A virus made us do it …

Are you one of the many who during lockdown has wondered what the future may bring? Do you have a clear vision of what is personally meaningful and how you will change your life once the pandemic ends? 

Depending on your point of view lives will change either for the better or poorer.

I’ve thought a lot about what should change and here follow my thoughts on possible future events?

Government has learned a huge lesson and that is when a crisis looms act immediately. 

If businesses prepare for events, disasters and business continuity, why is it the government had no pandemic strategy. The government needs an effective strategy tried and tested at least once a year. Perfect preparation prevents poor results.

The UK needs to reduce its dependence on international supply chains and be ready and capable of producing what we need when we need it. Self-sufficiency.

There is a contamination risk stockpiling PPE in enormous warehouses, rendering the material unusable. As part of a pandemic strategy, the government requires a continually updated register of businesses that could shift production in a matter of days to keep the UK supplied with the PPE equipment. 

When the government negotiates BREXIT, there is much to consider, such as our diminished skills base. We need a comprehensive state-funded education program to train engineers, plumbers, electricians, construction experts, agriculturalists and many more. We don’t need a constant stream of graduates with non-degrees.

Britain is open for business allowed foreign competitors to buy many of the UK’s biggest household names (ICI, Cadbury’s, Boots, Pilkington Glass) and later move operations abroad, denying the exchequer billions in lost revenue. Smaller UK manufacturers closed as there was a cheaper version somewhere in the world. 

While protecting companies from foreign intervention is not government policy, we need to rebuild our industrial base to lessen our dependence on markets outside the UK. If not, what happens if we need immediate access to vital goods and discover we can’t purchase any because of global demand?

People and businesses will demand cash to save their businesses, although many were on the verge of collapse. The government must focus on what will thrive and benefit the UK economy. 

 Not only will the NHS receive more cash, but also the Police and education. I suggest the NHS needs reform because, without it, the entire organisation becomes a financial vacuum. 

Pollution levels have dropped. Step outside and look at the blue sky. How fresh is the air? Also, I live below the flight paths to Heathrow and Luton, and there are no visible vapour trails in the sky. 

 Now we have a feel for a cleaner world, what are we going to do about it?

We could start with substantial investment in developing electric cars and renewable resources. If we plan to buy electric vehicles, don’t forget the investment needed to design and build the infrastructure required to charge up all those automobiles. The casualties would be the oil-producing countries who would lose vital revenue. Let’s not forget the government would lose billions in tax on fuel sales. Going green will be great for the planet, but the government will raise taxes. Talking of which…

… I foresee the government hiking PAYE and corporation tax by up to +-7% to claw back the money it spent during the pandemic. There may be very little hiding room for corporations who have evaded paying their ‘fair share’ since 2008. However, when raising taxation, the government treads a thin line. Tax is a sensitive issue and will not please many Tories, although I can’t see Labour having a problem with such actions. 

As for Future holidays, it will be a staycation. I recommend a fortnight in the West Country. The airline industry may take years to recover, meaning fewer and more expensive seats owing to high profile failures (As I write this, I hear British Airways is making 12000 staff redundant).

The Office Culture

Many businesses allowed their staff to work from home. It would not surprise me if CEOs and Directors had discussed with HR that possibility in the past, but didn’t allow it for productivity reasons. By now, I’m sure many CEO’s, jobsworths, and bosses have realised their business can operate and not suffer without the staff at desks. 

Could home working become the norm?

Canny CEOs could slash company costs and decentralise their London operations to either satellite offices or branches. Doing so will give the CEO access to more applicants who wouldn’t move to London. It will be a significant benefit to Employees who rise and shine, have breakfast, and sit at a desk in their home, or maybe work closer to home on a short commute. 

Although it would be an immense change, it would not surprise me if the company bosses a few years down the line sought to cut salaries as staff no longer travel into work? 

