Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

Tag Archives: Technical communication

Technical Writing: The 24th Best Job in 2015

technical_writing_2015

Careercast released the 2015 list of top 200 different jobs in the U.S. The ranking is based on four critical aspects that are inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook (Growth, Income Growth, and Unemployment), and stress. The data for this report came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government agencies in U.S.

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STC Webinar Recording- Higher Education in Technical Communication

I recently conducted a webinar on Higher Education in Technical Communication for STC India Management SIG. You can view the Youtube video recording of the session on this blog post.

I would love to hear your feedback regarding this session. Is it exciting? Is it boring? Would you like to attend my next webinar? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Webinar – Higher Education in Technical Communication

I am conducting a webinar titled “Higher Education in Technical Communication”  for STC India Management SIG. Please register if you are interested in learning more about higher education opportunities in technical writing.

Registration link: http://www.stc-india.org/events/webinar-jan-31-2015-higher-education-in-technical-communication/

higher education

Top 10 reads for the Year 2012: 30,000 views from 129 countries

Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading my posts and for sharing your thoughts and meaningful comments. It has been an incredible year and I feel grateful for so many gifts I received from God this year. I graduated (with honours!) from a post graduate certificate in technical communication (read about my journey here), I started a new life in Canada, got a great technical writing contract,  and visited my family after a long time.

I started blogging in March 2012 and even though I had posted only 41 blog posts, readers from over 129 countries visited my blog more than 30,000 times!

My top 10 blog posts in 2012 were (according to the number of views):

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Technical Writer Salaries- How much do Technical Writers earn?

Without money

Without money (Photo credit: Toban Black)

In our society, money is the most important reason for which people work. Of course, other factors such as learning and gaining a sense of accomplishment after doing their work are also a major driving factor for many. However, most of us will never work for free (at-least not full-time) since we all need to pay the bills. Compensation is often a closely guarded secret and we seldom talk about this important subject.

When I came to Canada, I tried to research over the salaries in the Toronto region and was surprised to see a wide range of reported salaries for technical writers in Canada (but none for the Toronto region). The best and honest advice about technical writing salaries in my area came not from the Internet but from the network I made with fellow technical writers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).

In this blog post I will try to share that knowledge for the benefit of others and will try to compare technical writer salaries in the U.S., Canada, and India.
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Enrolling for a Technical Writing Course?

A depiction of the world’s oldest continually operating university, the University of Bologna, Italy.- Image Credit, Wikipedia

Learning on the job is a great thing. But, is getting a higher education in Technical Writing after gaining some real-world experience a good choice as well?

I worked as a technical writer for eight years in New Delhi. Recently, I took a sabbatical to pursue a post-graduate certificate in technical communication from Seneca College, Toronto. The term sabbatical (from Latin ‘sabbaticus’, from Greek ‘sabbatikos’, from Hebrew shabbat, that is Sabbath, literally means “ceasing”) means – to take a break from work for an extended period of time, to pursue a goal.

Looking back at the golden triangle of cost, time, and scope, my decision to pursue higher education in technical writing after getting the real-world experience, was challenging and satisfying at the same time. I often felt that the learning outside the classroom is more important than studying in the classroom. For example, walking a kilometer to my class in -25 degrees, and under a heavy snowfall was as challenging as writing a technical autobiography for my technical writing class.

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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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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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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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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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The Art of Concise Writing

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” – William Strunk in his classic text The Elements of Style.

What is Concise Writing?

Writers often strive to achieve conciseness in their work. But what exactly does it mean to be concise?

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A day in a Technical Writer’s life

Good Morning!

My name is Gurpreet Singh and I’m a student of technical communication. I’m pursuing a yearlong post graduate certificate in technical communication from Seneca College, Toronto. Before joining this program, I worked as a technical writer for eight long years in New Delhi, India.

A lot of people in my class asked me to explain how it feels to work as a technical writer. They wanted to know if technical writing is exciting or does it becomes boring after spending few years down the line.

The interesting thing about technical writing is that technical writers enjoy a multitude of roles and responsibilities, which includes delivering documentation for a plethora of products while meeting stricter deadlines. Thus, no two work-days are alike. Each new day starts with a fresh set of challenges. These challenges make the day and the life of a technical communicator all the more exciting.

I work used to work as a Technical writer in the hi-tech Semiconductor domain, and develop documentation for a wide array of commercial EDA (Electronic Design Automation) software.  Technical writers in my organization are referred to as Learning Product Engineers (LP Engineers). Here is a snapshot of my day when I was working as a technical writer:

My day usually starts with a morning scrum meeting. Each meeting usually lasts for 15 minutes. During the meeting, each team member reports about what they accomplished on the previous day, issues or major showstopper, and the plan for the day of the meeting. These meetings are also called as stand-up meetings, because the goal of these meetings is to keep them brief and productive. Hence, all members attend these meetings standing instead of sitting.

