Microblogging and writing error messages

twitter As you know, Aaron and I are posting fairly regularly on Twitter. And we’ve been noticing a number of blog posts about how Twitter can make you a better writer. Even a better tech writer.

It’s an interesting idea, and I have to agree with it to a point. When microblogging, you have 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) in which to make your point. And you need to pack as much information as you can into that small space.

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Dividing it up, with any crowd

Over the last several weeks, part of my evening ritual (if you want to call it that) has involved re-reading a few of the books on my bookshelves. Everything from Harlan Ellison‘s essays to I.F. Stone‘s musings on the trial of Socrates, from a couple of novels by James Salter to issues of Transmetropolitan.

Recently, I was going through my copy of Crowdsourcing. If you’ve been following this phenomenon for a while, the book contains nothing new or groundbreaking. But, I have to admit, the last chapter got my attention. Especially the the section “Keep It Simple and Break It Down”:

When it comes to crowdsourcing, any task worth doing is worth dividing up into its smallest possible components.

That definitely has application in the wacky world of technical communication.

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How much prior knowledge should we expect or assume?

That can be a tough question. But it can also have more than one branch. But it’s definitely a question that technical communicators need to ask when documenting any piece of software or hardware.

One of those branches is knowledge of the underlying platform. I’m not talking about being familiar with, say, Win32 or Linux internals or hardware addressing. But does the person using an application or device know how to:

  • Install supplementary software (for example, Adobe AIR) or hardware (for example, a memory card)
  • Navigate around an operating system or device
  • Perform basic operations and carry out basic tasks

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Thoughts on DocTrain

Yesterday, Scott Abel posted that PubsNet (the company behind the DocTrain conference series) was closing up shop and that DocTrain was no more. Let’s just say that this was a bit of a surprise, and it really saddened me. Sure, it’s a sign of the current economic times but that doesn’t make it any easier.

If you’ve been reading this space for any length of time, you know that over the last few years Aaron and I have been fairly regular participants at DocTrain. We’ve spoken together at DocTrain West twice, participated in a panel another time, and I presented solo at DocTrain East last year. DocTrain was good to us while it lasted.

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