovery. FEMA's Emergency Management Institute has a class in technical writing. There is free course materials as well. The core of the course promises to:

1.Identify the proper use of research in training project development.
2.Describe the various characteristics of written communications.
3.Explain the communication features of graphics and visual media.

IS-613: Technical Writing

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sentence structure of technical writing - MIT

I found this little presentation web crawling last night and I thought I would post it. I like this presentation because it is information on technical writing from the perspective of writing as a scientist. I basically teach the same principles in my advanced tech writing course at CalState but I smiled at the examples in the Simplicity: Use Details Wisely section. My favorite mantra is clear, concise, & cohesive.

I particularly like the Language Ambiguity section!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

AMWA Conference

I was finally getting back to my email - it has a tendency to stack up. When I saw an email on the upcoming conference for the American Medical Writers Association's (AMWA's) 73rd Annual Conference, being held 6-9 November 2013 in Columbus, OH. Since I haven't posted in a while I thought I would post this info  for those interested. I don't write for medical related pubs at this time but I thought there are those out there who do might want to attend. (FYI - STC members get $$ off registering.)


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do you have a good attitude at work?

I got an article in email on working with difficult personalities at work and how it can shorten your life. I have seen some similar issues that not only have an effect on health but on the quality of work and motivation. I think that it is worth a read and giving some thought to how attitude affects our work and lives.