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 According to Daniel Rasmus at Fast Company.com, the Disney mission has been replaced by a much longer statement: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.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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New York Technical Writer helps STC chapter launch new information interview service

Tea and chocolateGreat news! The Canada West Coast chapter of the Society for Technical Communication is offering a new service to the technical writing community in Vancouver.

The information interview service connects volunteer senior technical writers with people who are requesting information interviews, whether they are tech writing students who are required to do interviews for their programs, or people considering entering the field of technical writing.

The service offers a 30- to 60-minute interview (length is at the discretion of the senior writer). It could be in person or on the phone, depending on what the two people decide.

This service gives new writers access to some of the best technical writers in Vancouver, and gives you a chance to get an insider’s view of the field of technical writing, current market conditions, what type of skills are needed, what employers are looking for, what rates to charge, and anything else you have been wanting to know.

The chapter won an STC Pacesetter award for this service, for the contribution it has made to the Society for Technical Communication through innovative community operations. I published an article on the mentorship aspect of the information interview service in Intercom, the professional journal of the Society for Technical Communication.

For full details about the service, see the chapter website. To request an information interview right away, please email admin@stcwestcoast.ca.

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New York Technical Writer tells you the top 10 things not to do at an information interview!

As an established technical writer, I occasionally receive requests to grant information interviews to people who are interested in entering the field of technical writing. Teachers in the various technical writing programs around town (Vancouver and environs, including the fantastic program at BCIT in Burnaby) advise their students to seek out these interviews, and I think it’s a great idea.

I recently had the most remarkable experience at an information interview, which has inspired me to write this top ten list of things not to do at an information interview!

  1. Show up at the interview location extremely hung-over, wearing your best wild animal t-shirt.
  2. When you first meet the professional technical writer (that would be me) you have asked to interview, who is probably in a position to hire you or recommend you for a job, say “I’m sorry I look like this, I’ve had hardly any sleep, I’m hung-over, and I can barely talk.” That will make her glad she took a precious half hour out of her Saturday to come and meet with you.
  3. Don’t offer to pay for the writer’s coffee and biscotti. I know you’re probably a starving student and spent all your money on drinks the night before.
  4. Ask in a smarmy voice, “Who else do I need to talk to to get into this field, besides you, of course?”
  5. When advised to join the technical writers’ professional organization, or at least come to their meetings, which cost $5 for students, say you’ve gone to a meeting and didn’t find it that interesting.
  6. When advised to create writing samples for your portfolio, perhaps volunteering for a non-profit organization in order to get some experience, say you don’t want to volunteer because you want to spend all your time playing guitar.
  7. Ask if the professional writer knows Bob Rock. (Just kidding, I made that up.)
  8. Present a copy of your resume, totally covered with ink from someone else’s hand-written comments, and ask the professional writer to look at it.
  9. Remain seated when the professional writer stands to leave. I know, you can barely move.
  10. Be sure to put a typo in the thank-you email you send to the writer six days later.

I hope this will help all you aspiring technical writers feel confident to seek out and conduct information interviews, knowing that the bar is not that high!

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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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