A quartet of books for technical communicators

As you may (or may not) have realized, I’ve been drifting away from technical communication over the last 18 months or so. But even as I drift away, I’m still occasionally drawn towards the shores of tech comm.

I keep encountering various ideas, technologies, and books that on the surface don’t (always) appear to have much to do with the profession. But looking a bit closer, they definitely are very relevant to what technical communicators do.

This is especially true of the books I’ve been reading lately. With a bit of thought, you can apply the ideas and lessons in those books to technical communication.

Curious? Then let’s take a look at those books.


Social media touched many aspects of work and play. In a number of ways, it’s helped create a world that has become shorter: shorter messages, shorter interactions, shorter attention spans. Technical communication is no exception. And adapting to that new world takes a bit of work.

But how to adapt? Microstyle offers a solid roadmap to do just that. The book teaches you how to grab the attention of your readers and (where necessary) draw them in to something longer.

You can learn more about Microstyle in this review.

Writing for the Web

We all write for the web, whether we realize it or not. Yes, that goes for technical communicators too. You might actually be writing documentation for a web application, trying to make your online help as concise as possible, or just writing the occasional post for the company blog.

I’m often amazed at how many writers (technical or otherwise) don’t know the basics of writing for the web. That’s where this book comes in very handy. In the space of 181 pages, Writing for the Web gives you a crash course in writing clearly, with spark, and with meaning. And also writing concisely.

You can learn more about Writing for the Web in this review.

The Sketchnote Handbook

Ever find that that the notes you take — at a meeting, event, or in a class — often gather dust? Me, too. A couple of years ago, though, I stumbled across a different way to take notes. It’s called sketchnoting and involves creating a visual map of the ideas being presented, and using a combination of visuals and text to act as prompts for remembering.

While intrigued, I didn’t follow up on this until I ran into The Sketchnote Handbook. It’s a visual guide to sketchnoting that teaches you how to take effective visual notes by listening, focusing, practicing, and structuring your notes. And you don’t need to be an artist to sketchnote. As the author points out, a bad visual is just as good as a great one, as long as it makes sense to you.

You can learn more about sketchnoting, and The Sketchnote Handbook, in this blog post.

The Elements of Content Strategy

Maybe it’s just me, but content strategy seems to be misunderstood. And, in some cases, an arcane art. While it can be difficult, at least at first glance, to figure out what content strategy is all about, it’s not a difficult concept to grasp. Applying it, on the other hand, isn’t as easy,

The Element of Content Strategy offers a good overview of content strategy — what it is, what it involves, and the basics of how to do it. The book doesn’t include any specific applications for documentation, but with a bit of thought and effort you can apply the ideas in this book to your work.

Frictionless Freelancing

Not every technical communicator is a full-time employee. In fact, many are contractors. And many of them encounter friction while doing their work, running their businesses, or trying to drum up business.

By friction I mean mistakes that you make (and keep making) that slow you down. Mistakes with your finances, interactions with clients, setting rates too low, not efficiently looking for work, and more. Often, we don’t know what we’re doing is friction before it’s too late. Frictionless Freelancing is a guide to eliminating (or, at least, minimizing) that friction. The advice is simple, easy to follow, and easy to implement.

Are there any books that aren’t directly related to technical communication that you find worth reading? Feel free to share your picks by leaving a comment.

Photo credit: Tomasz Nowicki

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