bookmark_borderHow to make a cup of tea

Further to my Too Simple post, and in response to the comment from Annie about the state of software manuals, I thought I’d try and give a bit of insight into the basic workings of my profession. Yes, that’s right I DO have a day job. I am a technical author and I write software documentation (actually I don’t like the “technical author” job title but that’s a different story).

Before I begin I’ll state that I’m not the most experienced technical author (there are people who have been doing this for 40 years), I’ve only ever worked in a software environment, and as in most professions there are a number of different methodologies and working practises which I can choose to follow. OK, caveat finished.

Ohhh and you may be wondering about the title of this post so let’s start there, how DO you make a cup of tea?

It’s a question I’ve used in a writing test (for graduate technical authors or those new to the profession) in the past, and it’s usually fairly effective at giving a rough first impression of how the candidate thinks in relation to product documentation.

Now, I’d warrant that most people reading this have some idea of how to make a cup of tea, but let’s presume that you didn’t, in fact, let’s presume that you haven’t even heard of tea. Starting to get a little tricky, isn’t it.
Continue reading “How to make a cup of tea”

bookmark_borderToo simple

So here’s the thing. We all use computers to do things. Whether it’s hardcore hacking, or browsing the internet for aubergine recipes, it’s just a tool that does ‘stuff’. Right?

As such, once you’ve mastered the basics and understand the main conceptual ideas, it’s a pretty easy tool to use. The mouse is relatively intuitive after a quick demonstration, the keyboard remains familiar to those who remember those clicky-clacky things that occasionally went shzipp-BING! You know, the ones you see in old movies. Typist writers I think they were called. On the whole, the mechanics of using a computer are pretty straightforward.

Conceptually you can explain a lot of the workings of a computer using simple, common, metaphors. You have a desktop to work on, you put your files into folders, you have a trash can for rubbish. The basic concepts are pretty straightforward. Moving on you start to understand that certain programs do certain things, and that you need to know which program will help you do something with a certain file.

Have I missed anything?

So, you can turn the computer on, use the mouse, start programs, work with files, operate the keyboard and you are learning more and more everyday. Doesn’t take too long and there are plenty of classes for those who are daunted by the whole idea. You don’t have to be technical to use a computer.

Yet some people seem to think it’s OK to dive straight in and start using a computer without any form of training or instruction. They don’t consult user manuals, or online help, they don’t take the time to understand the basics of what they are using.

Let’s look at something similar.

The first time I ever drove a car I was I started on a busy main road. I started the car, managed to get it into a gear and pulled straight out into oncoming traffic. Not knowing how to STOP the car I had no option but to chug forward and try and figure out what that big round thing in front of me would do. I grabbed it with both hands and twisted it and the car changed course, slamming into a car parked at the side of the road. All around me horns were blaring, angry gestures were being made and some people were suggesting that I should “learn how to drive”.

The next day I booked my first ever driving lesson.

So, to everyone who has bought a computer and has just swerved out onto the wrong side of the road, without their lights on, can you please just pause for a second. Learn what you are doing, take a lesson.

Once you’ve done that, THEN you can come and ask me for help!