On a personal note, by not travelling to London I’d save the following every week:

  1. train fares (Oyster £75.50)
  2. driving to Amersham parking (30 miles round journey; 5 X 6miles)
  3. parking (£36.00)
  4. lunch and coffees (£60.00; 2 X Coffees and lunch of £6 per day)

I acknowledge that not everybody can work from home. Employees of the NHS, emergency services, hospitality, retail and transport services will always be in the ‘office’. However, with trains and buses carrying fewer commuters, there will be more room available. Tourists will find it easier to use the London Underground to visit tourist attractions.

House Prices in London: 

If large companies decentralise their operations away from London, or any major city, house prices would drop. Who wants to live in London when the same well-paid opportunities are available outside London in locations with higher standards of living.

So, here follow a few final thoughts.

  1. If fewer people move to London, could it solve the question of affordable housing?
  2. Less congestion on the roadways and motorways means less damage to the roads and fewer accidents,
  3. with lower pollution levels, the NHS will see a decline in patients with respiratory problems.

The above are my views, and there are many more I could add. No doubt readers will point out their thoughts. I believe change is coming, like it or not. Much will depend on how we, as citizens of the UK, decide we want to move with the changes. 

The most excellent technical writer

As a Technical Author, one question an interviewer asks is what makes a good Technical Author? Based on my 23 years’ experience here is my take on what makes either a poor, a good or an excellent technical writer.

Poor technical writers edit the content and leave it at that. There are no questions, no curiosity even when a set of instructions do not read correctly. In which case, if that is you start looking for a new job.

Good technical writers :

  • Logically set out the steps starting at A and avoid no detailed Work Instructions leading to Step Z.
  • Methodically test the steps
  • ensure the content is easy to read and understood by reviewers
  • They know their ABCs

Excellent technical writers go a step further – we:

  • ask the question of why – who – what – when – where and how
  • analyse the problem the user is experiencing  
  • ask how the documentation will solve the problem
  • anticipate the issues users could encounter and the questions they will ask when they follow the material.
  • Build relationships with teams across the floor
  • Use humour and diplomacy to get what we want
  • Pretend we are a user reading the document for the first time
  • include links to related topics to keep the user briefed

All of the above takes time, effort, and creative thinking but as excellence is a byword we never feel the pain.

By covering the above points, the documentation will impact positively on the business. Excellent documentation increases user adoption, reduces the impact on your Support services, and aids your staff should a problem occur that could damage the company and its reputation.

Project Management and Doucmentation

The quality of project management has a direct impact on technical documentation, a fact project managers overlook . This article looks at the areas where the relationship between project management and technical documentation intersect. 

Put a plan around a project or a project around a plan

Technical documentation will suffer if the project is floundering without a project plan. A document project without a plan is always at risk of failure. There is a tendency by those with no documentation experience to change the goalposts and and add to the project because in many cases they did not listen to the experience and advice of their technical Writer. 

While documentation cannot compensate for the lack of a plan, it can help to revive a troubled project. This method of catching up through documentation will extend timelines, but will serve the project better by mitigating risks and strengthening the overall product through documentation analysis.

Frustrated

An experienced technical writers can certainly find their frustration peaking when the project timeline isn’t workable, or the Project Manager fails to listen to advice. THis happens when:

  • working with staff members who have no experience working with documentation and assume its an easy straightforward task
  • unworkable deadlines that sacrifice documentation quality and lead to frustration among internal parties

It is worth bearing in mind the following: 

  • when scheduling technical documentation tap into the TAs knowledge to help plan the timeline for documentation.
  • Writing or migrating content is not an instantaneous process; a failure to work with the writers could led to counter productive problems. 
  • If the timeline is genuinely tight, develop a list of documentation priorities in order for users to adopt the product.

A typical breakdown for a technical writing project includes:

  • Research time to learn the project and other elements, such as the underlying technology and related issues required for the documentation effort.
  • Dedicated time for writing.
  • Dedicated time for editing. copy editing and editing for style, clarity, and other issues.
  • Dedicated time to review the technical accuracy of the documentation. Never assume that a document is correct. Always create review time for accuracy by SMEs.

