bookmark_borderSay Thank You

As some of you will now be aware, I am no longer writing my monthly Blog News column for the ISTC newsletter, InfoPlus+.

It actually started life here on this blog, every week (or so) I used to post a list of interesting posts and blogs and for a while there was an overlap but, eventually, I dropped the feature from the blog as the monthly approach gave me a little more scope to collect the best links and yes, I will admit I enjoyed the writing process that went with the column (believe me, it took me longer than you’d think).

Alas life continues to challenge my time so after not managing to submit my column for a couple of months (the shame!) I decided to make the hard decision and stop altogether. It doesn’t mean I’m not reading blogs any more, just that I’m not writing about them as much.

When it came to writing my final column, I checked back at when the column started and I was more than a little surprised to find out that it had been going for over 4 years! I’m quietly amazed it lasted that long, given my normal propensity to prefer tackling new things than sticking with current projects (I am a magpie).

There was one thing that I always struggled with though, and that was the lack of interaction, the lack of feedback. I had no idea if anyone was reading the column! The newsletter is published as a PDF and sent out via email so there are no stats to be viewed, in fact it was only at the Technical Communications Conference when a couple of people mentioned that they read it and, even better, they enjoyed it that I knew for a fact that it was worth writing. What a lovely little boost that gave my ego!

I most certainly wasn’t writing the column for that reason, in fact I’ll be honest and admit that I was writing it to try and boost my profile (I was also speaking at conferences and presenting webinars at the time) but that brief moment of adulation was very welcome. At least I think it was adulation… maybe they didn’t actually want me to autograph their conference programmes… hmmmmmmm.

I’ve been blogging for a long time so I guess I get a little blasé about feedback. Comments are great to see, I love the discussion aspect and the fact there is a passionate community of technical communicators who pop in here now and then, and if nothing else I can always check my stats to see that people are visiting the website (and presumably reading for they stay for a few minutes at a time), but being told face-to-face that someone has enjoyed something I’ve done, not much tops that.

It’s only now, reflecting on the fact that for the first month in 4 years I’m not starting to collate links and thoughts for the Blog News column, that I realise that saying thank you is something I’ve not done enough of, so let me start.

Thank you, dear reader.

Thank you for visiting and reading.

Thank you to those who visit, read and leave a comment, who join the discussion.

Thank to those who link to this blog, or retweet the link for others to see.

Thank you for taking the time.

I sincerely appreciate it.

Now, it’s your turn. No, I’m not looking for anyone to thank me, but take a moment and consider who you should be thanking, have you said thank you to them recently?

If not, now is the time. Go on, you will make someone’s day!

bookmark_borderInformation is not a commodity

The modern day technical writer, in fact I think we’ll go with technical communicator for this on, has a myriad of tools at their disposal. Be they authoring tools, publishing formats, or ways to collaborate, we are spoiled for choice. I can write content and make it available to the world in mere minutes if I so choose (and I do, frequently, you are reading it).

Of course, there is more to our job than the tools of our trade, so much more that at times I think we can forget that our value lies elsewhere and if we are forgetting that, can we really blame others for losing sight of it too? We are more than our knowledge of Microsoft Word, but I fear that’s not always apparent.

Working in a software company, I hear talk of the ‘quality of the code’ frequently, thankfully I hear similar comments about the product documentation, so where does the disconnect occur, how do our fellow professionals move from “those are the people who produce good quality product information” to “anyone can write product information” and, more importantly, how do we change that notion?

Part of the problem is that anyone can easily create and share information, better than that, they can collaborate with the author on that content. The people using the information can ask questions of the author directly, add their comments and even edit the content if it’s not correct. This is not new, Wikis have offered similar functionality for many years, yet somewhere along the line the value placed on information shifted from the quality of the content, to the functionality surrounding it.

  • Can I access it easily?
  • Can I leave a comment?
  • Can I send it to someone else?
  • Can I port it to another platform?

Some argue that information as a commodity raises the bar for us all, that by placing a value on information it allows us to be part of discussions we’ve struggled to gain access to in the past. Whilst that may be partly true, somewhere along the line we missed a grand opportunity.

Treating information as a commodity hides the real value and, worse, it places the high quality information we create into the same jumbled marketplace of content that we are all all too familiar with. As a commodity we have become just another coffee maker. Some people will seek out the best of such things, but the majority will not, they will seek the lowest cost and presume that, as it comes in a box that says ‘coffee maker’, it will meet their needs.

How do we change this?

The short answer is, we can’t. The horse has flown the cowshed (?!), the battle is lost.

However, that’s not to say the war is lost.

Good quality information will bubble to the top of the pile eventually. If your information is in a small pool, this will happen sooner rather than later. If you are concerned only with an internal audience you can help this happen by reaching out to other parts of your organisation to make them aware of what you are doing. If your information is in a larger pool, and you have to contend with other ‘google-able’ sources then you will need to do some leg work, some P.R.

This is not a new scenario and the very things that give us flexibility and power are also the things waiting to plot our downfall.

Information is a commodity. There is no escaping that fact.

