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 thanks all who helped Yoga Outreach

Yoga in prisonThanks to my family, friends, technical writing colleagues, friends from the Society for Technical Communication, and technical writing clients who pledged me for the 30-Day Challenge. Your support really helped motivate me to get to the mat! Together we raised $940 for Yoga Outreach. That’s awesome!

I have experienced many benefits from the challenge, including being relaxed, getting a good night’s sleep, and also enjoying a warm heart from knowing we are all helping bring yoga to people who can benefit from it, perhaps the most of all, and wouldn’t have access to yoga without Yoga Outreach.

Here’s what one Yoga Outreach program participant said about coming to a Yoga Outreach class: “I found other yoga classes to be threatening almost, and you know keep up, keep up… it was very non-threatening and comfortable which is a great place to start because I can feel threatened and stuff like that.”

There is mounting scientific research that shows yoga can be of great benefit to survivors of trauma, which many participants in Yoga Outreach classes are. Yoga Outreach has pioneered a trauma-sensitive yoga training program, which they have taught to yoga teachers and other workers in various health-care settings in Vancouver. They plan to expand the training throughout BC and Canada over the next 5 years.

Thanks again to everyone who has made a donation and helped me exceed my fundraising goal! If you have been meaning to make a donation but haven’t had a chance yet, you still can until Nov. 30.

I am so inspired by the innovative trauma-sensitive programs that Yoga Outreach offers to men, women, and youth facing challenges with mental health, addiction, poverty, violence, trauma, and imprisonment, that I have decided to sponsor a program through my corporation. If you are interested in supporting community programs through corporate sponsorship, please contact Delanie Dyck, Executive Director, at 604.385.3891 or delanie@yogaoutreach.com.

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New York Technical Writer participates in Yoga Outreach 30-Day Challenge

Yoga OutreachOnce again, Vancouver’s Yoga Outreach is offering a 30-day challenge to raise money to help support their programs, which serve men, women, and youth facing challenges with mental health, addiction, poverty, violence, trauma, and imprisonment. Technical writing involves sitting at a desk, computer, or conference table most of the time (though there are occasional fun and illuminating tours at client sites!), so I find that yoga is a very welcome activity for stretching and easing tight and sore muscles.

I loved taking the challenge two years ago, so I’m going to give it another go, October 15 to November 12. I am collecting pledges of 50 cents to a dollar a day. I’ve set a goal of raising $300 for Yoga Outreach. But I am the one who will benefit the most, by shedding the technical writer’s typical computer-generated tension at the end of each day! If you’d like to help, you can make a donation of any amount on my Giving Page (now closed, but you can donate to Yoga Outreach directly on their website). Or, to truly experience the benefits of yoga, take the challenge yourself!

Yoga Outreach partners with volunteer yoga teachers, community groups, social service agencies, and correctional facilities to provide mindfulness-based yoga to often overlooked adults and at-risk youth. Yoga can help people to have a positive experience of self and a tool for coping when life gets hard.

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New York Technical Writer says Camtasia video editing software rocks!

Camtasia in actionAs a technical writer, I love learning to use new software tools, whether for technical writing projects or for my own personal tasks. I recently had the challenge of editing a 12-minute video down to about 10 minutes. The other part of the challenge was that I wanted to do it myself, for free! A little googling revealed that Camtasia by TechSmith offers a free trial for 30 days, so I decided to give it a try.

What a great product! They are not paying me to say this! The software is super easy to use (for technical writers and non-technical writers alike), and they have lots of great written and video tutorials to get the task done right away (something a technical writer really appreciates). I quickly learned how to use the software, created some opening and end titles, and cut out the parts of the video I didn’t want. The timeline allows zooming in and out to edit on a frame-by-frame level if desired, or you can use the pictogram for the audio track to decide where to cut. You can highlight a section of film and then just press the spacebar to play it. Then drag to adjust the selection if necessary. Adding the titles from the clip bin was super easy too. (Click the picture for a bigger view of the user interface.)

It only took a Saturday of playing around to make the edits I wanted and upload the completed video to YouTube. If I ever need to buy video editing software for a longer project, I would definitely get Camtasia.

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New York Technical Writer asks “Are you ready for April Fools’ Day?”

During the summer of 2011, British Columbians had the opportunity to participate in a province-wide referendum on the harmonized sales tax (HST). On August 26, 2011, Elections BC announced that British Columbians had voted in favour of eliminating the HST and returning to the provincial sales tax (PST) plus federal goods and services tax (GST) system. Good news for accountants, bookkeepers, and Vancouver technical writers!

