With more than ten years experience in software development, technical support and documentation, I know the importance of clear, user-friendly material, presented in the most appropriate way for the audience.

I'm not just aware of it, I'm passionate about it.

Author Ink Blog

Observations and musings of a technical writer based in Hampshire.

Go Manual Girls!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Way back when in a previous life, I worked in software support. The software in question was an order processing application which was used by mail order companies - we're talking banks of operators taking orders over the 'phone, typically with a harassed supervisor who would call us with any system problems. 

One of our customers was based in Scotland and alas, they seemed to have more problems than most. At least twice a week there would be some sort of drama and the small team of us in the support office would draw straws as to whose turn it was to deal with their supervisor - The Fierce Scottish Lady - who called with their queries (there is a point to this meandering trip down memory lane - I promise I'm getting to it!). 

Occasionally, we would need to ask The Fierce Scottish Lady to stop operators from using the system for a few minutes so we could investigate a query. Whenever this happened, she would take a deep breath, press the telephone to her bosom (evidently ineffectual since we always heard everything that followed) and then holler to her long-suffering staff:

"Go manual girls!"

Yesterday - many years and a whole career later - I found myself with The Fierce Scottish Lady back in my head, clear as day. Maybe it's all this talk of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, who knows?

Staring at a blank document in Scrivener (the same blank document I'd created with such optimism two days before) and trying to find inspiration for a copywriting project, nothing was working - everything I typed sounded dull and uninspired. In a fit of pique I closed the laptop (note that I did not slam or snap the laptop closed - I'd never be THAT piqued); then I picked up a notepad and pencil and headed out of the door. 

As I locked up - from absolutely nowhere - I heard The Fierce Scottish Lady's dulcet tones once again: "Go manual girls!". 

In a nearby coffee shop, I drank three (skinny) flat whites, and wrote nine pages of copy. It was rough copy in need of work, but still - NINE PAGES! The physical act of writing, scribbling out and turning pages was somehow liberating; perhaps the fact that I wasn't using a computer tricked my brain into thinking this isn't work and so the creative muscles loosened up - whatever it was, something clicked into place and the task was suddenly much easier.

There is much talk at the moment expounding the virtues of 'un-plugging' from out digital lives and how we can all benefit from stepping away from our 'phones, tablets and computers once in a while. I didn't do the whole digital detox thing (my iPhone was firmly by my side the whole time) but for one, glorious summer's afternoon I DID go manual. And I liked it.

* A big 'thank you' to Patrick Baty for use of the photograph at the start of this post. 

** If you enjoyed reading this post then please do leave a comment - it's always nice to hear your thoughts. Similarly, if you're looking for a technical writer for a documentation project - large or small - I'd love to hear from you.

But What Does A Technical Writer Actually Do?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whenever I meet someone new and the inevitable "So, what do you do for a living?" question arises, I say that I'm a technical writer and they reply something along the lines of:

"Oh! That sounds interesting. [pause] But what does a technical writer actually do?"

At this stage, I confess that I tend to boil it all down into one little nugget (it's really the best thing for both of us) and I say:

"I write user help for software, mainly."

More often than not there's another, longer pause and then they'll respond with something like:

"What's that?" 

And I'll say:

"You know when you're using something like Microsoft Word and there's a button in the top right-hand corner that you click to get help? I write that kind of thing."

I know. Not exactly sparkling party conversation - and upon reflection I may have left an awful lot of people with the false impression that I have written all of the help for Microsoft Word completely on my own - alas I've had no input at all (though Microsoft, if you're reading, I'm happy to help anytime!).

But the point is that I really haven't been selling myself very well on these occasions. Yes, I do write online help for software - and user manuals, and training materials - but I do an awful lot more as well. To this end, I have gone and made an infographic (because I can):

Tree of Documentation

** If you enjoyed reading this post then please do leave a comment - it's always nice to hear your thoughts. Similarly, if you're looking for a technical writer for a documentation project - large or small - I'd love to hear from you.

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