But we are craftswomen, craftsmen of the highest order, and our knowledge and approach to information gives us an advantage that we shouldn’t be afraid to push home. Yes, all that other information is good, yes I’m sure it comes in handy now and then, but our information is something you can rely on, something that you can trust. It is honed, refined and delivered by experts.

Our information is not a commodity. It is a differentiator.

The sooner we all understand, and believe that, the better for us all.

bookmark_borderEdinburgh Zoo

It was a crisp, fresh November day in Edinburgh. I surprised Kirsty with a trip to Edinburgh Zoo.

Mostly to see the pandas who are, in real life, just as adorable and fluffy and cute and ohhmygodcanwetakeonehome as you’d imagine. Smaller than I thought though…

Anyway. I took the camera and, despite the railings, fencing, plexi-glass and other such screens, managed to get some pretty good photos.

bookmark_borderHow to embed linked images in Microsoft Word

Have you ever shared a Word document with someone only to find the images it included didn’t get sent over?

This is probably because the images you had were linked rather than embedded. You now have two options:

  1. ZIP the entire folder with the Word document and all the images (and hope that the links are relative and not absolute). I use 7Zip for such things (it’s free).
  2. Change all the linked images to be embedded within the Word document.

The latter option will result in a larger file size, but means you are only sending one file. But how do you do it? Microsoft haven’t made it very easy but the key is locating the Links dialog. This shows all the linked images and allows you to break the link and embedded them. The tricky bit is finding this elusive dialog.

Here’s how it works on my version of Microsoft Word, Office Professional 2010.


If you don’t see the Edit Links option, here is how to add it, once it’s added, it should appear as per the video above.

I’ve written about this twice already, but as they continue to be amongst the most viewed I thought it was worth updating the information.

bookmark_borderNot lacking in passion

What are your passions?

Life continues on an upward trajectory.

I am a rocket!

God, I’ve lost the point of this already? Why on earth do I bother?

Ahhh that’s it! Passion!

No, not the bodice-ripping type from a Jackie Collins novel (is that even right?), but the type that makes you get up in the morning because you want to get something done. The type of passion that drives creative people, or those who like to be active, to get up and go do something they love.

I know many of these types of people. Some border on the obsessive, it seems like it’s all they think about, others have private hobbies in which they happily lose themselves for hours or days on end.

The thing is, I’m not sure I have one.

For a while I thought that was a bad thing but recently I’ve realised it’s not.

It’s something I’ve mentioned here before and it still irks me at times, but less so as time passes. I think I’ve finally realised that what I’m passionate about is everything. I enjoy the fact that I’m reasonably good at a few things, that I have reasoned opinions on a number of topics. It also explains why certain types of people bore the tits off me when they only have one topic of conversation (and that’s even before we get to those people who turn every single conversation into one about themselves). I digress.

I go through fads (not fashions) of my own making. Recently I re-discovered the simple joy of building Lego. There is something relaxing about switching off most of your cognitive function, and following simple instructions. You don’t need to extrapolate, to consider, there is no need to revise or improve upon what is laid in front of you. Given that most of my working day is spent in that headspace, the appeal of Lego is kinda obvious.

But that’s fading now, been there, done that. What’s next?

Maybe I’m going to get back into reading? Or that dusty guitar might actually get some of my attention?

Who knows, and more importantly, who cares? I know that I will find something to capture my gaze and keep me occupied, it may be something which stirs up some passion in me for a while but it too will fade. Circumstance will play it’s part, of course, funnily enough I’m not quite as passionate about cycling now the days are mostly cold and wet, and whilst I will always look on with a level of jealousy when I see those passionate people talking about something they love, but I will take solace in the fact that I am passionate about one specific thing.

Living life.

You see, what stops me being passionate about one thing in particular is that I don’t really understand why you’d limit yourself in that way. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just that it doesn’t sit well within my mental model of me. I’m aware of my weakness when it comes to detail so deep-diving on a topic isn’t something I really find comfortable. I’ll tend to get as much out of something as I want and then stop, even if that means missing out on something vital. I’ll take shortcuts where I can too so my general approach to learning and information assimilation isn’t really suited to the role of being a specialist.

In my day job that’s been to my advantage and, I’m realising with increasing frequency, it suits me just fine in other aspects of my life.

In short, but when has brevity ever been a consideration here, I’m passionate about being passionate about lots of different things at different times.

Which is, probably, more similar to other people than I think.

Once again, I end a blog post with a massive non-conclusion.


bookmark_borderPartridges and Pear trees

Here in the UK, there is no escaping the fact that Christmas is approaching. On TV the adverts have started, the store shelves are being stocked, and in the office talk is turning to who might make a fool of themselves at the Christmas party.

It’s also about this time of year I start dropping hints in the hope that I don’t end up with yet another reindeer sweater…

So, in keeping with the Christmas spirit of giving, and to save you all some time and effort, here’s a few suggestions that you could, perhaps, print out and leave sitting around for a loved one to happen upon, or email to a sibling with a subject line of “Buy me something from this list and nothing else!!”

Hopefully some of the above suggestions will save you from yet another pair of slippers…

Note: Most of the above links go through an affiliate account, so I get a few pence if you actually purchase the item.