Following the referendum results, government committed to make the transition back to the PST and GST system as quickly as possible. The Provincial Sales Tax Act received royal assent on May 31, 2012 and PST and GST will be re-implemented on April 1, 2013.

Yes, that is April Fools’ Day! But no fooling here—this is a case of BC citizens refusing to be forced to pay an additional tax. When HST was introduced in July 2010, many services that were previously just subject to 5% GST were suddenly subject to 12% HST. That’s a huge difference and it affected people and businesses alike. The good news for anyone who wants to hire a technical writer is that our rates will now be going down by 7%. No fooling!

So if you need the services of a technical writer—or any other service provider, for that matter—you’d be better off if you wait until April 1. Exceptions: legal services are subject to the 7% PST, as are services provided with regards to goods (for example, car repairs, computer installations, and so on).

If you need any help updating your procedural documentation to reflect the change in taxes, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I am currently helping a major Crown Corporation to prepare for the tax change but I will be available on—you guessed it—April Fools’ Day!

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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 addicted to stress?

Cranky yoginiWith all the yoga and meditation I do, you would think stress is something I totally take in stride. But I have faced the same challenges many of us do when it comes to managing stress. Technical writing might seem like an innocuous career, with the writers hidden away in the background, quietly working away and almost falling asleep from the dullness. It is not like that at all! We are the bridge between many different groups on a project, including developers, business and product analysts, QA and testing, project management, the SMEs, and so on. We talk to people all the time, and often face extremely tight schedules. It can get to be quite stressful if we don’t learn to balance all the demands for our time in a healthy way. My friends and family know how stressed out I can get and have given me the card shown here on two different occasions! 🙂

I was recently interviewed by Chatelaine magazine to tell my story of being addicted to stress. Vancouver-based Dr. Gabor Maté has written a great book on the subject, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress. I recommend all his books, but this one in particular woke me up to the trap I was in of creating a stressful lifestyle for myself. Quick tip: If you’re feeling stressed, take a breath. Another tip, from the Chatelaine article: sleep naked!

Image credit © 2006 Avanti Press, Inc., Box 2656 Detroit, MI 48231

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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 opinion on software implementation versus development: a look at the Temenos T24 banking software

What is the difference between software implementation and software development? They sound like two very different things, don’t they? However, it depends on the nature of the software involved. Since February 2010, I have been working as the technical writer on a team for a Vancouver-based financial institution that is implementing Temenos T24 software. My role has involved developing customized online help to go with each screen of the software.

You might wonder why this is necessary. The reason is that Temenos is not an “out of the box” solution, like Microsoft Word, that is ready to go the minute you buy it.  Though for those of us who have upgraded through various releases of Word, it is not really ready to go, as we have favourite ways of setting up the program to work for us. Come to think of it, the more expert a user is, the more they are likely to customize aspects of a software package before starting to use it. But I digress!

Used by over 600 banks world-wide, the Temenos T24 software is a very robust package that is customizable for each financial institution’s unique needs. The implications of this might not be obvious at first, but the software is actually intended to be developed further once it is purchased by a client. The documentation that comes with the Temenos T24 software is not intended for end users in banks and credit unions, such as front-line staff and people working in the back office to complete the behind-the-scenes aspects of banking. The Temenos T24 documentation is very comprehensive, but its intended audience is the implementation team of software developers, business analysts, and others who need to understand the nuts and bolts of the software’s structure of tables, applications, and modules. Using this knowledge, the implementation team must develop their own databases and screens for use with their company’s existing member structure, products, and processes.

Thus, the implementation team becomes a development team. Once development is involved, it necessitates an entirely different set of skills than implementation. Coding, testing, designing user interfaces, creating business requirements (if you don’t have them already! 😥 ) and functional specifications, and creating end user documentation. And that’s where I come in. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first technical writer in Vancouver with experience developing end user documentation for the Temenos T24 software. [Later update: I have assisted 2 companies with their T24 implementation and consulted with a third to provide advice about supporting banking software users with appropriate documentation. I also assisted with user interface design on several implementations.] If your company is undergoing a Temenos implementation, I would be happy to assist you with creating online help and quick reference materials that are suited to your banking processes. The key to a successful implementation is ensuring that everyone knows how to use the new software! I can help you do that.

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