Have you thanked your technical writer today?

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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tip in writing: Beware the homophone

In many forms of writing, a writer relies on word processors to catch issues. One issue that is difficult for word processors to catch are mistakes with homophones. According to Merriam-Webster (2014) a homophone is "a word that is pronounced like another word but is different in meaning, origin, or spelling." In writing that needs to be clear and concise, this accidental switch will definitely confuse a reader. Just imagine switching minor with miner, elicit with illicit, or switch theirs with there's. A switch like that may not happen often for most writers, but it is still a great idea to read through work to look for any of these issues so that they don't get into a document, especially if one is a lone writer at an organization and has no editor.

My vote for the most accidental use of a homophone: to and too
It is just too easy to hit that extra o by accident.

Merriam-Webster. (2014). Homophone. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/homophones?show=0&t=1390180461

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year! What are your Goals?

It's now 2014 and time to contemplate career and personal goals. The new year always provides a lot of excitement and the fresh feeling for new potential. Personal goals are very subjective as are many tech writing goals for individuals and organizations. Here are a few suggestions to think about when setting tech writing goals for you and your organization.
  • Style guides - do you need to create them for your organization or update the ones you have?
  • How are documents managed? Is it time for a content management system or just better organization?
  • Talk to your manager? What are their needs? Can you align your documentation goals with their expectations?
  • How can I improve communication with my subject matter experts (and their departments)? 
  • What needs updating? Not just docs but policies and procedures...
  • Do we have a quality control procedure for the organization's documentation?
  •  Any way to save money or improve documents in general? Perhaps recommend if management is still using paper docs that they could go online or update a current web site for customer usability.
  • Can documentation redundancy be reduced?
  • Is there any piece of software that would make creating documentation better? (This should include reduce time to create docs, better usability, and all together better?) If so try to get a cost and write a proposal to management.
  • Consider creating surveys (lots of free stuff out there like Google docs or Survey Monkey) to find out the positives and negatives of your docs (anonymous feedback is great. Just drop the outliers and look at the main body of feedback).
  • Is there any software you want to learn or any new skills you'd like to take a class in to improve your job? Consider a certificate program if you don't have a degree in tech writing even if you have been tech writing for a while. New perspectives are great, just make sure you focus on courses that offer a practical approach.  (For example CSUDH's technical communication certificate.)
  • Consider branching out to other types of technical writing for your own personal skill enhancement. Do you like white papers? Consider writing one or ghost writing with some SMEs.
There are so many opportunities to increase your organization and your own personal potential that the list can go on quite a while. So I recommend every technical communicator ask themselves at the beginning of the year "What are your goals?"