Hello world!

It has taken me a lot of time to get here. I finally came full circle and am back to the beginning.

I am a technical writer. I enjoy helping other technical writers and business writers improve their communication skills. That is what this blog is all about. In posts to follow, you will learn about what I call the “Four Cs of Technical Writing:”

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Complete
  • Correct

If you can ensure your writing has these four characterists, you are on your way to improved communication.

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Published in: on January 5, 2009 at 8:16 PM  Leave a Comment  

Social Media Profiles – How Important Are They to Writers?

BIC032Are your social media profiles and bios effective? Do they tell the world who you are and what you do? Do they tell what you want to tell the world? Remember, your profiles on social media sites are visible to anyone who goes to those sites. The world can see you.

Yes, even writers need to have good profiles. Let’s look at the Twitter bio as an example. Does your Twitter bio tell the business world what you do? Are you a technical writer like me? Do you specialize? Does your Twitter bio entice people to follow you?

Niche Profiles

If you have a niche that you write about, make sure that is in your profile.

“Writer” is a broad, general term.

“Technical writer” narrows down the field.

“Technical writer specializing in accounting software” is specific.

Granted, in a Twitter bio, you have a finite number of characters to deliver your bio (160 characters – 20 more than you get for a tweet). So, you need to create some abbreviations: Acctg s/w tech writer

Your SM Goal

You need to determine how you are using your social media. If it is strictly for business, your profiles need to emphasize the business aspects of your life. Yes, you can add personal information, but leave it for the end and keep it brief.

If you have an account on a platform that is generally on the personal level, such as Facebook, you can lead off with your personal interests. However, if you plan to use such sites for business, again lead with your business profile information.

Keyword Rich

Use lots of keywords. Ask yourself, “How will people look for those who do what I do?” Use those words. For example, if someone were looking for a senior technical writer who has experience using Dreamweaver and in devloping web content for companies that manufacture and sell toys for toddlers, what would they put into a search field? Write your profile as if you were searching for someone with your skills:

Sr. technical writer for toy manuals, esp. toddlers.

That is far more specific than “Technical writer at ABC Company,” which is what appears in many LinkedIn profile headings. On LinkedIn, the heading under your name is the first thing that people see when they go to your profile. Be extremely specific and concise. You have the remainder of the profile information to get verbose.

Learn More

If you want more assistance with writing your profiles, there are two events happening on Monday, June 29th. Both will be full of tips to write or improve your profiles.

  • The first one is a tweet chat at 11:30 am EST, which, of course is free. You can join the conversation in the DIYMKT chat room. I am hosting the chat for Ivana Taylor of DIY Marketing.
  • The second is later in the day at 5:00 pm EST. It is a one-hour teleseminar that I am facilitating. The cost is just $24.95. I will explain how to write powerful, effective profiles for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can even ask questions! Go to https://www.regonline.com/63380_745627J to register.
Published in: on June 26, 2009 at 11:19 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Can Technical Writers Write Business Plans?

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The other day, a colleague asked if I write business plans. My first thought was, “No, except for my own.”

Then, she said, “After all, it is rather technical.”

Well, of course, technical writers are perfectly skilled for writing business plans. Let’s see, what does it entail?

  • Research
  • Presenting information in a nontechnical manner
  • Designing pages that are readable.

Need I go on?

I then went to the Internet and searched “what to charge to write a business plan.” That became a guessing game. I found everything from $500 to thousands of dollars. It really depends on several things:

Are you an expert?

By nature of what we do, technical writers are experts at writing business plans. We know how to do the research, we know how to write, and we know how to present material clearly. If we are not sure how to do something, we look it up. That is how we always work.

If you are familiar with the industry for which you will write the business plan, all the better. Your credibility will allow a higher fee.

What type of business is hiring you?

For business startups, it is best to keep the fee as low as possible without putting yourself in the poorhouse. Remember, startups do not have a lot of money. At this point, it is the principal’s money. The business plan will help get the new company investment capital – that is, if you do your job in writing the business plan, the company will get their working capital.

If the company is already established, the likelihood of it affording more is higher. Although you might not need to do as much research, you can charge more for creating the new plan.

How much information already exists?

If you do not need to do a lot of research, you can charge less as the time spent on the project will be less. Many companies already have stastitics about their industry that you can use in the business plan.

If, however, the company has no research data, you must consider how much time you need to complete the research. Research could take a long time.

If the company already has an older business plan, you might have enough data to create a better, more resourceful business plan. Consider the amount of time saved if you have a document to use at the start.

Where do I find out what goes into a business plan?

There are literally thousands of web sites that talk about business plans. I found one that seems to have all the answers, including examples of over 500 business plans. That site is www.bplans.com. I found a wealth of information on the site.

I am sure there are other good sites, but this one came up on the first page of search results. It gave me everything I needed, so I highly recommend it.

OK, how do I start?

Write a business plan for your own business. See how much time it takes you. How much research do you have to complete? How long does it take you to actually write the plan?

Look at the outline on Bplans web site. It is rather extensive, but it is a place to start writing your own business plan. Then, you can figure out how long it would take you to write one for a client. Most of the information I found suggested a month if one person were to do the plan fulltime. I saw one site that said they put five people on each project and can get it done in one week. Lucky them.

How should I charge?

You need to set a project fee to write business plans. Businesses shy away from the hourly rate we technical writers tend to use. However, remember to include what constitutes a complete business plan. For example, how many edits will you include in the project? There just has to be an ending point.

