Sunday, July 18, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Defective Technical Writers

If you want to be a Highly Defective Technical Writer, you need to learn industry worst practices. Here are seven to get you started.

  1. People who read help are stupid. People who write help are smart. Don't ever forget that, and don't ever let your readers forget it.

  2. Complexity of grammatical construction correlates in a positive manner with the perception of intelligence; thus it is advisable under all circumstances to endeavor to utilize sentence structures and locutions commensurate with the level of one's own education.

  3. It is considered presumptuous to address readers as if they were present. Passive voice is preferred.

  4. When documenting software that allows you to create, change, or delete something - your contact information, for example - write a separate topic for each task. It's far too confusing to provide instructions for more than one task in a single topic, or to write steps that involve choices (such as "If you need to add a new telephone number, click Add Number. If you need to change a number, edit it in the text box"). Remember, your readers are stupid.

  5. Take every opportunity to continue selling your product. Remind users how attractive it is, how sleek its design and stylish its colors. Remind them how intuitive and easy it is to use.

  6. People open the help when they are scared of making a mistake. When presenting a task, point out how easy it is. When you get to the step where people tend to go wrong, tell them it's really simple. People like to be reassured that they are smart enough to get it right. Remember, they're stupid.

  7. Don't bother with teh spelling checker. It's for careless people who either can't type very well or are too ingorant to spell well. Your smarter than that.
When you've mastered these worst practices, you'll be well on the way to being a Highly Defective Technical Writer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

To blog or not to blog

A colleague remarked on Twitter that he's thought about blogging, but didn't feel that he had anything of value to say. I started thinking about why I follow him on Twitter: Because he's the sort of person I'd want to hang out with if we lived near each other - insightful, funny, and obviously passionate about his work. His tweets are always worth reading. I can learn from him, be inspired by him, and enjoy his wit.

And this man doesn't think he has anything to offer on a blog, so he hasn't been blogging.

One of the other threads that day was to do with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which for years I'd been calling "meta-cluelessness" - the idea that some people lack the information or skill to discern that they lack information or skill.

My colleague seemed to be exhibiting the flip side of this effect: Highly capable people tend to underestimate their own skills and knowledge quite consistently, assuming that everyone knows at least as much as they do. If you've been doing a thing for a long time, and have quietly become an expert at it, you may take for granted what you know about it. You may assume that, since you've managed to learn how to knit socks, or rebuild engines, or write help that keeps customers from making tech support calls unless something actually breaks, surely everybody else in the entire world must know how by now.

But you're wrong. Lots of people don't know what you know. If you talk or write about it, some of those people will pay attention. Some of them will find your style engaging, and will want to learn from you. You'll enjoy getting to know some of them through their comments. You'll learn from some of them.

What are you waiting for? Your fans are looking for you. Start writing!