Books every technical writer should read  Clip to Evernote

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.

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Thoughts about 20% time and the technical communicator  Clip to Evernote

Last week, I joined a very interesting webcast (organized by the folks at 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.

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Screencasts, accessibility, and learning styles  Clip to Evernote

Because I don’t jump all over the latest trends and tools in the tech comm world, I sometimes get labeled as old school or as a dinosaur. And that’s one of the nicer things that’s said about me …

It’s not that I’m afraid of technology or of change. That just bad thinking, pure and simple. But I do take a measured approach to just about everything. Simply because a new tool or technique promises to make my job easier, to write documentation by itself, to make me more charming, and brew me a perfect cup of green tea doesn’t mean I’m going to swallow those promises whole. I like to investigate. And, for the most part, those promises have fallen short. Sometimes far short.

Take, for example, screencasts. I like screencasts. I’ve used them. I’ve recorded them. I’ve written about them in this space (use the search box in the top right if you don’t believe me). But, like anything else, screencasts have their strengths and their limitations.

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