Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

Visual Chemistry- Interaction of Text and Graphics

Visual Chemistry

Technical communicators often use graphics with written procedures to communicate complex ideas.

Illustrated text often delivers better information that is more readily comprehensible to readers. However, if illustrations are merely used as a decorative item then they do not convey worthwhile information, and have a significant impact on readers. Readers are benefited when illustration and text work together to put forward a complex idea in a simple way.

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Higher Education in Technical Communication- Is it worth it?

Technical Communicators are passionate about learning and often ponder on the question of higher education in the field of technical communication. The dream of gaining knowledge and credibility by pursuing higher education in technical writing often eludes technical writers at all levels of their career.

Gurpreet’s First Day @Seneca College

I worked as a technical writer for eight years in New Delhi and recently took a sabbatical to pursue a postgraduate certificate in technical communication from Seneca College, Toronto. The term sabbatical (from Latin ‘sabbaticus’, from Greek ‘sabbatikos’, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) means to take a break from work for an extended period of time to pursue a goal. In modern times, several professionals have started taking a sabbatical to pursue higher education in their chosen disciplines.

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My STC Presentation on Effective Presentation Skills

I conducted a skills development workshop for STC India (New Delhi) chapter two years ago. The workshop was warmly appreciated by the participants. The slide along with text transcript is available in this post.

Though the presentation shared in this post is two years old, the basic principles of presentation has not changed much in the past hundred years.

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Technical Writing ToolBox Readership Survey

Gurpreet Singh fights the wind chill and -24 degrees winters in Toronto, Canada.

Dear Reader,

I’m curious to know about you. Really!

Humans, in general, are curious beings. This is clear by the fact that About me is one of the most regularly viewed page on my blog.  You like to know about me. And I would love to know more about you!

This is a very unscientific survey to find out the demographics of my blog readers. This survey will only takes a minute or two to complete and will help me in writing content that interests you.

Please take a moment to fill this survey. Thanks in advance for your time.

7 causes of Inefficient Writing

Few weeks back I talked about three external factors that gives birth to inefficient documents.  Writers either have no or very less control over these factors. However, this is not always the case. In fact, usually a writer makes documents inefficient if they fail to remove common writing mistakes from their work. Let’s look at seven  factors that cause inefficient writing even when the content is technically accurate and the grammar is perfect:

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Difference between Task, Concept, and Reference topics in DITA

Task, Concept, and Reference in DITA

Task, Concept, and Reference in DITA

Note: The content on this page is based on work done by Bernard Aschwanden of
http://www.publishingsmarter.com and is used with permission.

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) specifies three basic topic types: Task, Concept, and Reference. However, people often get confused about these three types. Our cool (and knowledgeable) professor Bernard Aschwanden (he is an expert in DITA!) gave us an interesting exercise to differentiate between the three topic types in DITA.

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How to write a Technical Autobiography?

Technical Autobiography of Nikola Tesla

When I joined Seneca College (Post Grad) Certificate in Technical Communication, the first (informal) writing assignment we received was to write a technical autobiography (worth 10%) in the TCN700 (Technical Writing I) class.

Wait, I hear you saying that the term ‘technical’ and ‘autobiography’ don’t go well together. You are in good company as most of us in the class at that moment thought on similar lines. It was only when our dear professor explained the concept of technical autobiography when we understood how important it is for a writing student.

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10 Useful LinkedIn Groups for Technical Writers

LinkedIn started out in the living room of its co-founder Reid Hoffman in 2002 and now operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with 161 million members in over 200 countries and territories. It is available in seventeen languages: English, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

LinkedIn receives a new member after every half second. If you do not exist on LinkedIn then you are surely missing job and consulting opportunities available in this professional network. If you are present on LinkedIn, I invite you to get connected with me at http://ca.linkedin.com/in/gurpreettw.

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My talk on Technical Writing in George Brown College, Toronto

George Brown College (St. James campus at King Street) in Toronto

I was invited to give a talk on Technical Writing at George Brown College, Toronto few weeks ago. I talked about technical writing in general and how social media tools such as twitter, blogs, and LinkedIn can help them in getting a writing related  job or consulting assignments.

It was a lovely experience for me as I love to talk about technical writing and social media. I hope that my talk inspired few of them to use social media tools to demonstrate and publicise their writing portfolios and they will soon receive their desired writing assignments through this new tool in their arsenal.

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Top 3 Serial Killers of a Good Document

Don’t kill me- says your document!

Whether you are writing a user’s guide, online help, or an installation guide, you always strive to convey a meaningful message to your intended audience.

However, the message often gets diluted and becomes meaningless due to a number of reasons. Of course, a writer may not put enough efforts in making a message meaningful but most of the time several external factors contribute in killing the effectiveness of a document. Let’s look at the top three factors that kill a good document:

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The 2012 MadCap Roadshow in Toronto

MadCap Software visits several cities in the US, Canada and Europe to provide an intensive, one-day technical writing seminar called Madcap Roadshow.