Allow sufficient ramp-up time

Technical writers need sufficient ramp-up time to become versed in the product. While ramp-up time is relative depending on the writer, a project manager can support the writer:

  • Provide ready access to necessary hardware and software so the technical writer doesn’t have to waste time waiting on equipment required for documentation projects.
  • Provide the necessary system access, usernames, and passwords.

Allow technical writers ramp-up time is more than a learning curve; it’s having the resources in place so they can perform their jobs with minimal downtime, which is billable when they are on-site waiting for corporate bureaucracies to deliver the resources they need.

Review the reviewers

While technical writers must have a stake in the technical accuracy of the documentation they produce, there is often a need for technical reviewers to review the documentation. Take into account this review time  in the overall project schedule, including:

  • Scheduled time for technical staff, project managers, and other reviewers to go over the documentation.
  • Time for the technical writers to add the revisions to the documentation.

Can project managers and technical writers get along?

The documentation component of a project requires input from technical writers to help ensure quality technical documentation. A working collaboration between project managers and technical writers can help organisations reap the benefits of better design (because it’s documented), and better customer support through documentation. A self-sufficient customer who doesn’t call customer support is like money in the bank for your company.

Welcome to the Gutenberg Editor

Of Mountains & Printing Presses

The goal of this new editor is to make adding rich content to WordPress simple and enjoyable. This whole post is composed of pieces of content—somewhat similar to LEGO bricks—that you can move around and interact with. Move your cursor around and you’ll notice the different blocks light up with outlines and arrows. Press the arrows to reposition blocks quickly, without fearing about losing things in the process of copying and pasting.

What you are reading now is a text block the most basic block of all. The text block has its own controls to be moved freely around the post…

… like this one, which is right-aligned.

Headings are separate blocks as well, which helps with the outline and organisation of your content.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Handling images and media with the utmost care is a primary focus of the new editor. Hopefully, you’ll find aspects of adding captions or going full-width with your pictures much easier and robust than before.

Beautiful landscape
If your theme supports it, you’ll see the “wide” button on the image toolbar. Give it a try.

Try selecting and removing or editing the caption, now you don’t have to be careful about selecting the image or other text by mistake and ruining the presentation.

The Inserter Tool

Imagine everything that WordPress can do is available to you quickly and in the same place on the interface. No need to figure out HTML tags, classes, or remember complicated shortcode syntax. That’s the spirit behind the inserter—the (+) button you’ll see around the editor—which allows you to browse all available content blocks and add them into your post. Plugins and themes are able to register their own, opening up all sort of possibilities for rich editing and publishing.

Go give it a try, you may discover things WordPress can already add into your posts that you didn’t know about. Here’s a short list of what you can currently find there:

  • Text & Headings
  • Images & Videos
  • Galleries
  • Embeds, like YouTube, Tweets, or other WordPress posts.
  • Layout blocks, like Buttons, Hero Images, Separators, etc.
  • And Lists like this one of course 🙂

Visual Editing

A huge benefit of blocks is that you can edit them in place and manipulate your content directly. Instead of having fields for editing things like the source of a quote, or the text of a button, you can directly change the content. Try editing the following quote:

The editor will endeavour to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.

Matt Mullenweg, 2017

The information corresponding to the source of the quote is a separate text field, similar to captions under images, so the structure of the quote is protected even if you select, modify, or remove the source. It’s always easy to add it back.

Blocks can be anything you need. For instance, you may want to add a subdued quote as part of the composition of your text, or you may prefer to display a giant stylised one. All of these options are available in the inserter.

You can change the number of columns in your galleries by dragging a slider in the block inspector in the sidebar.

Media Rich

If you combine the new wide and full-wide alignments with galleries, you can create a very media-rich layout, very quickly:

Accessibility is important — don’t forget image alt attribute

Sure, the full-wide image can be pretty big. But sometimes the image is worth it.

