Getting Organised

I read some advice the other day that suggested that, instead of reading up on how best to be productive, you’d be better served actually doing the things you need to do rather than trying to figure out the best way to ‘be productive’. I guess the premise being that many people spend a lot of time researching methodologies, trying out applications and processes when, for most of the tasks they are tracking, they would be better to just do the damn thing already. I fall squarely into that group of people. I’m very guilty of spending too much time figuring out the ‘best’ way to keep myself organised, sometimes at the expense of just doing things. So, why do …

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Why Fitbit is winning

My main aim for this year was to lose weight. Actually that’s not true. My main aim for this year was to be happy which involves changing my lifestyle and habits, mostly focussed around my fitness and weight. Data helps me with this, tracking my weight loss lets me look back and see how I’ve been doing. To that end I invested in a set of Withings scales. They’ve been great and have really helped me keep focus, and given me that little spur I needed from time to time to get back on my bike, or go for a walk, anything to be a little more active. Aside from my happiness, losing weight is also something I must do …

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Windows 7 RC

Having installed the Release Candidate of Windows 7 a couple of days ago, I have to say I’m fairly impressed and it may even sway me to keep a Windows box in the future despite plans to move to Apple hardware/software completely. Let me tell you why.

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Design matters

Why would you choose to make something difficult to use? Are you deliberately putting barriers in the road? Or are you just forgetting the main reason why people pick up a document or manual? Long ago, when I had just started out as a technical writer, I attended a course on designing for Print. It covered many things, from typography to layout and I still use some of the basic design rules I learned way back then. Whitespace, choice of font, and hierarchical indentation can help make a document more readable. Clearly delineating the structure of a document without explicitly stating it as such, leaving visual clues to help the reader navigate the page (presuming you’ve covered the multiple navigation …

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Usability sucks

I’m getting royally fedup with a lot of what I read that is written in the name of usability. Maybe it’s just a personal loathing of the overly academic, or perhaps I lean towards simplicity a little too heavily but SHEESH, some of the better known experts can’t half prattle on… I’m a member of the usability team at work, largely because I made a lot of noise about it when I joined the company, but also because as a technical communicator who is passionate about the entire experience of using a product, I realise that the interface is THE most important part of communication between user and product. I’ll let that one sink in, shall I? Despite our own …

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No Docs = No Product

What of agile documentation? It seems like such an old argument that surely, SURELY, doesn’t need revisiting? Alas it seems that the world of software engineering still contains those who think that code = product. Thankfully, in my experience, the numbers are thinning as most practitioners of modern software practices are at least educationally aware of the need for product documentation, even if they don’t fully understand the reasons. However, there are still those who are happy to hack away, and then claim they have a product. If you are such a person let me make one thing clear, you are wrong. Not only are you wrong but as time marches on, you get further and further from being correct, …

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Improve the experience

Recently, Tom suggested that: if someone can figure out how to make help whallop the user with wonder and awe, it will be the creative innovation of the century. Once we begin to establish a standard and a precedence, people’s beliefs will change from feeling that “all help is useless and unimportant” to “the help at my company is exceptionally good and useful; I will explore it more often.” And I completely agree. But. Whilst he goes on to list ways in which the future of online help may expand – personalized help, feedback options, audiovisual options and such like – I think that is only one side of the coin. While, without a doubt I could work harder to …

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Recently Read

Christmas looms large, and the days are “fair drawing in” as they say in these parts. I’m taking a couple of weeks off to relax and recharge, and no doubt to eat, drink and be (very) merry. As ever this time of year is pretty hectic, so here are few things that caught my eye over the past couple of weeks. 10 Word to avoid in your writing A short list but the main point is to avoid gobbledygook. One of my pet peeves is the use of long words when a perfectly valid, shorter, word is available. The Plain English website has some excellent advice if you want to find out more. No-one reads the help anyway the next …

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Who do you write for?

I started this blog to have a separate place to write about my “professional” thoughts and I guess I thought I could maybe add a little value to the cluttered world of technical communications, or at the very least raise my profile a little. Yes, I have an ego, but it’s kept in check for the most part. However, like my other blog, the main reason this blog exists is to give me a place that I can consider and process my thoughts. I’ve always found writing things down helped me get a good sense of what they were, even if I didn’t necessarily start with a cohesive picture in mind. Sometimes the simplest issue, one that has eluded me …

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Jack of all trades Pt. 2

My name is Gordon McLean, I am a Technical Communicator* and I am proud to be a jack of all trades. I recall once being asked to breakdown all the skills required to be a Technical Writer, and then to provide a list of daily work tasks. The list of skills was to be used as part of a skills/training matrix, and the work tasks were to be mapped to a timesheet system. At first I concentrated solely on the Technical Writers role, but even then you need to wear a number of hats; researcher, analyst, information architect, publisher, indexer, illustrator, proof-reader, editor… ohh and writer. All of those are unique job roles in some places yet, as a Technical …

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