What’s the difference?

How many technical writers like me receive calls from agencies trying to source a content writer? It is not uncommon as many writing jobs these days appear under the banner of Content Writer. If you want to choose a suitable writer, read on.

One day, I had to explain the difference between our two titles—comparing my technical authoring skill set to that of a content writer.

Would you know the differences between a content writer and a technical author? If you get it wrong, it will be a costly mistake.

So, what do you know about the following job titles?

      • Technical writer
      • Documentation manager
      • Content Writer
      • Content strategist
      • Content manager
      • Information governance

Technical Writer

First, we have the most comprehensive skill set. We take complex information and make it accessible to people needing to accomplish a task or goal. We must comprehend the process and produce instructions with diagrams.

Before starting a large project, I would ask if they have a strategy identifying the essential documents (the MUST haves). If not, I will create one with a timeline that identifies the production of critical documentation using MoSCoW. Process authors write:

      • Policies
      • Processes
      • Work Instructions
      • Standards
      • How to guide?

We use SharePoint to manage and control documents. 

In the software industry, you can write a wide range of documents, such as

      • user guides,
      • detailed design specs,
      • requirement docs,
      • white papers, and
      • manage a back catalogue of previous records.

Technical Author’s Skill-set

      • Communication skills to write the narrative around the document
      • focussed on detail – without it, the user could make mistakes, or worse, throw the paper away as useless
      • create a consistent process everyone can follow
      • teamwork – impossible to create documents without SMEs
      • technical skills to understand the terminology
      • writing skills go without saying
      • document management,

Document Controller/manager

This role aligns with technical authors; the duties of this role will depend on the industry type. A document manager oversees organisational documents used by employees.

Content Writer and Manager

Content writing produces engaging content for the Web. They’re also responsible for setting the overall tone of the website. Content writers accomplish these tasks by researching and deciding what information to include or exclude from the site.

There are many variations and opinions if you read up on various sites regarding the skill set. These are the most commonly mentioned:

      • Writing skills
      • Focus
      • Originality
      • Research
      • Customer knowledge
      • SEO and
      • Editorial skills

Content Strategist

The job is to create engaging content that resonates with customers and draws. The writer may have significant knowledge of the business. 

Information governance (IG)

IG is a strategy to manage information to maintain compliance requirements and operational transparency. Organisations must have consistent policies and procedures for distributing content. IG lends itself to information security, storage, knowledge management, business operations, and data management.

The differences. . .

Technical and content writers have common goals, such as solid writing and editorial and research skills. However, what the roles create in terms of content are different. Technical writing requires more specific knowledge. The clue is in the title; we produce technical content.

    • Technical writing must be objective and precise, with no personal opinions.
    • Content writing can contain an author’s opinion, figures of style, etc.
    • Finally, technical writers use a wide range of tools for writing, while Google Docs may be enough for content writing.

To get the job done, choose a suitable writer for your project.

Technical Authors what we are and what we are not

Don’t let the title of Technical Author fool you. Regardless of your opinion, do not underestimate us. We have the potential to offer unexpected help in more ways than one. Allow me to dispel the myth regarding our identity.

What I or WE are NOT

Software Developer

If I had proficiency in BASIC, C/C++, Java, et cetera, I would earn significantly more as a developer. I receive calls for API documentation, a skill requiring familiarity with the code.

Project Manager

I will be careful here. I am not a project manager certified through Prince2, Agile Scrum, etc. My PM skills apply to technical documentation, whereby I set my schedule and arrange meetings with SMEs and other stakeholders. 

Beyond documentation, my PM skills do not stretch to:

      • The provision of detailed project planning, including progress evaluation, risk management, issue and resolution. If that is essential, hire a full-time project manager.
      • A secretary organising the working lives of colleagues and taking minutes. I record my meetings (with a dictaphone) and extract the relevant information for the documents.

Technical authoring is lengthy, and additional expectations could delay my progress. It’s time to open the heads of SMEs to extract all that hidden information. I then use it to build a document explaining to your non-technical audience how it works.

While I will be familiar with the terminology, remember I am not an expert in your department. I learn on the job. 

I am skilled in facilitating communication and collaboration through effective verbal and written communication. I provide support and encouragement to help achieve goals, and the process is not as daunting as it may seem.

I’m a third party.