The above is a gallery with just two images. It’s an easier way to create visually appealing layouts, without having to deal with floats. You can also easily convert the gallery back to individual images again, by using the block switcher.

Any block can opt into these alignments. The embed block has them also, and is responsive out of the box:

You can build any block you like, static or dynamic, decorative or plain. Here’s a pullquote block:

Code is Poetry

The WordPress community

If you want to learn more about how to build additional blocks, or if you are interested in helping with the project, head over to the GitHub repository.


Thanks for testing Gutenberg!

👋

Technical Writing | General Data Protection Regulations

GDPR

On the 25th May 2018, the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force.

Companies outside the EU

If your Company actively trades within the EU and stores, processes or shares EU citizens’ data, then GDPR does apply to you.

Compliance and documentation

One of the primary rules is that under GDPR Process activities MUST be documented.

Companies are required to maintain a set of Policy, Process and Plan (PPP) documentation to ensure you have evidence to support your claims should the ICO investigate any complaint or breach of data.

Note that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) could demand to see the written documents

What do you need to consider?

As a technical writer, with experience writing compliance documentation, what can I tell you?

If you are still struggling to start

My Blogs are clear, writing one document, when there is a substantial list to be completed from scratch to sign off is a lengthy process. Even if your department has documents that can be reused, it will still take a long time. Compliance projects are manually intensive and documenting GDPR will need dedicated resources.

My experience could be necessary to help you write and manage those documents. The sooner you contact me, the sooner we can start the road to compliance.

  • Create a standard template with – Statement, In Scope, Version Control, Change History, Distribution Lists, Roles and Responsibilities
  • All PPPs must adhere to GDPR – include in the document ‘The purpose of the document’, ‘The Scope’ and add a list of the GDPR compliances relevant to the PPP you are writing and explain the WHY the company are complying along with the HOW the company will comply.
  • The documentation must be relevant to your business. Generic documentation outlining a PPP will NOT suffice
  • Complete the documentation – do not start and leave a document incomplete then sign off; an incomplete document could fail a Compliance Audit
  • Maintain the detail – do not half explain a process or policy
  • Structure the documentation to avoid duplicating information over several documents
  • That the documentation may need to be ISO 27001 compliant

Does Your GDPR Project need documentationClick To Tweet

 

Technical Writing | Project Managers and Technical Writers

Project managers and technical writers, two distinct roles. One of my many skills as a technical writer is organisation. We juggle many tasks and switch between them with ease. People skills are important as we speak to coders, engineers, and technicians of various shades. In the meantime, we manage a ream of documentation while taking instructions from SMEs. Occasionally we meet a project manager who has had minimal exposure to technical documentation as part of a project.

techwriting
Project Managers and Technical Writers

If you lack experience planning the technical documentation component of a project I suggest you consult with your technical writer. A working collaboration between project managers and technical writers can help organisations reap the benefits of the project (because it’s documented), and provide better internal and external support through documentation.

If you are one of the many Project Manager who has never worked with Technical Writers, remember we are professionals.  We will not tolerate the viability and quality of the technical documentation to satisfy the needs of others.

Techwriting
Project Managers and Technical writers

So, if you have no direct experience with documentation or Technical Writers consider:

  • Talk with your TW(s) because their experience will provide you with a much-needed background in document management.
  • To help plan the documentation, avoid creating timelines as you progress the project.
  • TAs cannot pull documentation from a hat or generate a document from code.
  • Speak to the TW(s) to gauge how long it will take to review/write/edit a document. In my experience, many project managers overestimate the timelines or worse underestimate the deadlines. Always build in flexibility to allow for problems in the documentation process
  • Reviewing a document intended for transformation containing more than 20 pages plus will take time (the general rule of thumb is one hour per page).
  • The time required for writing
  • Peer reviews
  • Time to have the content technically reviewed

Technical Writing | Passive vs Active Sentences

What is a passive sentence?

