Open Help Conference: a different kind of tech comm gathering

At WritersUA earlier this year, I met Jim Campbell and Shaun McCance. Jim and Shaun do a lot of documentation for a few Open Source projects – including GNOME and XUbuntu.

While out for dinner one night, the subject of conferences came up. We talked a bit about Open Source-specific writing conferences for a while, and things seemed to be left at that.

A couple of months ago, a message from Shaun found its way into my inbox. The subject? Something Shaun was putting together: a three-day conference in Cincinnati focusing on documentation for Open Source. He asked me if I wanted to get involved, and I immediately said Yes!

Shaun’s brainchild is the Open Help Conference. Scheduled for June 3-5, 2011, the conference will bring together people who work on open source or community-based help and help tools.

This isn’t going to be a traditional or even typical technical communication gathering. The Open Help Conference will combine the best elements of a formal conferences, unconferences, and camps. The conference will include traditional presentations, workshops, and open-participation sessions.

While the conference is still in the planning stages, Shaun has a solid group of people working with him. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

The conference Web site is bare bones at the moment. But keep checking the site for more information about the speakers and the schedule. And if you’re interested in sponsoring the conference, contact Shaun.

Photo credit: Dmitry Goygel-Sokol from Photoxpress

Mind mapping: a useful tool for the technical communicator

A while back, I attended a very interesting seminar given by a couple of consultants in Toronto. The seminar was an overview of various techniques to help kick start your creativity. It was an interesting experience, and I learned a number of interesting techniques.

One of techniques that I really dove into mind mapping. While mind mapping isn’t new to me, in the past I wasn’t really as comfortable as I should have been with it. During the seminar, something clicked and I finally saw how I could use mind mapping to effectively plan my writing. Not just the freelance writing that I do but any kind of writing, including technical writing.

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We don’t just teach, we also learn

A while back, Ivan Walsh stirred up a small hornet’s nest with his post about the top 50 technical writers on the Web. A comment to that post by Scott Abel stuck in my head:

[M]yself and a dozen or so of the people on this list don’t even do much technical writing any more. And, we’re not going to. We’re consultants, strategists, advisors, teachers, trainers, and more. Content is what we care about, technical content, or otherwise. The practices we mastered in the techcomm field are equally valuable outside of techcomm.

The portion of that comment that really hit home was the mention of teachers. I think everyone in this wacky profession is a teacher in one way or another. But we’re also learners. And by being both – they’re not mutually exclusive – we become better technical communicators. And consultants and advisors and strategists and trainers.

Here are a few thoughts on this.

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A musing on usage

One thing that a number of technical writers and their editors get prickly about is word usage. I’m not (just) talking about the grammar cops who get overly pedantic about using however instead of but or who throw the mental and emotional equivalent of an engine rod when the word that is missing from part of a sentence.

Sometimes the debates about what words to use drag on, get out of hand, and become incredibly vicious. I’ve seen that first hand. And, guess what? At the end of the day, those debates are a waste of time and energy, and are meaningless.

Sit back and let Uncle Scotty tell you a story …

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