The blurring of the lines between the Web and the desktop

While at a co-working space a few weeks ago, I found myself chatting with a software developer while taking a short break. He mentioned that he’s part of a team that’s developing a Web-based e-learning application. When I said that lines between the desktop and the Web are really blurring, he seemed rather surprised.

Not because he disagreed with me (he didn’t), but because he wasn’t completely sure that anyone else was seeing the distinction between those two world eroding.

And it is slowly eroding. There’s more and more integration and interoperation between desktop and Web applications (not to mention mobile apps, too). I’m not going to debate the merits and the drawbacks of shifting to the cloud, but I do see the barriers between the desktop and the Web being eliminated eventually.

That has implications for technical writers.

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Another view of using analytics with documentation

Analytics. It seems to be quite a hot topic in the documentation world at the moment, especially with Web-facing docs. Mark Fidelman of MindTouch even wrote an excellent guest post on that subject for this space recently.

While I think that analytics can be useful, I also think that perhaps they don’t tell the whole story.

The spark for this thought came from something that Anne Gentle recently wrote:

When I spoke with a few Google technical writers at the STC Summit, one of them confirmed that their performance reviews include a web analytics component

OK, so certain topics in Web-facing docs get less traffic than other topics. But does this indicate a problem with the documentation? Or is it something else?

It could be an indication that portions or functions of app are used more than others. Or it could point to features and functions which many people find difficult to use. Yes, it could mean that the documentation is lacking in areas, and people are going elsewhere to find answers.

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, we’re not getting the whole story. I’m not sure we can get it, either.

That’s not to say that analytics aren’t useful. They are. And the statistics present (at least) a couple of good opportunities. One is where we can devote more effort to the documentation. Not just traditional manuals and help, but also tool tips or embedded documentation. It can also give us an opening to work with developers and interface designers to improve the usability of a user interface.

Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.

Photo credit: mashe from Photoxpress

Just because you can write …

… in one or two or even three styles or areas doesn’t mean you can tackle other types of writing. I was reminded of this when reading a blog post by my pal Tom Johnson.

As you probably know, Tom is a well-known blogger and technical writer. In his blog, Tom recently discussed a week he spent in his employer’s marcomm department. Tom noted:

Apparently the ability to write a blog post doesn’t always translate into the ability to write other sorts of communications.

You shouldn’t expect to be able to do that. Let’s face it, you just can’t always jump into a new form of writing. Before you do that, you need practice. You need mentoring. You need education, even if it’s self education. Even then, being successful (or even effective) is definitely not a lock.

I know some good writers who can’t do marketing communications. I know a few communications professionals who can’t write good documentation to save their lives. I know technical communicators who can’t write a very good article or blog post. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. It could be that they can’t transfer their skills to another form of writing. Or maybe their minds are locked into one form of writing and they can’t break free of those shackles.

Trust me, I’ve been there. While I’m a fairly good writer of non fiction and documentation, I’ve never had much luck with fiction. I worked at it for quite a while, but I could never get the skills down. That said, I did learn a few things from trying to write short stories that I’ve been able to use in writing non fiction.

Writers, like everyone else, have limitations. Sometimes you can’t overcome those limitations. If you try and fail, will be a better person and (I hope) a better writer for it. Give other types of writing a try. If they don’t work out, pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Then focus on your strengths. Improve in the areas in which you excel.

Thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.

Photo credit: drakis from Photoxpress

Taking notes, the Cornell way

Taking notes is something that technical writers do. A lot. Many of us take those notes digitally – in a word processor, using a text editor, or with a smartphone.

Even with all the software and gadgets available, taking notes with pen and paper is still popular with many. So much for going paperless …

Taking notes, though, can be a challenge. Sometimes the ideas and thoughts of others are coming so quickly and furiously that you can barely keep up. To record those ideas and thoughts effectively, you some space and some structure. Not just for what you’re noting down, but in the way you’re developing those notes.

You can do that using the Cornell note-taking method.

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