A virus made us do it …

Are you among the many who, during lockdown, have wondered what the future may bring? Do you clearly envision what is personally meaningful and how you will change your life once the pandemic ends? 

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

I’ve thought a lot about what should change, and here are my thoughts on possible future events.

The government has learned a huge lesson: when a crisis looms, act immediately. 

Why does the government lack a 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.

The contamination risk of stockpiling PPE in enormous warehouses renders the material unusable. The government requires a list of businesses that can quickly switch to producing PPE supplies.. 

When the government negotiates BREXIT, there is much to consider, such as our diminished skills base. We need a state-funded education program to train various professionals.. We don’t need a constant stream of graduates with non-degrees.

Britain allows foreign competitors to purchase UK companies and shift operations overseas, resulting in billions of lost revenue. Smaller UK manufacturers closed, as there was a cheaper version worldwide. 

We need to rebuild our industrial base to reduce our reliance on foreign markets.. 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 are 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. Don’t forget to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure. 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. Airlines may not return to normal for years, fewer and more expensive seats due to failures..

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 CEOs, jobsworths, and bosses have realised their businesses can operate and not suffer without the staff at desks. 

Could home working become the norm?

CEOs could cut costs by decentralising London operations.. 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. 

If the company bosses seek to lower salaries in a few years because of no longer needing to travel to work, it won’t be a surprise.? 

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)

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 there are higher paying jobs and better standards of living elsewhere??

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.

The most excellent technical writer

As Technical Author, an interviewer asks what makes a good Technical Author. Based on my 23 years of 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 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 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 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 positively impact the business. Excellent documentation boosts user adoption and reduces support services..

Project Management and Documentation

Poor project management has a major impact on technical documentation. In other words of you don’t listen to me, we will be up to our necks writing and managing techdocs while everyone else has their feet up and enjoying a few beers. This article delves into the intersection of project management and technical documentation. 

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

Without a proper project plan, technical documentation is at risk of failing.. Those without experience tend to alter objectives and add to the project without heeding the technical writer’s experience and advice.. 

Documentation alone cannot replace a plan, but it can aid in rescuing a struggling project. Taking the time for documentation analysis can help the project by reducing risks and increasing quality..

Frustrated

Experienced technical writers may become frustrated when the project timeline is unrealistic. This happens when:

  • working with staff members who have no experience working with documentation and assume it’s a straightforward task
  • unworkable deadlines that sacrifice documentation quality and lead to frustration among internal parties

It is worth bearing in mind: 

  • Rely on the TA’s knowledge to schedule technical documentation and establish a timeline.
  • Writing or migrating content is not an instantaneous process; a failure to work with the writers could lead to counterproductive problems. 
  • If the timeline is genuinely tight, develop a list of documentation priorities for users to adopt the product.

A typical breakdown for a technical writing project includes:

  • Research 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:

  • Supply the technical writer with the hardware and software quickly..
  • Provide the system access, usernames, and passwords.

Ramp-up time for technical writers is beyond the learning curve.

Review the reviewers

As a technical writer, it is important to maintain the accuracy of your documentation. Include the time for technical reviews in the project schedule..

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

Can project managers and technical writers get along?

Technical documentation of superior quality necessitates the involvement of technical writers. Effective collaboration between project managers and technical writers can cause improved design and customer support.. Having customers who can solve their own problems without contacting customer support can benefit a company.

 

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 | Technical documentation vs Helpdesk

Technical Writing | Interviewing SMEs

One of the many skills a technical writer needs is the ability to form relationships with SMEs. An experienced writer talks to subject matter experts to gather insights for a document. Without their input, the writer will face difficulties producing documents. On one project, I worked with two technical writers. They had their styles of approach, and I have mine.

One of our team members, x,x, had a style and approach that rubbed many SMEs the wrong way. I have a laid-back approach. If the SME could not talk because of urgent work, then that’s fine—we can reschedule the conversation. X.X found it difficult to communicate with technical SMEs, which made it challenging to gather the information. He had never worked in the technical field coming not from a technical background, but a process background where people are polite.