As an external consultant, I decided, after a period of reflection on your situation and expectations, to use MoSCoW. That stands for four different categories of initiatives: 

      • must-haves, 
      • should-haves, 
      • could-haves, and 
      • will not have. 

The “W”, should you prefer, can mean wishful thinking

Let me have it.

When I join, please throw your documentation at me, everything, wherever it is, and let me sift through it all. I have my own Excel spreadsheets to track and control the documentation.

Define how to manage documents/content with SharePoint and Confluence. 

The efficient management of both applications improves the information available to your teams.

By now, I know where the knowledge gaps are where I can improve the documents and start working with your SMEs. 

Project Management 

As mentioned above, I possess the relevant skills within the context of a technical author. 

      • Design new template
      • Improve the structure of existing documents
      • Process documentation across several categories,
      • Arrange meetings with SME’s,
      • I use tried and tested methods to plan, write, review, publish, and maintain the content.
      • Write/update the documents.
      • Procedures and processes updates,

An aid to content development

With over 23 years of experience behind me, I already own an extensive library of generic documentation and various templates. If you have no documentation, we can tweak any document to meet your business profile. It saves not only time but also money. 

ITIL and ITSM

I have experience in producing the following document types: 

      • IT Service Management (ITSM) based on ITIL best practices. Level 1 to 4 BPMN VISIO Processes and Narratives.
      • Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement,
      • Delivery and Service Support, 
      • Availability, 
      • Capacity, 
      • IT Service Continuity Management; 
      • Incident, 
      • Problem, 
      • Change, 
      • Release, 
      • Configuration Management and 
      • Service Desk.

Policy and Process

      • Delivering written Policy, Process & Standards
      • ISO27001/9001 compliance documentation to support a company’s GDPRPCI/DSSsecurity project
      • Documentation to support a disaster recovery scenario

Infrastructure Documents

      • Operating infrastructure documentation to support the functions of a large-scale network
      • A documentation suite to help IT teams manage a recently migrated infrastructure.

Editing Existing Content

Enhancements may include: 

      • adding VISIO drawings,
      • new screenshots,
      • reword policies and content per se,
      • additional narrative to processes that are light on information,
      • new templates, and
      • Structure to existing Word documents and consistency. 

All information needs a peer review by people who should know the data best and provide feedback. I leave nothing to chance to get what you need in place. 

Tools

Apart from spreadsheets, MS Word, PowerPoint, and VISIO, my skills keep these projects on track. I will also suggest ways in which you can keep the documentation up-to-date and current. Information is an asset, and without it, you could place the business at a disadvantage.

SharePoint and Confluence

Suppose you have no official documentation strategy or a way to manage the documentation. If so, let me create a plan that will work for you. Documentation must be available to all staff and updated, rewritten, and archived appropriately. Ownership, version control, and historical control are other aspects that need managing.

If the business uses Confluence, my experience on a client site is an overload of outdated content irrelevant to the company. I can analyse all spaces and check when the content was written and submitted. 

Expectations

There are too many to mention, but the immediate impact will be on the following three points:

      • Reduced costs
      • more responsive help desk/support 
      • better informed staff
      • Confidence in performing procedures.

Get a head start

Templates with generic content

Do you have a documentation project lurking in the background and you are yet to get to grips with the detail? I have available many templates which contain generic policies, processes, and standards content relating to the following documentation:

      • PCI/DSS
      • ISO27001
      • ITIL
      • ITSM

If you are embarking on a project for any of the above from scratch, you can save time measuring into months by using the relevant template.

Consider the fact it can take upwards of six weeks to produce one document of between 20 to 30 pages, imagine the scale of the work if you have more than sixty titles to write from scratch.

The content within the documents will require tweaking to make them relevant to your company, such as Team names and Team members, Technical terms and branding.

However, be aware I do not own a comprehensive list of Policy and Process documents. My library covers the documents that will take time to produce.

VISIOs

I own VISIO drawings covering the following and many more:

      • Incident management
      • Change management
      • Problem management
      • Document lifecycle

Templates with Headings only

You may require a set of pre-headed templates to help you document your Network. You can use these templates to document your servers and use the documents for many purposes.

Training: help new starters gain knowledge about the Network.

Audit: Have to hand information that can help you manage your Network over the long term.

Data Centres: Use the templates to plan a data centre migration.

