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.
Last week, I joined a very interesting webcast (organized by the folks at opensource.com) on motivation by Daniel Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind. Pink’s thoughts about motivation, how it’s changed, and how organizations can motivate their employees offed a lot of food for thought. You can read the tweets from the webcast, and a recap of the webcast.
During the webcast, Pink mentioned an interesting way that software development shop Atlassian motivates its employees. It does that through FedEx Days. A FedEx Day:
is time set aside for developers to work on whatever they want with a skew towards our products. We tend to run “FedEx” with a fairly open format where you can do whatever you want as long as you can somehow relate it to our products. We have expanded it such that we set aside 1 1/2 days for the developers to complete their ideas. We start after lunch on a Thursday and work until 4pm Friday when we present what we have to everyone.
With FedEx Days, Atlassian is motivating employees to become more engaged by doing work outside of the boundaries of their jobs. It gives them a greater sense of purpose.
When I heard Pink talking about that, it sounded a lot like something done at Google called 20% time (hence the title of this post). Google encourages employees to work on personal projects 20% of the time. Those projects can be speculative, wacky, or visionary.
During Daniel Pink’s webcast, I started asking myself can this be applied to technical communication? The answer is yes and it has been done (more on this soon).
It’s just a matter of being able to set aside that time and how you use it.