Top 5 tech writing posts in 2011

Here are the 5 most popular posts on Kai’s Tech Writing Blog in 2011. After my Top 3 tech comm lessons, this is the second “year in review” posts.

Kai’s Tech Writing Blog takes a break now and will be back in 2012. I thank each one of you for reading and commenting; I’m happy and proud to be part of such a stimulating professional community, and I’m a better tech writer for it!

5. 2011 megatrend in technical communications

In January, I mashed up three predictions by Sarah O’Keefe into one megatrend:

I think this year’s megatrend for technical communicators and their managers, especially employed ones, is to position tech comm as a business in its own right – or to be redundant in the long run.

4. Learn about DITA in a couple of hours

I still think the best way, if you have two hours, is to read Ann Rockley’s DITA 101, second edition, which I reviewed:

The book excels in firmly embedding DITA’s technologies and workflows in the larger context of structured writing and topic-based authoring. … I recommend that you read it if you are involved in a project to implement DITA, writing or translating documentation in a DITA environment or managing technical writers

3. Improve documentation with quality metrics

This is my only post this year with a visual cue inspired by a Marx Brothers’ movie! 🙂

Quality metrics for technical communication are difficult, but necessary and effective. They are difficult because you need to define quality standards and then measure compliance with them. They are necessary because they reflect the value add to customers (which quantitative metrics usually don’t). And they are effective because they are the only way to improve your documentation in a structured way in the long run.

2. 5 steps from legacy documentation to topics

The company I work for set off to migrate its documentation to topic-based authoring:

To move to topic-based authoring, you need to convert existing documentation into topics. The efforts shouldn’t be underestimated, but it’s actually a pretty straightforward process. I’m describing how to convert sections in manuals, but it’s much the same for most content, whether it’s FAQs, wiki articles, training materials, etc.

1. Top 4 benefits of writing a tech comm blog

As I entered my second year of blogging, I reflected on the reasons and benefits of Kai’s Tech Writing Blog:

1. Improve ideas
2. Connect with the community
3. Picture progress
4. Write regularly

Your turn

What was your favourite tech writing blog post, on this blog or elsewhere? Feel free to leave a comment.


Top 3 tech comm lessons in 2011

2011 was an eventful year for me as a tech writer. Here are the three most important lessons I learned this year.

Content strategy can change tech comm in 2 ways

… and only one of them is up to us tech writers:

  • Tech comm departments can engage in content strategy bottom-up, connect with stakeholders in training, customer services, marketing, and producct management to try to break down silos, reuse content and make content a corporate asset. One way to do this was the topic of Ray Gallon’s webinar “Content Strategy for Software Development”.
  • Corporations can can engage in content strategy top-down and essentially change the way the organization works. The objective is essentially the same as above, the main difference is who’s driving it. While tech writers cannot do it without management support, managers may decide to relegate tech comms to one of many stakeholders – which I think would be a pity. tekom’s Content Strategy day offered several sessions which discussed corporate content strategies.

The “big disconnect” is closing

The “big disconnect” is the difference in IT innovation between consumer IT and corporate IT. Geoffrey Moore coined the phrase in an AIIM white paper and presentation: “How can it be that I am so powerful as a consumer and so lame as an employee?” Earlier, I wrote about exploiting the big disconnect as a tech writer.

The reason it’s closing in tech comm is that consumer web sites have appropriated help systems and all their benefits, so the use cases and business models finally catch up with user demands and technologies, as Scott Abel pointed out in his tekom keynote address.

Content migration is about people first

In summer, our team of writers embarked on the journey towards structured authoring. One of the surprises to me as we proceeded was that metaphorically speaking, for every hour I spend moving content, I’m spending another hour moving minds.

Your turn

What did you learn about tech writing in 2011? Feel free to leave a comment.