Achieving balance, redux

Last week, we wrote some thoughts about Ivan Walsh’s post “Who Makes The Most Money – Technical Writers with Strong Language or Deep Technical Skills?. A comment from Kai Weber got us thinking about this in a slightly different way.

From Kai’s comment:

As long as you’re personally not quite there yet, the second best thing is to balance the two skills within your team of writers. You’ll often know when you come up short in one area, and writers with complementary skills can help you out quickly with the kind of advice that helps you proceed.

Even if you’re constantly learning, you’ll never know everything or be able to do everything. There’s no shame in that. As Kai mentioned in his comment, try to maintain a balance of skills and expertise within your team. Defer to others on your team who have skills and knowledge that you don’t, or who have more than you do. Use situations like that as an opportunity to learn.

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Yet more webinars from Madcap software

Over the last month or so, Madcap Software has been holding some webinars that I’ve heard have been very interesting. I wrote I heard because, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to take any of them in. But I respect the opinions of the people I know who did.

Those webinars were so well received, it seems, that Madcap is holding a few more in the coming months. Including:

  • Controlling costs by controlling language
  • Users: Who are these people and what do they want?

You can learn more about this at Sharon Burton’s blog.

One of the best things that I’ve heard about these webinars (aside from the great content) is that they’re very tool neutral — except, of course, the ones that covered Madcap’s products.

Some interesting, useful, and free training opportunities

If you don’t grow, you die. Or, at the very least, stagnate. And how do you grow in this profession? Through training, of course. Sometimes, whether due to tough economic times (like now) or management who doesn’t value training, your opportunities are limited or non existent.

Next month, though, MadCap Software is offering a series of free Webinars. The topics include:

  • Topic-based authoring
  • Advanced publishing techniques with Flare or Blaze
  • DITA 101
  • Planning for content reuse

The folks leading the Webinars include Sarah O’Keefe, Neil Perlin, and Eddie Van Arsdale. If you don’t learn something useful from them, there is something wrong!

Unlike others in the tech comm blogosphere who’ve mentioned this topic, I don’t think that these Webinars will recession-proof your job or career — there are far too many other actors and factors and intangibles involved. But I believe that the knowledge you will glean from the Webinars will definitely give you an edge and make you stand out, now and in the future.

Opera’s Web standards curriculum

Back when I started out as a technical writer, one of the skills that got me noticed by a few prospective employers (and hired by a couple) was my knowledge of HTML (and, later, CSS). And that knowledge has served me well over the years — from building and maintaining Web pages to doing HTML-based help and documentation to writing Web content.

As with many of my other skills, I learned HTML and CSS on my own. I wish I’d had a resource like the Web Standards Curriculum from Opera Software. It’s a free course that takes you through the basics of information architecture and Web design to HTML, CSS, and accessibility. A JavaScript component is also in the works.

If you need to learn or brush up on your HTML, and if standards are important to you, then this course is definitely worth a look.

Becoming a technical communicator

A while back, someone left a comment on a post aimed at novice technical communicators. In the comment was a request to explain “what should a tech writer know, step by step, beginning with level zero”. I posted a comment, saying that I’d bang out a reply in a few days.

Well, it took a little longer than that. Partly because a number of other things got in the way. And partly because the request wasn’t as simple to tackle as it looks. What you’re about to read isn’t the definitive guide to what a new technical writer needs to know. Not by a long shot. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

So, here goes …

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Tips on designing training materials

Some of the folks in our wacky profession don’t just create documentation. They also create learning materials — courseware, tutorials, and the like. Having done a bit of that in the past, I can tell you that it’s not as easy as it seems.

As with documentation (or any other kind of writing, or anything else for that matter), one of the keys to a successful training project is a solid plan. A design, if you will. This article discusses how to successfully design learning. While it’s written from the perspective of a technology professional who’s designing his or her own course of study, you can apply the advice in the article to the process of creating training material.

The key points are:

  • Create a plan
  • What do you need to learn?
  • How are you going to learn it?
  • How will you know when you’re done?