New York Technical Writer’s Information Interview Service sweeps across the continent

STC Pacesetter AwardI’ve written previously about the Information Interview Service that I created for the STC’s Canada West Coast chapter. Our chapter won a Pacesetter Award for this service, which pairs aspiring technical writers with experienced technical writers. I published an article about this service in Intercom, the professional technical writing journal of the STC, and both the New York Metro chapter and the Chicago chapter implemented similar services. So now if you would like to talk to a senior technical writer about what is involved in joining our technical writing profession, you have three choices:

BTW, the New York Metro chapter also won a Pacesetter Award for their Talk to a Professional service, and the Chicago chapter won a Pacesetter Award the year they implemented their service as well. I am delighted that my idea bore such wonderful fruit for technical writers across the continent!

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New York Technical Writer mounts Shadow Play art exhibit

Fellow technical writer Jon Steeves standing in front of Shadow Play, 7'x 9', ink on canvas
Fellow technical writer Jon Steeves standing in front of Shadow Play, 7’x 9′, ink on canvas

It might seem like a bit of a leap, from left-brain technical writing to right-brain visual art. But somehow I made the leap across the corpus callosum, and I had my first art exhibit in August, at the Havana Art Gallery on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. The exhibit ran from August 6 to 19, with the opening night reception on August 9. It was a smashing fun night, and I took the art to the next level in this 5-minute video I made of the event.

I used Camtasia Studio, with footage and photos recorded on my iPhone 5S. The remix of Gary Numan’s “You Are in My Vision” was something Miguel Wisintainer created, and I love the way the lyrics go with the people’s morphing faces. A true celebration of the love and caring I felt as my friends and family came to look at my artwork and see how it impacted them. Can you guess how many technical writers are in the video? Drop me a line and you will win a prize if you guess right!

To see close-ups of the artwork, check out my BC Wilderness Visions blog.

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New York Technical Writer provides Windows 8 work-arounds

Windows 8 lock screenHaving your computer die is one of those love it-hate it moments in life. There’s the excitement of getting to go out and spend a lot of money on electronics without guilt—we need our computers! There’s the thrill of seeing what’s new and great, and the promise of way more storage capacity and lightning-fast processor speeds. But if you use your computer for business, as I do for my technical writing business, there is the downside of the downtime, and the need to make a decision quickly and get back up and running ASAP.

My computer doctor Dave at Eltek Electronics, who gave me the news about the death of my old motherboard, warned me about Windows 8. He said try before you buy, so like a good technical writer I went to the London Drugs at Granville & Georgia, and spent a few minutes there looking at the new operating system, but it didn’t really register, what with the sales guy hovering around and telling me about fans and gaming speeds (very helpful info, and I love the quiet fan on my new laptop).

So it wasn’t until I brought my Dell Inspiron 15 home that the impact of Windows 8 really hit me. Start screen? What? Email login? What? Apps? What? No Start menu? What? Charms? What? Microsoft Security Essentials is gone? What? I was in for a week of googling to find out how to make my computer my own, with a pre-Windows 8 functional desktop. I must say, the internet community is awesome (full of excellent technical writers!), and I found everything I needed to know, from how to make changes to the registry to a free download for a Start menu simulator. So here are some tips, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, and like me, are in love with the old world ways.

Start Menu 8 – Free download, choice of which Windows-era Start menu button you want to use, access to Control Panel, Shut Down, Computer properties, Devices and Printers, and you can pin anything you want to the first page, just like in Windows Vista. Also provides the capability to disable the Windows 8 Start screen. Love it! CNet gives it 4 out of 5 stars. I give it 5.

Windows Essentials 2012 – If you have old emails from Windows Mail that you want access to, you need this software package, which includes Windows Live Mail, the replacement for Windows Mail. Includes Microsoft Silverlight (required for viewing web content on some sites), if you haven’t already downloaded it.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – My computer doc recommends this as the best free anti-virus software. I’ve been using it for years. He also recommends using Firefox (not Internet Explorer) to minimize infections. But you probably already know that.

Disable Upgrade Prompts – If you are like me and don’t want to be interrupted by annoying prompts to upgrade to Windows 8.1 (with no visible way to close the prompt and return to work—I had to use Ctrl-Alt-Del and shut it down with the Task Manager), this blog describes how to create a registry key to turn off the upgrade prompt.

BTW, if you are using regular Windows 8, the Group Policy Editor is not available. A lot of tips describe how to set up Windows 8 using the GPE, but it’s only available if you have Windows 8 Pro. So look for instructions that use the Registry Editor instead.

Disable Lock Screen – To go directly to the desktop when you start your computer, the lock screen is one of the screens you can eliminate. Follow the instructions in this blog entry to add a key to your registry to disable the lock screen.

Run box – If you are a real techie you already know this, but half-techie technical writersWindows key like me might wonder where the Run box has gone and how to get to it when you first start Windows 8. The Windows key+R opens the Run box. Once you install your new Start menu, it’s in Windows System > Run.

