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_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_borderHow to embed linked images in Word 2010

One of the most popular posts on my blog was written a few years ago but still gets a lot of visits and comments; How to embed linked images in Word 2007.

Some of the comments have offered better solutions and one in particular I found myself searching for today. Having upgrade to Office 2010 I’ve realised that Microsoft has, again, “improved” the user interface by moving things around!

So, courtesy of Sarah, here are the updated instructions for how to embed linked images in Microsoft Word 2010:

  1. With your Word document open, click the File tab, top-left of the window.
  2. On the left-hand side, select Info.
  3. On the right-hand side, near the bottom, click Edit Links to Files.
  4. In the dialog that is displayed, select and highlight the images you want to convert from the list.
  5. Check the Save picture in document checkbox.
  6. Click the Break Link button.
  7. Click OK to confirm.

The links are removed and the images are now embedded in your Word document.

A quick check of the filesize of the Word document should show a marked increase and you can now distribute the Word document, and the Word document only, safe in the knowledge that the images are embedded.

bookmark_borderAuthor-it & Word

A teeny tiny gotcha that I thought I’d mention here. I can’t find explicit mention of it in the Author-it Knowledge Center and it’s tripped me up a bit.

Quite simply, and I realise these will sound obvious, make sure everyone who is using Author-it is using the same version of Microsoft Word.

My particular scenario has my laptop running Word 2007, making changes to the template, but when publishing from a machine running Word 2003, the footers weren’t being displayed despite the AutoText entry being available in the output Word document.

Naturally I’m discovering this delightful quirk on the final day of the project as we do a final publish and check on our deliverables. And people wonder why I’m almost bald…

bookmark_borderConference Connections

I’m still tweaking my presentation for the Technical Communications UK conference, Thursday morning is looming larger and larger in my view so I’m distracting myself with considering the other good things that happen at conferences.

For me people are the primary reason for attending a conference. Don’t get me wrong, the value can be measured by the quality of the speakers and the information provided, but that tends to be transitory, so it’s the connections you make that count in the longer term.

I’m lucky that I’ve met some of the people I know through this blog, and I’m hoping to add to that tally this week. Part of me did consider trying to organise a little “meetup” of bloggers in attendance but I think I’ll leave it down to fate, I’d hate to NOT meet someone because I was concentrating on one small part of the crowd.

At times attending industry conferences can be a bit of a guilty pleasure, it’s only after the first hour or so you realise that yes, you CAN make jokes about the kerning on the dinner menu, or laugh at yet another example of Microsoft Word being helpful. It’s also acceptable to spend your entire lunch discussing whether audience surveys are a good thing, and whether you actually need to learn XML or not.

Obviously the presentations will drive some of the topics of discussion, but (and admittedly this is usual over dinner and a small beverage or two) conversation with your peers can lead to all sorts of other things. Chess boxing being one memorable conversation from a couple of years ago at TICAD.

So, despite still not being quite sure what the final form my presentation will take (I may also adapt it on Wednesday evening to reflect back on the speakers of the day) and not being 100% sure how I’ll get from the airport to the hotel (bus? taxi?), I’m starting to get a bit excited.

There will be a blog post published here on Thursday morning to coincide with my presentation, and I’ve no doubt I, and several others, will Twitter our way through the conference.

If you see me at the conference (I’m kinda hoping at least one or two people turn up for my presentation!) then rest assured, as long as you have either a coffee or a Guinness in your hand for me, I’m very likely to welcome you with a big smile.


Popped into Waterstones at lunchtime in the vague hope of finding a decent book about Microsoft Word (2003). Nothing on the shelves worth bothering with so I left.

Somehow, when I arrived back at work, I was carrying a bag containing 3 recently purchased books. Such is the power of the ubiquitous 3 for 2 offer.

There’s a thought, are there ANY bookstores that don’t have sales on?

Anyway, I can now add the following to my “to be read” stack:

Suggestions on which to read first are welcomed.