How Technology is Making Us Lazy


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.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.


Which Skill Sets Are Important for a Technical Writer?


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.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.

Playing with NLP


Written by Teresa Goertz

People like people who like themselves. It was the first quote—though not the last— that Master NLP Trainer, Lindagail Campell, used to kick off the evening’s presentation, Picking up the Cues. Lindagail describes Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) as a comprehensive set of skills for personal growth and professional development, including verbal and nonverbal communication, psychology, language, modeling, strategic thinking, and perception. These skills are “the difference that makes the difference” between poor to mediocre performance and excellence both at work and at home.

Circling back to the first quote, let’s see how it applies to technical writers. Technical writers like other technical writers because they share similar traits or behave in a similar fashion. That’s great, but what’s a technical writer to do when they encounter SMEs, execs, bosses, coworkers, and others who aren’t like themselves? Here are a few simple NLP exercises you can use right now to improve your communication skills.

Build rapport

One of the easiest things to try is to establish rapport with another person by observing their body language, the tone and cadence of their voice, and the words they use. Building rapport is like a dance. If one partner is mismatched, rapport goes down, but if partners are on or about the same level, rapport goes up. For example, you dread your Thursday morning teleconference because a coworker practically bellows into his speakerphone. Sound waves hit our larynx and hurt our eardrums, and our instinct is to retreat, but that doesn’t help us when we want to be heard. Modulate the tone, raise the volume, and change the tempo of your voice. When you take your cues from the other person, you can drive the outcome of a situation to one that better suits your needs.

Be flexible

Many of us have probably noticed that when we make a slight change in our behavior, it can create a significant shift in another person’s behavior and often tips the fulcrum of any relationship toward a positive slant. For example, if your boss walks into your office and stands over you during the conversation, you might feel she might has the upper hand. You probably sense that there’s an even greater imbalance of power than normal, but if you stood up, you’d be on a more equal footing. Your boss would probably sense the shift and without mentioning what she was feeling, she would react accordingly. She might surprise you and offer you an opportunity to influence a new project that was previously out of your reach.

Set boundaries

When you’re caught in conversations with people who always drone on and on, and you can’t get a word in because they never seem to draw a breath, make sure you have a plan. While they’re talking, look closely at them and listen for a gap, even a small one, usually when the person pauses slightly or takes in a little air. That’s when you can interject with a question that interrupts their train of thought and makes them think differently. For example, you might ask them a leading question, such as ‘which part of this conversation do you want me to be sure to remember’? The person might react by being pleased that you think what they’re saying is important. Moments later, you’ll often hear them quickly summarize the salient points so you can be on your way. You’re interrupting the pattern and reframing the conversation. Here’s another example. Let’s say you receive a call and you know you won’t have much time to talk. Right away, share your agenda and set a time limit. You’re bringing the rules of engagement up front so that there’s no misunderstanding and everyone is aware of the parameters.

NLP offers some good building blocks for improving how you communicate with others. You don’t have to remain stuck in old patterns that don’t work for you and often hinder a relationship from moving forward. Try a few of these exercises and see if just a slight change in your behavior doesn’t shift a situation in your favor. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: There are no victims, only volunteers.