Windows Defender – Microsoft Security Essentials is now called Windows Defender. Unfortunately, there is no way to add this to the right-click menu to scan individual files. But you can use it to do full-computer scans. It’s in the Windows System folder on the Start menu.

I hope this will help my technical writing friends and clients get up to speed on Windows 8 and minimize downtime on your next computer upgrade.

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New York Technical Writer discusses how technical writers add value to your company

If you are at this website, you probably already have a need for a technical writer. But you might not be aware of all the ways that a technical writer can add value to your company and improve your bottom line. Here are a few ways technical writers can contribute:

  • Technical writers provide documentation about your product or service that help your staff do their job more efficiently, reducing the time needed and improving quality of service.
  • Technical writers create materials that help customers have a positive experience while learning to use your product, through effective, easy-to-use training materials, online help, getting started guides, quick reference materials, or web-based training. A positive experience means customer loyalty, repeat business, and referrals to other potential customers.
  • Technical writers provide clear instructions that customers can use to quickly find the information they need, reducing calls to technical support lines, and therefore reducing your staffing costs.
  • Technical writers are advocates for the end user, and can contribute significantly during the product design stage, helping your developers deliver a product that is easy to understand and use.
  • Technical writers make your product look professional and increase its quality, through well-designed supporting materials and user interfaces. Nothing diminishes a product’s perceived quality like typos and spelling mistakes in the user interface or accompanying documentation!
  • Technical writers produce materials that are persistent aids to learning, which your staff or customers can refer to long after the training session is over. These materials are an asset to your company, and can be the factor that causes customers to choose your product or service over a competitor’s.

In sum, technical writers enhance your product or service, through increasing quality and customer satisfaction. They improve your staff’s performance through increasing efficiency and reducing customer support time, thereby reducing staff costs. Increased income and decreased costs mean great results for your bottom line!

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New York Technical Writer ponders our continuing mission…

To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Star Trek: The Next Generation

Technical writers rarely get to write the mission statement for space-cruising vessels like the starship Enterprise, but occasionally, if we’re lucky, we might get to help our technical writing clients define or refine their mission statement.

What is a mission statement?

It is a brief statement that explains a company or organization’s reason for existence. Its purpose is to guide the actions and decision-making of the organization by defining its goal and path.

Elements of a mission statement

A mission statement often includes these elements:

  • The purpose and goal of the organization.
  • The primary stakeholders or key market (for example, clients, customers, shareholders, members).
  • How the organization provides value to the stakeholders—its contribution, product, or service.
  • What makes the organization unique, distinguishing it from all others.
Favourite examples

Able Irrigation  With integrity and dedication, we focus our talents on in-ground irrigation that is well designed, safe, and water wise. Service is our business.

Starbucks  To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Disney  To make people happy.

Don’t kid yourself. According to Daniel Rasmus at Fast Company.com, the Disney mission has been replaced by a much longer statement: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.

Which one do you like better?

Society for Technical Communication  To advance the theory and practice of technical communication across all user abilities and media so that both businesses and customers benefit from safe, appropriate, and effective use of products, information, and services.

Goodbye Graffiti  To clean the world one wall at a time. [April 2015: Can no longer find the mission statement on their website. But it was a good one!]

Pacifica Treatment Centre  To promote health and recovery from addiction through treatment, education and support that strengthens individuals, families and communities.

Yoga Outreach  Yoga transforms lives. Together we make change possible, one mat at a time.

To the technical writers and editors reading this, you will notice that writers of mission statements are inconsistent in their use of the serial comma. It’s not me, honest!

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New York Technical Writer discusses what we all want to know: what will it cost?

The advantages of hiring a senior professional…

I have been working in the field of technical writing since 1993, writing and editing many types of technical documentation, including manuals and online help, training materials, web materials, and policies and procedures (also known as standard operating procedures or SOPs). I have worked in many capacities, from supervising writers on a project to being the sole technical writer on an international team where all the communication is virtual. I have a diploma in Professional Writing from the highly regarded Print Futures program at Douglas College, as well as an MA degree from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. I served my professional organization, the Society for Technical Communication Canada West Coast chapter, in its highest office, president, for the 2008-2009 term. I was also honoured to win the STC’s Distinguished Award for technical communications.

I produce top quality documentation quickly and always ahead of production deadlines. I learn about my clients’ products rapidly, and am adept with the latest development tools, such as those used for video and screen capture, print and online document production, content management, illustration, and source control. My experience and skill level allow me to meet my clients’ goals in a fraction of the time of less experienced technical writers. My rate is commensurate with my experience and skill level.

Industry standards for technical writing rates

The Professional Writers Association of Canada lists a range of $50 – $125/hour for technical writing (2012).

Of course there are many factors that influence rate, including experience of the writer, local market, size of the company, level of responsibility (for example, supervising others), and budget.

New York Technical Writer’s STC program contributions 2011 – 2012

Chair yoga for the officeFebruary 21 marked the 4th annual Yoga for the Office class at the STC’s Canada West Coast chapter, based in Vancouver and serving technical writers in BC and the Yukon territory. (The Society for Technical Communication is a professional organization for technical writers.) This year I added a chair to the mix. Chair yoga has become increasingly popular because the aid of the chair makes the benefits of yoga accessible to almost everyone.