      • Operating documents
      • Installation guides
      • Profile documents (5-Pages)

Technical Writing: The Survivior’s Guide

Have you ever thought about the role of a technical writer? This booklet based on my Blogs will give you the highs and the lows of the job.  You might learn something useful.

To buy a copy click on the link below.

Technical Writer needs a new direction

I am a senior-level Technical Writer with extensive experience in Content Writing, documentation management, and process analysis. My experience covers medium to sizeable Technical Documentation projects.

Searching for companies needing Technical Documentation upkeep but can’t hire a technical writer full-time.. Any arrangement will be on a contract basis for a fixed period.

My original Technical Writing background was in Banking Software and Retail Software. I later worked in specialist fields, including Operations (data Centres), ITIL, ISO and PCI.

My extensive experience includes OFfice365, SharePoint, Confluence, VISIO and Adobe applications.

If you would like to speak further regarding your documentation requirements, please get in touch with me.

Michael Clark

Technical Writing – The Survivor’s Guide

This book Technical Writing – The Survivor’s Guide is available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle format contains all the Blogs I have written since 2012.

If you want to know how we work, estimate a project, how we view project managers and our role go ahead. Make my day and buy a copy.

Technical Writing – The survivor’s Guide

The difference between Policies, Standards, Procedures and Strategies

As a Technical Writer, I have written many policies, processes, strategies, standards and related documents. These documents outline how a business operates and provide help when a team member requires a reference.

I worked on a project where the PM insisted a document contained a process. When I said it was a strategy, he threw a hissy fit. He insisted and had no intention of listening. He is not the first who thought they knew better. In the meantime, steam billows from my ears while the consultant continues to sprout opinions on the various documents.

For the uninitiated, here is my explanation of the difference between Policies, Standards, Procedures, Standards and related documents.

Policy document?

A policy sets out an agreed management policy which might refer to IT Security and Risks. However, it will not give any direction on how to execute this vision or strategy.

A set of policies are principles, rules, and guidelines planned or adopted to reach its long-term goals. Management signed policies and published them in the Company’s preferred medium.

    • Writing Policies is to influence and determine major decisions.
    • Processes and procedures are the specific methods used to express policies in action in daily operations.

What is a Process?

It is a task, a procedure – it is NOT a Plan.

The ISO definition of a process is:

A process is a set of inter-related activities that turn inputs into outputs,

You MUST learn the process; know WHY you need it and perform the process end-2-end.

      • Process is a high-level description of a series of inter-related tasks covering an entire business.
      • It is an internal, ongoing process updated annually, as policy guidelines serve as a crucial guide for employees and managers.

Procedure 

A procedure contains more detail than a process but less detail than a work instruction. It tells users HOW to perform sequential tasks to achieve a specific outcome.

Participants will complete a procedure from start to finish in one continuous time frame (no significant delays between steps).

Work Instructions (WI)

A WI contains a detailed description of a task. Its sole purpose is to explain how to do a specific task step by step.

Plan

IT IS NOT a Process

      • Organisations have Management Plans which outline WHAT you are going to do; it does not explain HOW you will perform a task.
      • The Plan determines how to allocate resources and provides backup plans if resources are not available at a crucial time.
      • The Plan document outlines the components to show How a process will work.
      • A plan is how you will move from A to B and should support your strategy by providing a method to reach B containing an acceptable balance of risk and reward.

What is strategy?

A strategy document explains how an organisation will move from point A to Point B.

      • How will you get there?
      • Issues, problems
      • Solutions and tools to get you to point B

A strategy solves the move from A to B, considering any unforeseen issues and problems that may occur to slow your journey to B.

Your strategy is WHAT you want to do.

Understanding the difference between a strategy and a plan allows you to make sound strategic planning decisions that separate the two.

What is the standard?

Standards are mandatory actions or rules that give formal policies support and direction. Writing standards requires a company-wide consensus on what standards must be in place. It can be a time-consuming process vital to the success of your information security program.

      • They are written to show expected user behaviour—for example, a consistent company email signature.
      • Might specify what hardware and software solutions are available and supported.
      • Compulsory and must be enforced to be effective. (This also applies to policies!)

Give us a break

Give us a break. We need it. I write with authority and experience with over 25 years of experience as a technical author. My enthusiasm for delivering clearly defined documentation/content strategy has never diminished. Yet, two common issues remain for which I have no answer:

      • management expects a quick return on their budget, and
      • meeting people who think our role is a waste of time.

