A while back, I published a post on my personal blog about cloud computing and writers. While I think that Web-based apps are a useful addition to any writer’s toolkit, I started thinking about how useful they are to freelance technical communicators.
My conclusion? They’re very useful, whether you use them as part of a job or to help run your business.
There are a number of reasons I think that. The main ones are:
- Ease of access: you can use these tools as long as you have an Internet connection.
- Simplicity: most Web-based applications are easy to use and follow the 80/20 rule.
- Filling in gaps: specifically, software that you might not have at a client site. More on this in a moment.
Overall, I find that Web-based applications make me a bit more productive and a bit more flexible. That said, you need to choose the right applications. Here are a few that any freelancer or consultant can benefit from.
I view documentation as serving three main purposes:
- Helping users become familiar, and comfortable, with the hardware or software that we’re writing about.
- Teaching users advanced tips and tricks.
- As a reference for things that users may have forgotten or rarely use.
A big part of the second point is internalization. Making tasks seem like second nature to the user. This was brought home to be recently while doing some audio editing and clean up for my wife.
It’s been some time since I’ve done any audio editing, and quite a bit of time since I’ve done it regularly. That was back when Aaron and I were frequently putting out our podcast.
Or, at least, should consider reading.
Our education as professionals, and as human beings, should go beyond the tools and techniques of our particular trades. In the case of technical communicators, that should go beyond writing. It should go beyond technology.
There’s so much more out there that can contribute to our development, that can expand our minds and horizons, and still apply to our personal and professional lives.
One of the most convenient ways of getting that broader personal and professional education (and let’s face it, the lines between the two are blurring) is by reading books. With a book, you can learn at your own pace and on your own time, and focus on subjects that interest you. Best of all, it can be done cheaply or for free.
Here are some books that I think can enhance you both personally and professionally. If nothing else, they expose you to new ideas and practices.