Every Monday, we have a longer weekly meeting with our manager to discuss the status of projects, issues, challenges, and so on. Team meetings also provide a forum to discuss team-specific internal documents. For example, the Style Guide. Discussions about purchasing new tools also take place during these meetings.

Monday also happens to be the planning day when we set plans for the week including meetings with subject matter experts (SMEs) (blocking time in their MS Outlook calendar is essential!), training calendar for self, and scheduling meetings related to various internal and external projects.

Rest of the week is usually a good mix of long write-edit review cycles, meetings, and training.

A typical day in my work life looks somewhat like this:

  • Check corporate emails with a cup of hot Cappuccino: I receive most of the emails from my R&D team based in Santa Clara, California. Due to the time zone difference, they are 12 hours behind us (my night is their day). So, while I’m having a sound sleep, my colleagues continue to develop new features during their day, and send me various documentation requests.
  • Listen to voicemails: Few of the SMEs I work with hate writing long emails. Hence, they leave voicemails for me, which may include information about a new feature. Works great!
  • Attend documentation meeting: As a mentor, I attend documentation meetings to troubleshoot any issues faced by junior writers, or to redirect them to a specific group/person.
  • Moderate Wiki pages: We use Confluence Wiki to author, review, collaborate, and publish technical documentation. A nightly build generates chm, html, and pdfs, directly using the content from Wiki. The beauty of this system is that SMEs (R&D, QA, Sales, Marketing, and Management) can directly edit and add content, instead of routing every request to a LP Engineer. I edit the updated or the newly added Wiki pages for grammatical mistakes, accuracy, and adherence to our internal writing style sheet.
  • Install new software build: Every morning a fresh software build is made available in the repository. After installing, I usually play around with the application to check if there are new enhancements/fixes that are displayed in the GUI. Though, I often get documentation requests in form of emails or bugs logged in Bugzilla, it is not uncommon to detect a new setting popping in the new build.
  • Close documentation bugs/New Feature documentation: Every day I run a query in Bugzilla to check new documentation bugs/requests filed for me (New feature documentation requests are also filed as bugs). Some bugs need 5 minutes of effort while others (majority) may require an effort of couple of hours. Occasionally, I have bugs (enhancement requests) that might take a few weeks to get completed. Zero bug report is what my eyes dream of seeing everyday.
  • Lunch: Home cooked food with a few friends in the office cafeteria: A major stress buster for my day!
  • Research using internal/external networks: My work involves documenting extremely technical products for an audience that comprises Engineers and Scientists (who prefer no-nonsense technical documentation). Thus, I try to learn as much as I can about a new feature before I write about it.
  • Check the Doc Project Schedule: Since I work on multiple projects, I keep a tab on all the deadlines (daily/weekly) and try to make sure that everything runs smoothly. In case of a slippage in the schedule, I schedule a meeting with the project manager to mitigate any impact by lowering the scope, or by requesting a fresh deadline.
  • Conduct Trainings: I often get requests from various teams/groups within my organization to conduct training on Wiki, writing, presentation skills, and Lean/Six-Sigma topics.
  • Conduct Lean Meetings: As a Lean/Six-Sigma champion for my team, I lead few internal projects to reduce technical writing process timelines, reduce documentation defects, and improve productivity, and to find areas of automation with our technical writing tools or processes.
  • Coffee Break: Catching up with an old friend with a hot cup of coffee is nothing less than having an apartment in the heavens!
  • Conduct Toastmasters Sessions: Being the president of our Corporate Toast-masters Club, I often conduct the toastmasters session that help our club members (from various departments and placed at different levels in the hierarchy) to develop their presentation, public speaking, and leadership skills. I’m an award winning humorous speaker!
  • Conduct Peer Review: Every documentation project in my team has an author and a peer reviewer. The peer reviewer acts as a dummy user and tries to validate documentation for usability and functional errors, which are often unnoticed by the author. I review two projects in my team. Similarly, my own projects get reviewed by two different authors. I always get amazed by the fact that how easily others can catch errors in our work, which we fail to see, even after several cycles of internal testing.
  • Say Sayonara to work and head back to home-sweet-home!

Wait: Meeting with the Santa Clara R&D team is at 11.30 pm, and it extends well past midnight: Another disadvantage of the global work environment. But hey, it is still fun to be a technical writer working with global teams!

What do you think about my workday? Is it similar to yours? Leave a comment and let me know 🙂

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