Posts tagged ‘web community’

Defining technical writing

“So what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“That’s cool, what do you write about?”
“Oh not like that, I’m a technical writer”
“Oh right, okay. So umm… what’s that?”

This is how the conversation usually starts. The next part varies depending on the most recent projects I’ve done. Sometimes I’m a website developer, other times I’m a trainer, but most of the time I’m just plain confusing. Technical writing just isn’t one of those jobs everyone has heard of. Not surprisingly either, considering I am one and don’t know how to really describe it.

So I did some research and it appears I’m not alone. In business terms, technical writers are traditionally bad at expressing their value. We’re even worse when it comes to defining the product we deliver. Businesses tend to hire us to create documentation because they see it as necessary evil, rather than an opportunity to add value. And ‘adding value’ is exactly what a good technical writer does.

But I can’t simply describe my job as ‘adding value’. That’s even more ambiguous than where I started.

What I mean is that when a user reads some documentation for the first time their experience has a flow on effect. A satisfied user will come back (loyalty). They will talk about it in a good way (promotion). And in work situations will be able to do their job faster (efficiency).

So, to put it simply and not sound too boring, next time I’m in the above conversation I think I’ll just say “I keep a business’s users happy by making things easy to read, easy to find and easy to understand”. If they’re not satisfied with that and ask how, I may have to give them the long-winded version…

Technical writing is about modifying language and structuring information specific to users’ needs. We technical writers are communicators, and we have the ability to work directly with users and subject matter experts not only to extract information, but to learn directly from their perspective. This approach allows us ask the right questions, pinpoint assumptions and above all, tailor the information in a way that will be easiest for users (especially new ones) to understand.

We often take our language skills for granted (I really should stop generalising, but I’m sure I’m not alone here), which is a key element of being a technical writer. We don’t take long to figure out how to put something in words, editing time is minimal, content is clean and consistent, and more often than not we’re so used to typing that we do it at an alarming speed. I know this is starting to sound like a pitch, but I’m still on my ‘adding value’ tangent.

Do we have any other technical writers reading this? How do you describe what you do to friends? Do you actually call yourself a technical writer? Or are you a documentation developer, instructional designer, or something similar? And more importantly, have I completely overlooked the easiest way to answer the “what do you do” question?



May 11, 2011 at 8:36 am 7 comments

Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch

McKinsey Quarterly recently published an interesting article covering ten tech-enabled business trends to watch. I summarised these below.

Trend 1: Distributed co-creation moves into the mainstream. Distributed co-creation means gaining value from your web community (followers, influential bloggers, etc.) by getting them involved (giving feedback, sharing ideas, asking questions, reviewing and rating products and services). To do this successfully, an organisation needs to gain and maintain the trust of their web community.

Trend 2: Making the network the organisation. Organisations can optimize access to sought after skills by setting up internal or external networks using web technologies.

Trend 3: Collaboration at scale. Using Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, etc.), organisations can reach better collaboration between their knowledge workers. To do this successfully, an organisation needs to understand how knowledge work takes place (information pathways, employee interactions, etc.).

Trend 4: The growing ‘Internet of Things’. This term refers to assets (such as cars) becoming elements of an information system (e.g. by having a sensor installed in a car that collects vital information). Organisations need to explore ways on how to use assets to collect information and data.

Trend 5: Experimentation and big data. Big data includes customer data from public, proprietary, and purchased sources, web communities and smart assets. Organisations need to understand the value of experimentation (a ’test and learn’ mind-set ) and learn how to access, capture and analyse data.

Trend 6: Wiring for a sustainable world. Sustainability has already become a performance metric for organisations. In future, organisations will also need to manage the environmental impact of their IT (e.g. by using green data centres, reducing the number of servers, etc.). At the same time, IT will help to use resources in smarter, more efficient ways.

Trend 7: Imagining anything as a service. The key word is cloud computing which, simply put, means to access computer resources provided through networks, rather than running a software. Web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) allows organisations to access and use services, and to market their own services to potential and existing clients.

Trend 8: The age of the multisided business model. One example is the “freemium” model: Organisations (such as Flickr or Skype) provide free services to a large number of users while charging a smaller number of users for premium services. Organisations need to investigate whether they could benefit from a multisided business model – because if they can, so can their competitors!

Trend 9: Innovating from the bottom of the pyramid. Technology has gone global and reached emerging markets. Local entrepreneurs and businesses best understand the needs of these markets and are able to respond with innovative approaches. This new type of competitor not only challenges the players in the developing markets but also in the developed ones. Organisations need to understand how best to tap into the local resources.

Trend 10: Producing public good on the grid. This refers to the role of governments and the use of technology for creating new types of public goods and improving access to and effectiveness of public services. Areas that are already impacted include, for example, mass-transit systems, law enforcement and education. Open data initiatives and new forms of collaborations will make public policy making more transparent and efficient. Public organisations will need to embrace new approaches to creating, delivering and managing public goods.

For the full article, go to (login required).

I would like to thank Robin Van der Breggen, Managing Director of Mavim New Zealand Ltd, who shared this article through LinkedIn.

September 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm Leave a comment

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