A Passive sentence is a grammatical voice prevalent in many of the world’s languages. In a clause with a passive voice, the grammatical subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb – that is, the person or thing that undergoes the action or has its state changed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_sentence

Passive vs Active

I can already hear readers asking, what is a Passive Sentence?

Here goes!

Compare these sentences.

  1. The Application is used to collect data (passive)
  2. Use the application to collect data (active)

or

  1. The key was used to open the door (passive)
  2. Use the key to open the door (active)

or

  1. The wire is fed through the box by the electrician (Passive)
  2. The electrician feeds the wire through the box (active)

Using the active voice, sentences provide a clearer more effective message in technical writing and business writing. The active voice identifies the action and determines who performs that work. For clear examples of passive voice look at government documents, which gives the wording a dull, bureaucratic tone.

Over time, writing in the passive voice becomes a habit, one we should all work to change. Of one thing I can be certain, despite the debates, I will continue to use the active sentence.

Technical Writing | Interviewing SMEs

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are essential to enable you the technical author to write that document. Without their input you will struggle. So, how does an experienced technical writer consider approaching and interviewing SME?

I base my advice on my personal experiences of talking to and working with SMEs. You will no doubt find, like me, that some SMEs are difficult while others are happy to help.

Approaching and Interviewing  SMEs 

  1. Make sure you schedule a meeting with the SME in advance, do not turn up at their desk and expect to talk. Most SMEs are busy and might work on an important task.
  2. Make sure you know the SMEs area of ability and their role within the company
  3. If you collaborate with other technical writer’s check any project management plans or ask if they have already spoken to that SME
  4. If yes check the information to see if it applies to you. It will save time asking the SME twice for the same information and prevent any stern reminders that they have already discussed ‘XYZ.’
  5. I use a dictaphone to record interviews because it means if I have any queries I can always run the recording back. To date, no SME has objected to me recording the conversation.

    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts
    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts

    • If they DO, it will mean listening intently and writing the information
  6. Approach the Interview at the appointed time:
    • Do not be surprised if the SME cancels the meeting because of other demands
    • If so, reschedule the meeting
  7. Always regard the interview as another knowledge capture exercise, which adds to your experience, do not assume you know everything before you get there, even if you do.
  8. The SME will assume that you know what they are talking about; if not – stop the interview, and either request a less technical explanation or if you still do not understand then you need to reassess your ability to do the job.
  9. Only schedule an hour for the interview but clarify that if there are any points which are not clear, you will need to reschedule more time
  10. Be clear – there will be a peer review required, but you will let them know in advance when the document is ready for review
  11. approaching and interviewing subject matter experts
    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts

    If the SME is not aware of your role or why you need their comments to introduce the project and you if you have not already done so introduce yourself

  12. The SME may not know everything and may need to refer you to another SME for information
  13. When you return to your desk, start writing up the document. Do not wait for a few days, even if you have recorded the interview
  14. Carry a pad and pen. You may need to ask the SME to draw the infrastructure

Technical Writing | Professional vs Amateur, its a matter of choice

A LinkedIn connection shared a poster, which read: Professional vs Amateur; If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.

In 2004 I had an interview in Watford and later Cambridge with software companies looking for a Technical Writer. During the second interview, I had this feeling of deja-vu in that it followed a similar line to the Watford interview. The hiring managers seemed uncertain. The feedback was both companies appointed an internal resource to save money.

Later that year the Watford company after a management buy-out sacked the TA because the documentation failed to meet standards. I was later contacted by an agent after the Cambridge internal appointment failed to deliver.

A previous client called as one of their technical writers had left with work to complete. Once I analysed the work, I made it clear that I had no time to rewrite the work. The manager to keep costs down employed ‘technical writers’ with negligible experience on a high-profile project for a major Telco client.

