I don’t have to tell you that topic-based writing is a very popular idea in the world of technical communication. And with good reason: it can help make writing, managing, and assembling documentation a lot easier.
But you can apply topic-based writing to work outside of our profession.
As you may or may not know, I do quite a bit of freelance writing. And sometimes, I have an idea for a non-fiction writing project, but am only able to chip away at it bit by bit? That sometimes feels like it happens a bit too often.
I also find that with projects like that, I write in bits and pieces — a few sentences or paragraphs here and there — and never get anything finished. I have chunks of writing, but can’t really pull them together.
Yes, that’s where topic-based writing comes into play. It can help you pull together all those chunks of content that you’ve been pecking out into something tangible.
Have I got your attention? Then read on.
A time-honored technique among anyone making a movie is to create a storyboard. A storyboard is a shot-by-shot breakdown of each scene in the movie. It doesn’t need to be detailed. It just needs to show how each shot can be composed and how each scene can play out.
So what does this have to do with technical writing? Quite a bit. Storyboarding isn’t just for movies. You can use it for any kind of writing that has a visual flow, like screencasts or presentations.
I use storyboards when creating presentations and screencasts. Let me explain how.
While we don’t focus heavily on tools, we realize that the tools and techniques of the trade can be important. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to focus on the same old thing!
Here are a few posts on this subject from the past year.
Can a bunch of little boxes on a piece of paper or on a screen help you do your job better? Can they help you avoid making mistakes? Can they help make you more efficient?
The answer to all those questions is yes. Well, if done properly. That’s the idea behind The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. No matter what profession you’re in — including technical communication — a properly-crafted checklist can help to make your working life easier.
Even if you’re an avid user of checklists, this book can be a good refresher. And if you’re new to the idea of using a checklist with your work, The Checklist Manifesto can open your eyes to a new way of doing things.
Let’s take a closer look at this book.
With apologies to The Buggles …
Last week, I gave a talk at FSOSS 2011 about creating ebooks using Open Source tools. If you’re interested, you can take a peek at the slides and notes for that presentation.
This talk wasn’t all theoretical. While I’m definitely not an expert on creating and publishing ebooks, I do have some knowledge of the subject — I’ve been researching this topic for quite some time, and I’ve been working with various Open Source tools. On top of that, I have some practical experience.
As you may or may not know, I published my first ebook recently. And, yes, it is available in the Amazon Kindle Store.
Writing this book was an interesting exercise for a number of reason. Mainly, what was interesting (at least to me) was the approach I took to writing and publishing it. There were a few fits and starts, but I think for this type of book I came upon a solution that works for me.
Why not join me for a peek at how I wrote and published my first, and definitely not last, ebook.
Because I don’t jump all over the latest trends and tools in the tech comm world, I sometimes get labeled as old school or as a dinosaur. And that’s one of the nicer things that’s said about me …
It’s not that I’m afraid of technology or of change. That just bad thinking, pure and simple. But I do take a measured approach to just about everything. Simply because a new tool or technique promises to make my job easier, to write documentation by itself, to make me more charming, and brew me a perfect cup of green tea doesn’t mean I’m going to swallow those promises whole. I like to investigate. And, for the most part, those promises have fallen short. Sometimes far short.
Take, for example, screencasts. I like screencasts. I’ve used them. I’ve recorded them. I’ve written about them in this space (use the search box in the top right if you don’t believe me). But, like anything else, screencasts have their strengths and their limitations.