Our role is vital, and without us, standards of written and oral communications will forever diminish. Like many technical writers, I have various skills which overlap into different roles. I may operate under the title, technical author, but I have many more job titles under my belt. What skills do you ask? I communicate with many experts and produce relevant policy and operational process documents regarding maintaining a network. While I may not have the technical knowledge, I could step into a role and manage the infrastructure by working with technical teams. 

What can I tell you?

  • Despite the title, we are not technical experts.
        • we are documentation experts; we have an innate ability to understand the technology and explain with help from an SME how it works,
        • analyse workflows and write complex processes with drawings to help teams work more efficiently.
  • our job is never straightforward as we rely on many factors that hinder progress,
  • A change to one document means changes to related documents that contain exact content; writing is not easy:
      • Try writing 300 words about yourself. When done, look closer; how many errors can you see, and what changes will you make?
  • We work with people who are not technical writers.
      • And people who do not understand documentation but have an opinion on how to write and manage documentation.
  • We are not miracle workers:
      • If you expect to see results within a short period based on an issue that has continued unchecked for many years, you will be disappointed.

Many assume we do a cut-and-paste job and do not know that writing and managing reams of content is a fundamental role. If not, companies would not need people like me to make sense of the problem, offer a solution, and complete the job.

What do we do?

I have worked with developers, engineers (of varying shades), and experts in IT subject matter. The majority either:

        • Regard documentation as a luxury,
        • write their documentation, or
        • I do not see the point,

The developers I have met consider technical writing below their pay grade. If you think we are below your pay grade, you need to understand our role and responsibilities. 

What do we offer? 

We link the business and the users by describing the product’s potential. Knowledge management: if the knowledge resides in a team member’s head, get it out before that head moves on. That knowledge is an asset. A skilled communicator is essential to get this work done. We create critical information that is subject to an audit.

        • Writers can help with ITIL, security standards ISO27001 with quality, processes and procedures.
        • They can also help marketing teams with collaterals, white papers, marketing materials.
        • They can create newsletters—internal and external.

Who cares? No one reads it! 

Try telling that to your customers who spend more time calling your helpdesk. If your documentation is not updated and compatible with their version, you will hear loud and clear complaints. 

Businesses forget their T&Cs contain a clause that explicitly clarifies providing documentation. 

Relax at work! 

We get little time to relax because we’re always looking at ways to improve the documentation quality. It is not a standstill role. As colleagues overlook us in many stages of the development, the release phase can be daunting due to:

      • Last-minute functionality changes,
      • managing un-realistic situations,
      • unrealistic deadlines,
      • Multitasking—working on other vital projects.

This profession has a high level of stress due to a lack of communication. Managers expect the documentation to be ready and available within a few hours. Sorry, unless you have a mega team of technical writers, that will never happen.

Documentation review can wait. 

If that is the case, you must make documentation an integral part of the software development life cycle (SDLC). It will help to:

      • Include the documentation review in the schedules of the reviewers.
      • return review comments to writers on time,
      • Writers are aware of necessary changes before deadlines to make the required modifications.

People assume technical writers only write and think it’s a straightforward job. The importance of technical writing will come when they understand:

      • The actual work we do, as technical writers,
      • the management of multiple issues to enable the completion of a project,
      • the process of documentation is also a process of quality control.

Be aware of your technical writer(s) and what they do to make you look good. Do technical writers work? A technical writer performs many other tasks and related activities as a part of the documentation process:

      • Multitask: work on multiple projects at different stages of completion. 
      • Organise: keep projects to prioritise the work,
      • Be patient: deal with deadlines,
      • Manage: track multiple documents and content.
      • Training: train staff in communication and writing skills.

An SME can do the job just as well. That is debatable:

      • SMEs have their responsibilities, and documents are way down their list
      • gaps in the content are common because they don’t believe certain functions are worth mentioning.
    • A technical writer will revisit the documentation, test for cracks, and add missing content.
        • professional technical writers are: 
        • more efficient, 
        • produce high-quality documentation,
        • structure documents for consistency,
    • design easy-to-use information, and
    • Perform other related writing activities.

My advice, take technical writers seriously, and everyone will be happy.

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.