Approaching and Interviewing  SMEs 

  1. Ensure you schedule a meeting with the SME in advance. Please do not turn up at their desk and expect to talk.
  2. If you collaborate with other technical writers, review the project plans and inquire whether they have contacted the subject matter expert (SME) regarding topic XYZ. If they have, verify the information is what you need. In such cases, refrain from requesting the SME to reiterate the information.
  3. I use a dictaphone to record interviews because I can always run the recording back if I have any queries. 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
  4. 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
  5. Always regard the interview as another knowledge-capture exercise that adds to your experience. Do not assume you know everything before you get there, even if you do.
  6. The SME will assume you understand their language; if not, stop the interview and request a less technical explanation or reassess your ability to do the job if you still do not understand.
  7. Schedule only an hour for the interview, but be clear that you will need to reschedule more time if specific points are unclear.
  8. Be transparent – there will be a peer review required, but you will let them know in advance when the document is ready for review
  9. 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 if you have not already done so, introduce yourself

  10. The SME may not know everything and will refer you to another SME for information
  11. When you return to your desk, start writing the document. Do not wait for a few days, even if you have recorded the interview.
  12. 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 writer, ensure their experience matches your requirements. The best candidate will have the correct background and expertise. Listen carefully to their answers as many like me at the interview dispense advice and why a particular route may not work. If they don’t talk through that experience, 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 career in various businesses, the broader and more in-depth their experience will be. However, the only way to be confident is to read their CVs carefully.

Read the CV, and discuss the project. My rule is this: if you cannot see it on my CV, then I haven’t done it. That does not mean I will turn down unfamiliar tasks.

Do they use Social Media or have a website?

Check out LinkedIn for their profile; If you cannot find it 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 offer suggestions on elevating the project with innovations you may not have considered.

Effective communication

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

Do you want a contractor or permanent TW?

Do you want to build a team that includes a TW to keep the documentation up to date, a person who will grow into the environment? However, I caution against hiring a permanent Technical Writer 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 as 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 an odd spurt of activity within the working life cycle; hence, the position of Technical Writing lends itself more to contract work than permanent work.

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

A word of caution

Unfortunately, our profession attracts its fair share of triers. You can reasonably expect CVs from candidates who have had minimum experience preparing ad hoc documentation on projects at work. Unfortunately, that minimal experience does not translate to full-scale projects requiring a technical writer. In many cases, it turns into an expensive flop.

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.

To avoid problems, apply the following advice:

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 limits the Technical Writer’s experience. That also goes for junior writers. For high-profile projects, hire a seasoned contracting professional who can talk through the project with you.

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

Where else can you source a Technical writer?

You have found me. However, I may not be suitable for the role. Check LinkedIn, Social Media sites and 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 that, in the long run, could save you money.

Technical Writing | The risks of poor document management

The risks of poor document management stem from managing multiple types of documents in different formats, workflows and updates. If the documents, which are in constant use have no defined structure it will lead to an uncontrolled and unmanaged repository. This haphazard approach to managing the document Lifecycle impedes employee productivity.

The scenario is this: you are sitting at your desk when your boss requests the latest version of a critical policy document. When do want it you ask?

The risks of poor document management
The risks of poor document management

Now is the reply as she has an urgent meeting. It is located on the company’s shared drive. Your search starts with your department folder.  However, it is not there. You decide to perform a search and type in the title. Your face falls flat when the search returns 100s of potential matches. You open up the most likely and find they are not current.  Panic sets in and your boss is now calling your desk phone, as she is late for her meeting.

We have all been there, as intuitively as we think we have organized our company “shared” network folders, documents get lost and frustration sets in. Whether it is neglecting to archive or delete the outdated version of documents, images, files, assets, etc. or employees using confusing naming scheme for the folder structure – the point is this archaic means of organising and managing documents/assets isn’t working for your company and it is costing you.

Failure to treat business documents as vital assets can lead to:

  • Diminished document utility
  • Decreased business efficiency
  • Increased operational risk and cost

Effective Lifecycle management

The management of Documents continues throughout their useful lifespans ensuring businesses meet compliance and regulatory requirements while preserving the productivity of employees and agility of business processes:

  • Quick access
  • Frequent review and updating
  • Distribution
  • Conversion
  • Archiving

Document management

The risks of poor document management
The risks of poor document management

If your document library is growing with no control consider creating a Document Management library to store and manage your documentation.

The growing influence of ISO and ITIL requires documentation to contain elements which relate to its History, Versioning and sign off, all of which are easy to incorporate. Going forward your staff should know how to manage the documentation in the absence of someone dedicated to the role.