New York Technical Writer knows mobile-friendly web design

Hi again. Following up on my previous Vancouver technical writer entry about iPhone 5 Simulation with phone number link - Karen Rempel Vanccouver technical writermobile web design, here are some new tips for mobile-friendly web design:

  • Use a stylesheet that re-sizes content based on the viewer size. As I mentioned in my last post, a current theme like WordPress Twenty Fifteen is set up to re-size for every common viewer size.
  • Use phone tags for phone numbers:

<a title=“Call me” href=
“tel://+16042516337”>
604.251.6337</a> (m)

Result: 604.251.6337 (m)

This allows the user to tap your phone number and call you, even in browsers that don’t automatically convert phone numbers to a clickable link.

  • Use a high-contrast colour for links, with enough space around links for people to be able to tap the link they want. Re-write or re-format to avoid crowding links together.
  • Put a Back to Top link at the bottom of long pages or entries, so people don’t have to scroll back up.
  • Use a simulation tool like MobileTest.me to view your website on different mobile devices.
  • Also remember to test your site in the top browsers, like Chrome, FireFox, Safari, and IE.

Whether you are looking for a technical writer consultant or contractor for work in Vancouver or another location, this website serves as a Portfolio sample of mobile design in action! Also check out my Resume page if you are looking for technical writer resumes or CVs.

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New York Technical Writer updates to Twenty Fifteen

Vancouver Technical Writer Karen Rempel Updates Websites to WordPress Twenty FifteenThanks for visiting my revised website! Hi, I’m Karen Rempel, a Vancouver-based documentation specialist and senior technical writer.

I just updated this website to be mobile-friendly using the fantastic WordPress theme Twenty Fifteen. I also updated my BC Wilderness Visions website, using the same theme but different settings. Check it out to see the striking effects that can be achieved by simple colour changes.

I want to give a big shout-out to WordPress for this awesome theme. It only took me a day to update both websites to use this theme. I was previously using Silver Light by Blog Oh! Blog. I loved this theme and didn’t want to change, but Google forced me into action by notifying me that my Google ranking would slip if I didn’t make my site resizable for mobile phones and tablets. What can you do?

I checked out my Google Analytics for the past month, and found that of the 1000+ visitors to this technical writing website:

  • 918 used desktops. This is what I thought! My clients are typically at their desk at work when they think about their need for a technical writer, do a search, and call me.
  • 70 used their mobile phones.
  • 15 used their tablets.
Technical writers bridge people and technology

Technical writers bridge people and technologySo isn’t it interesting that people use technology to find technical writers? Most of my clients find me by searching on the internet. And thanks to Google Analytics, I know which devices they use, what countries they search from, and even what browser they use!

Here are the stats for browsers used to find this technical writing website:

  • Chrome – 729
  • FireFox – 115
  • Safari – 72
  • Internet Explorer – 31

Please drop me a line to let me know what you think of the new site! And if you like, tell us what device and browser you used to get here. 🙂

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New York Technical Writer advises MadCap Flare content management for customized resumes

MadCap Flare WindowI recently completed a technical writing project for a Vancouver- and Calgary-based client who is a management consultant, program manager, and project manager in IT. Like many consultants, he has worked in a range of industries, and with over three decades’ worth of experience, he faces the challenge of condensing his experience and skills into a 3-page resume targeted to clients in two provinces. What would be a good way to solve this challenge? Enter MadCap Flare.

[Click the graphic to see a larger view that shows the use of condition tags]

Often thought of as an online help authoring tool, MadCap Flare is also a very user-friendly content management system (CMS). It provides a wide range of online and print-based output options (for example, Word, PDF, html). It uses XML as the backbone, making it easy to import source content and play nicely with most of the industry-standard authoring tools on the market today.

I thought that MadCap Flare’s CMS capabilities could help solve my client’s problem by providing a single-source database of skills and experience from which he can output a role- or industry-specific resume with one or two clicks of the mouse. In the words of our beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard, I made it so.

I imported my friend’s main resume from Word, and then added in content from five other role-specific resumes, with conditional tags indicating which content belonged on which resume or CV. I set up two different style sheets, for two different looks – executive dark blue, and executive brown. I set up variable text for his phone, email, and mailing address, so he can select which of these to use on a given resume for a particular client. Then I created target outputs for nine different resumes. Et voila!

Target Options in MadCap FlareAll my client has to do is click Build Primary and then select the resume he wants to generate. But best of all, updating his resume with new experience is a snap. He can use MadCap Flare’s intuitive XML editor to type in new content, then apply conditional tags to specify which resume the content belongs with. Then simply use those same two mouse clicks to generate his new target resume. Beautiful. As you can tell, I am a fan of the Flare!

Of course, MadCap Flare isn’t cheap—a perpetual license is over $1,000 CAD (including tax). But for professionals who are aiming for top-paying consulting jobs, it is a reasonable career investment, and a tax write-off. If you are interested in creating your own database of role-oriented, industry-specific resumes, give me a call and I will be happy to help you.

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New York Technical Writer teaches simultaneous desktop and mobile design

Dolphin Celebration - Esalen Relaxation Massage VancouverI recently launched a new website for a Vancouver- and New York-based technical writing client. I designed and created the site using the WordPress theme Twenty Fourteen, which has been optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile phone. Twenty Fourteen reorganizes the display of page elements based on the screen size of the device you are using. In contrast, the theme for this karenrempel.com technical writing website, Silver Light by Blog Oh! Blog, was developed in 2008 and does not resize on the fly. [Note: I updated karenrempel.com to a mobile-friendly format in April 2015.]

But there’s more to designing for mobile devices than just the capacity to automatically adjust the page elements. Here are some tips about mobile design for technical writers:

  • Keep the number of menu items to 6 or less. This is the maximum that can be displayed without scrolling on an iPhone.
  • Don’t use submenus. They are shown in expanded view when you open the menu on a tablet and present the reader with an overwhelming number of choices.
  • Use center alignment for graphics. Left or right alignment with text wrap leaves a column that’s too narrow for displaying text elegantly.
  • Put the phone number and action links near the top of the home page. Imagine your user is stopped at a light and wants to find the info before the light turns green! Not that anyone looks at their phone while driving, of course.
  • Launch all top-priority pages from links in the home page.

Whether you are a technical writer designing a website for a client, or designing your own technical writing website, I hope these tips will help you design a site that’s effective—both visually appealing and functional—on any device.

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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 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.