Thanks to the heavily discounted price (75% off), available only for technical communication students, I registered for the 2012 Madcap Roadshow in Toronto. This event will be held on 17th May at Toronto Hilton. I am pretty excited about this event as this would be my first Madcap Roadshow. Even without the student discount I might have attended it at the regular price ($99) due to the value it provides.

The only thing I hate about this event is that it is scheduled on Wednesday instead of a weekend. I have to miss two classes, TCN806-Web-Based Training and Multimedia and TCN800-Technical Writing II, to attend this event. However, our cool professor, Beth Agnew, records her sessions and upload her slides and audio recording of the entire lecture in Blackboard so I can still go through it later in the week.

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Pomodairo: A Software Timer based on the Pomodoro Technique


Program Name: Pomodairo

Use: A software timer based on the Pomodoro Technique

Cost: Freeware

Size: 1.7 MB

Works on: Windows (XP/Vista/7), Linux and Mac (requires Adobe AIR)

Download Linkhttp://code.google.com/p/pomodairo

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5 Free Online Tools for Distraction-Free Writing

Last week I talked about the importance of distraction free writing and suggested five free desktop tools for distraction free writing. However, some of us cannot install any software in a workplace computer due to the mighty-IT department restrictions or often work on shared computers. If you find yourself in either of these scenarios then you can use an online version of a distraction free software.

An online distraction free tool allows you to write without any distraction. There is no installation required and it can work with any modern browser. Let’s look at five such online distraction free tools:

Update (19 Feb 2014): A reader comment pointed out that QuiteWrite, LightWrite and Writer are inaccessible.

1. Koi-Writer

Online Accesshttp://www.koi-writer.com


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Pomodoro Technique: A Recipe for Increasing your Writing Productivity

Pomodoro technique is a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and is quite effective in increasing work productivity. I’ve experimented with the Pomodoro technique and have received extremely positive results in increasing my own writing productivity.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Pomodoro technique

Image Credit: Luca Mascaro/Flickr

“Pomodoros” is an Italian term which means tomato. Pomodoro technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals called ‘Pomodoros’  separated by breaks.

The pomodoro technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that can be used to track your writing sessions.

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7 Useful Insights about How People Read Documentation

Reading is a primary form of communication for most people and they have different habits of reading. Not surprisingly, different people read product documentation in different ways. But how do they read and why should we care about their reading habits?

A writer writes with a purpose. This purpose gives shapes to their thoughts and allows them to convert their body-less thoughts to words. A strong correlation exists between a writer’s purpose and use of the document.

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TextCrawler- Search and Replace Text in Multiple Files

Program Name: TextCrawler

Use: Search and Replace Text across multiple files

Cost: Freeware

Works on: Windows (XP/Vista/7)

Detailed Review: Read here (opens in a new window)

Download Linkhttp://www.digitalvolcano.co.uk/content/textcrawler/tcdownload

I’ve often faced disappointment from various Help Authoring Tools when it comes to a simple text operations such as search and replace among multiple files. Most of the time I had to create a small macro that could do the job, or had to manually search and replace the text in html mode. Few years back I started using specialized text editors such as Crimson Editor and Notepad++ to do the job. They were good but limited in their functionality and took a lot of time to do the job.

I recently started using TextCrawler and have been pretty impressed with its ability to find and replace text among multiple files.

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Getting Rid of Misplaced Modifiers

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that restricts or provide additional information about other words, phrases, or clauses. Modifiers can be adjectives or adverbs. Modifiers that appear before the head are called premodifiers and modifiers that appear after the head are called postmodifiers.

We have a certain amount of freedom in deciding where to place our modifiers in a sentence:

We rowed the boat vigorously.
We vigorously rowed the boat.
Vigorously we rowed the boat.

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Five Best Distraction-Free Writing Tools for your Desktop

As a person who makes his living by writing, I have to admit that writing is hard work. And what makes it even harder are the constant distractions in our workspace. I’m not talking about noisy children, complaining in-laws, and constantly barking neighbor’s dog (although they all distract!). I’m talking about the constant electronic distraction on our computer screen.

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Technical Writing: The 37th Best Job in 2012

I always dreamed of becoming an astronomer- to see what no man has seen before. However my interest in learning and building complex systems encouraged me to become an Engineer and my love toward writing made technical writing a viable and exciting choice for my work. Which profession, other than technical communication, allows a person to use both his/her technical and writing skills at work?

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What is Audience Analysis?

In order to publish an effective help documentation, you must gather as much information as you can about your audience. For most technical writers, audience analysis is the first, and perhaps the foundation step, in developing documentation for an end-user while following a documentation development life cycle (DDLC).

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