How Technology is Making Us Lazy

lazy-computer

Inspiration for this article came from David Dick at STC’s Notebook.

Technology is making our life much more comfortable, and we are getting lazier.

Here are some of the ways technology is making us lazy:

  • You only visit friends or family on FaceTime or Skype.
  • You wonder where someone is if they don’t answer their cell phone immediately.
  • You buy a new pair of jeans on the Internet.
  • You pay all your bills online.
  • You order food and groceries online.
  • You blame your GPS for sending you to a dead end street.
  • You use Facebook to send holiday cards.
  • Your kids consider Wikipedia a reliable resource for term papers.
  • Family time involves everyone sitting together in the living room playing Candy Crush on their smartphones.
  • You friend and unfriend people on social networks without actually meeting them.
  • You write to your mother by sending text messages.
  • You call your father in the living room from your bedroom because you don’t want to get out of bed.

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Which Skill Sets Are Important for a Technical Writer?

techwriting

This article first appeared in Writing Assistance, Inc.

Like any profession, becoming a technical writer requires a mastery of a certain set of skills. When large manuals were the standard in the profession, this skill set involved primarily writing and illustration skills. But today the worlds of communications and technology have evolved dramatically. How has that evolution affected the skill set required for a technical writer?

Writing skills – For a technical writer, writing skills can never be overlooked. The technical writer still needs to write in a clear and concise manner and to be able to convey information appropriately for a variety of audiences.

Technical skills – The technical skill set of a technical writer depends greatly on the subject matter, product, or service that requires documentation. Hardware and software documentation differ in the skills that the technical writer needs to bring to the table. Additionally, pharmaceuticals and other manufacturing industries have specific requirements that translate into knowledge the technical writer must have.

A technical writer asked to document a developer’s guide may need to have a pretty good handle on specific programming languages, while a technical writer tasked with documenting a weapons defense system might need a high degree of engineering comprehension as well as a solid knowledge of government documentation standards.

Tools skills – Of course, a technical writer needs to know his or her way around computer systems, since they are used to produce documentation in a variety of formats. Specific tool knowledge, such as Adobe FrameMaker, MS Word, MadCap Flare, RoboHelp, and even PageMaker and Quark really depends on the tools the organization has come to rely on in order to produce its technical documentation.

However, technical writers are accustomed to learning – it’s really what they do, and most are capable of learning a new tool quickly and efficiently.

Interviewing and listening skills – Technical writers need to know how to ask questions. They also need to know who is the best person to approach and they need to have a feel for the varying personalities and preferences of the people – the subject matter experts, or SMEs – in order to know how best to approach them.

Once the technical writer has found the appropriate SME to approach, strong listening skills will be required to capture the information necessary and to know which follow-up questions need to be answered.

Design skills – An appreciation for the visual can be an important part of the skill set of a technical writer. Even the earliest technical documents didn’t consist of just the written word.

To a growing extent the technical writer needs an appreciation for graphics and formatting as well as illustration skills. Depending on the needs of the organization, these skills may only need to be rudimentary or they may need to be very advanced.

Usability and testing skills – A technical writer may also be asked to take an active role in usability and testing. Even if not asked to take a role, the technical writer knows that validation of the documentation is important – the confirmation that the product works the way it is documented to work. In some organizations, the technical writer is an important part of the User Experience team.

These skills are just a small part of what a technical writer brings to the table. The skill sets of a technical writer vary widely, depending on the technical writer’s experience and educational background.

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How Technical Writers Can Benefit from Agile Development

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*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

The main principle of agile development is that all members of a product team sit and work together, developing code, writing documentation, testing, and providing quality assurance. Technical writers benefit from this early involvement because documentation is considered part of the product, and documentation development time is factored into the product release.

Agile development increases the quality of deliverables and helps technical writers cope with change more efficiently. Often, development and documentation work on the same problems at the same time. When the whole team takes responsibility for quality, the quality of the product goes up.

Here are some of the basic terms used in agile teams:

  • Iteration — A period of time during which software is programmed and at the end of which the quality assurance (QA) testers verify that the software is working as expected.
  • Stand-up — A daily meeting in which the progress of the software development is communicated.
  • Story — The business needs that define what the software will do for the user. Stories are usually sized so that a single iteration is enough time for development.
  • Task — Defines all of the subtasks for a single story. For example, for the story “An administrator can add a new user,” one of the tasks might be “Connect the new component to an existing security component.”
  • Backlog — A repository for stories that are targeted for release during an iteration.

As a technical writer, you will be most successful when you are dedicated to a single agile team, not a resource shared by several agile teams. This enables you to attend all meetings, where you can gather information and overcome roadblocks. You can also agree with the development team on how many iterations the end-user documentation can lag behind the completion of features.

The best agile teams understand the value of documentation and that an integral part of creating successful, working software is excellent documentation.

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