I can appreciate the fact when times are tough companies like to make a few savings. However, the difference between employing a professional vs. amateur can be stark regarding cost.

Professional vs Amateur, it’s a matter of choice

What you need to consider is the result. Do you want a professional job or a makeshift effort by an amateur? Many experienced technical writers will point out that you get what you pay for. My advice is to be ready to pay the going rate to attract an experienced technical writer who is more than capable of doing the job. In terms of time and delivery, it will save you a lot of time and energy and negate the need to pay twice for the same job.

Technical Writing | Sourcing a technical writer

When sourcing a technical author, ensure their experience matches your requirements. You need to source one who has the right knowledge, background and expertise. At the interview, they should talk through that experience; if not keep searching until you do.

Productive years as a Technical Writer

An experienced Technical writer can only be an asset to your team or project. The longer their tenure, the broader and more in-depth their experience will be. However, the only way to be confident is to read their CVs carefully.

Do they use Social Media or have a website?

Check out LinkedIn for their profile; If you cannot find one or a website describing their experiences, what have they be doing?

During the interview, did they communicate?

During an interview be wary of a candidate who sits, listens, and says very little. An experienced TW will respond to your questions and may offer suggestions on how to elevate the project with innovations you may not have considered.

Read the CV and be prepared to discuss the project. I have arrived at an interview to find the interviewer has not read my CV. I have a simple rule regarding my experience; if you cannot see it on the CV, then I have not done it. That does not mean that I will turn down unfamiliar tasks.

Effective communication

An essential part of our job is the ability to communicate with SMEs to gather the right level of detail for the documentation. If the documentation appears vague, it might be time for a chat.

Do you want a contractor or permanent TW?

You may build a team, and you need a Technical Writer to keep the documentation up to date; a person who will grow into the environment. However, I would caution against using a Technical Writer permanently unless you are sure there will be ongoing work.

Work cycles can dip, so be careful how you use the Technical Writer.  During one of my earliest contracts, the project engineer referred to me as a secretary and treated me as one as did the rest of the team. In a much earlier role, my line manager used me to shift boxes and to clean the stock room and a general dogsbody.

A proactive Technical Writer between writing, researching and interviewing could improve the company’s documentation. However, once they get on top of the tasks, the role could become routine and repetitive. There will be the odd spurt of activity within the working life cycle; hence, why the position of Technical Writing lends itself more so to contract work rather than permanent work.

To summarise: if you use a permanent Technical Writer ensure you have plenty of contingencies within their job. To avoid your TW developing itchy feet, I would suggest that you discuss additional tasks that may add value to their experience. Allowing a member of staff use them for jobs, which an office junior should cover will not go down too well.

A word of caution

Unfortunately, our profession can attract its fair share of triers. You can reasonably expect CVs from candidates who have had minimum experience preparing ad hoc documentation. Unfortunately, that minimal experience will NOT be enough to perform the job.

Many recruiting agents have a minimum expertise sourcing Technical Writers. When they speak to prospective candidates, they hear a few buzzwords and place candidates forward for a role for which they are not suitable. Be sure to check that they have the right experience and background.

Applying the following advice may help you avoid problems:

Be careful hiring a Junior Technical Writer or one that has worked in a permanent position for the last five years.

Why: a permanent position can be very repetitive, which means the Technical Writer’s experience may be severely limited. That also goes for junior writers, for high-profile projects hire a seasoned contracting professional, who can talk through the project with you. In my experience, there is a world of difference between a contract Technical Writer and one who has chosen permanency.

Finally, budgets – ensure you are buying the experience you need. In the world of Technical Writing, the price you pay determines the standard you buy. By using the wrong candidate could be a costly mistake.

Where else can you source a Technical writer?

If you prefer to source a Technical Writer, you have found me. However, I may not be suitable for the role. Check LinkedIn, Social Media sites and the online Job Boards. Ask other companies and fellow professionals if they have used Technical Writers and if so, what was their experience. They may have recommendations which in the long run could save you money.