Get going

OK, now get started on your business plan. See how it goes. Then, you can add “business plans” to your inventory of services

Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 1:51 PM  Comments (5)  
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3 Easy Steps to Create an Outline

You have to write a document. It does not matter what kind of document –e-mail message, report, proposal, whatever. You want to ensure you cover every necessary topic. Create an outline to make sure you collect all the information you need.
How do you do that? My favorite way of starting is brainstorming with myself.
1. The Storm of Ideas
I just start writing down everything that I think needs to be in the document. I write it down (or type it) as it comes to mind. Even if something seems silly or unrelated, if it comes to mind, it goes on the list. The important thing is to get all ideas down on paper. Do not “edit” your list.
Keep adding to the list for 15 minutes. Just let it flow.
Then stop. Put the list away for a while – an hour, a day, whatever time you have.
2. The Weeding Process
After you let the list sit for a while, start the weeding process. Cross out any ideas that either do not fit with the topic or are unnecessary to the knowledge of the reader(s). I do not delete any ideas, yet. It is possible that you could cross out an item that later turns out to be a necessary piece. If you just cross it out, you can remember it later; if you delete it, it might be lost forever.
3. Building the Logic
Now that you have the list of items to include in the document, put them in a logical order. Group like items together. Perhaps draw an “umbrella” over the grouped items. Depending on the document, that umbrella could represent a chapter, a section within a chapter, a new paragraph, and so forth.
Next, rank the groups. In other words, decide what needs to be first, second, and so forth. Let the logic lead you.
Now you are ready to write your first draft.
In the long run, taking the time to create your outline will save you time. It might not seem like it when you are doing it, but when you find you left something out, looking at the outline to placement is far easier than going through the entire document to find its right place. If your document is a simple, one-paragraph e-mail message, you can probably do the three steps on a scrap of paper, or even in your head. Even for these short communiqués, some sort of outline helps you ensure that you cover everything necessary.

Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 1:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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4 Benefits of Outlines

Outline? What outline? I am not going to do an outline. I do not need to write an outline. I am just going to write this short blog post.

That would be a huge mistake. Many writers, not just technical writers, skip this all important step. Why is outling so important?

Here are four benefits to taking the time to outline all your documents.

1. Focus

An outline helps you focus your attention. It helps you determine what to write. It gives you a roadmap from start, through the middle, and to the end.

Outlining actually helps you write more quickly, more effectively. Yes, I even wrote an outline for this blog post.

2. Flow

It is far easier to review the flow of your information over a page or two than over hundreds of pages. Even for shorter documents, like a blog post or e-mail message of substance, it is a good idea to at least jot down an information outline.

What do you need to tell your audience? Is it in the right order? Are the transitions logical? What are the relationships between topics and subtopics? Is the hierarchy transparent?

3. Balance

Reviewing an outline makes it easy to determine if the right amount of emphasis is placed on each topic. Simple enough. You might find that you need to move things around to get the right balance, or perhaps you will decide to remove information.

4. Completeness

An outline is much easier to review for any gaping holes. You will not have to go through the whole document looking for those holes. You can look at the topics and subtopics to ensure you have covered everything you must tell your audience.

A Quick Explanation

Your outline might just a list of topics, or it might be a formal document itself. It depends on what you are writing and how much roadmapping you need. For example, for this post, I simply wrote down the benefits of outlines.

  • Introduction
  • Focus
  • Flow
  • Balance
  • Completeness
  • Short explanation
  • Ending

That was fairly simple. Some outlines can become rather detailed. My post next week will cover how to start your outline after determining what kind of outline you want to create.

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 8:36 PM  Comments (1)  

Spellcheck Does Not Find Everything

If you depend on your word processing’s spellcheck feature to find all your spelling errors, you are not finding all those errors. In English, there are many words that sound the same, are spelled differently, and have different meanings.

I recently received a message from a local radio station. It contained this sentence:

As a member of 91.3 The Summit, your invited to join us for this intimate session with Joe Bonamassa.

The word your is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, it is the wrong word for the meaning of the sentence. It should be you are or the contraction you’re. Contractions in technical writing are discouraged. The above example shows why.

So, how can you be sure you used the right word and the right spelling? Read your writing out loud – even your short messages. You will be amazed at how many spelling errors your system does not catch.

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 12:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

What Do You Need to Know?

A month or so ago, I posted the following on two technical writing groups on LinkedIn:

 

What Do You Need to Learn?

If you could improve your technical writing, what specifically would you need to learn? Do you have trouble starting your projects? Do you yearn for your layouts to be as professional as those you see elsewhere? Are you having trouble with proper English? Send me your specific problems.

My purpose was to start discussions, but it did not go very far. The few responses tended to come from experienced technical writers who wanted to learn about advanced tools, rather than new technical writers needing mentors. The learning needs were mostly in the programming realm (C++, JavaScript, HTML, XML, DITA, CSS). Someone even wanted to find out how to learn SAP, as there are jobs in California requesting that experience.

 

That really surprised me. Since when do technical writers need to know how to program? Is it a trend? What do you think?

 

Are there any new technical writers out there who would like someone to help them learn the ropes? Or does everyone entering the field “know it all?”

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 3:30 PM  Comments (2)  

The 4 Cs of Technical Writing

The four Cs are clear, concise, complete, and correct writing. All four are imperative in both technical and business writing.

Clarity ensures your reader understands your communication without any difficulty. This means there are no obscure words that he or she must look up; there are no extraneous words that hide the real message; and there is a logical flow to the communication.

Conciseness is using as few words as possible to get the message across the the reader. In other words, leave out the adjectives unless they help clarify the message. Keep your sentences simple and to the point.

Completeness, of course, is ensuring the reader has all the information they need to understand the message, make a decision, and take an action. If you leave out something, the reader might make an incorrect decision.

Correctness is imperative. Do not mislead your reader. Reread your message before you send it, whether it is an e-mail message, letter, report, proposal, or any other document. Incorrect information can cost your company thousands, even millions, of dollars.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 7:00 AM  Comments (2)