About 10 technical writers came to learn some gentle poses that can be practiced by any office worker, right at your desk at work, to refresh yourself after a stressful meeting or too many hours at the computer. They discovered that simple movements combined with awareness of your breath can transform your state from prickly to peaceful in a few minutes.

The class was wonderful to teach. My students were a very receptive group of technical communicators, highly motivated to ease shoulder tension and various aches and pains. I was very pleased with the turn-out and with the peaceful space for inner exploration that we created together. Namaste!

October 18, 2011 Program Meeting: The Business Side of Technical CommunicationSharing trials and tribulations with my fellow technical writers

I had the pleasure of being one of three presenters at the STC Canada West Coast chapter’s October program meeting. The topic was “The Business Side of Technical Communication.”

Sheila Jones of Wordsmiths was the first presenter, and she shared many decades’ worth of experience about working with clients, estimating project costs, and growing one’s technical writing business.

Mike Smith of IS Solutions presented the perspective of project managers who provide technical writers for large projects. Unlike some recruitment or placement agencies, IS Solutions actually manages the project, oversees the technical writers’ work, and trains and mentors the writers. Definitely the way to go!

As an independent contractor and consultant, I shared my perspective on contracting directly to my clients versus going through a recruiting or placement agency. I had a fabulous time sharing some of the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through in this business. I also shared my recent experience of targeting a company I’d like to work for and convincing them to hire me. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that contracting is similar to dating—it’s better to let the guy/client make the first move. Then they know they want me, and are more invested in making the relationship work! 🙂

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New York Technical Writer’s tips on search engine optimization

For technical writers

It seems that no matter how good our technical writing services are, these days we have to rank well in search engines for our clients to find us. I had a recent exchange with fellow Vancouver-based technical writer Stephen Arthur about the value of being searchable. While potential clients may be more inclined to look for technical writers on a site such as LinkedInmonster.ca, or workopolis.com, and also in the Contractors Directory of the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, I think that it’s also imperative to ensure that clients can find our lovingly crafted websites through conventional search engines.

For technical writing clients

What I say here applies equally well to anyone who has a website and wants people to find your site on the internet. You must be searchable! And findable! So this article gives a few tips.

I tend to focus my efforts on Google, but there are many other search engines that people use. So here is a list to consider checking your site on:

For an unbelievable list of search engines, see the Search Engine Guide.

If your site is new, you’ll have to be patient, as it can take up to 3 weeks for the “robots,” “web bots,” or “crawlers” of the search engines to find your site and glean what’s on it. Google offers Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics to assist you. These free tools help you track what Google is finding on your site and get statistics about visitors to your site.

Try this simple trick:

In the Google search box, type site:yourwebsitename.com

This will show you whether Google has indexed your site yet. Indexing means it has found your site and made a list of keyword terms. Webmaster Tools will show you what terms it has found.

Another trick:

In the Google search box, type link:yourwebsitename.com

This will show you the links to your site that Google has found on other websites. This is the number one way to increase your website ranking in search engines. The more sites that link to your site, the more important Google thinks your site must be.

For a final tip, make sure you frequently use terms on your site that you think your clients will search for. The more times a term is used, the more relevant Google will think your site is and the higher it will rank your site if someone searches for those terms.

Happy searching!

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New York Technical Writer celebrates making a difference

Yoga for the officeOn Tuesday, January 19, 2010, I taught a class called Yoga for the Office for the Vancouver chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, a professional organization for technical writers. This is the second time I have taught this course to technical writers, and I developed it to help counter-act the strain on our bodies from working at a computer. Of course this type of yoga is helpful for anyone who works at a computer, not just technical writers! I was inspired to teach this course when I developed the strategic plan for the chapter in May of 2008. As I pondered what I could bring to the chapter in my role as president, the vision that emerged was Making a Difference.

I finished a degree in ecopsychology at Naropa University in 2007, and since then I have been discovering different ways to use what I have learned to serve my people… which includes family, colleagues, and my professional organization, as well as other communities. In the busy city of Vancouver, I think we all belong to multiple communities. And to the community of the planet as a whole.

I believe that many people are concerned about the challenges we are facing as a planet, such as climate change, pollution, social injustice, and economic difficulties. I also believe that people want to make a difference, and do many things in their lives that are making a difference already. So I decided it would be empowering and lively to celebrate the ways we make a difference. This theme still excites me, and it carried me through the challenges I occasionally faced as chapter president for the 2008-2009 term. I believe it has infused our chapter membership of technical writers with enthusiasm about being a part of our STC community.

It has been very inspiring for me to hear of the many different ways our members serve their people: bringing food to people living with HIV or AIDS and their families, street-level outreach for the homeless, dog therapy for palliative care patients, helping friends and family members with child care, and many, many other wonderful contributions. It is not surprising that technical writers are so passionate about service when one considers that we have all chosen a type of work that is service-oriented, helping our clients, companies, and the end users of our documentation to solve their problems. One of the ways that I enjoy contributing is through teaching yoga to people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to experience it.

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