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Blogging – Professional and Personal

Blogging is something that can be done for both professional and personal reasons. There are some commonalities between these two versions of the same action, and many differences. Here’s a quick overview of the basic rules for each type of blogging. By reviewing them, you’ll probably see very quickly both the similarities and the differences.

As with most forms of writing – both professional and personal, the age-old rule of “know your audience” (or know your readers) applies to writing both corporate and personal blogs.

And one more note before we post some of the main rules of blogging – make sure what you mean to write is a blog and not a website. There are two major differences between a blog and a website. The first is the content, the second is posting frequency. If you want static content – that’s a website, not a blog. If you plan to focus on facts rather than the story behind them, that’s not a blog either.

Everyone know what a website is. But do you know what a blog is, and, perhaps more importantly, what a blog is not. The short version is that the website hosts corporate offerings, knowledge, marketing positioning and branding. While a corporate blog tells the inside story behind these things: what motivated the company to pursue development of this technology (e.g. a personal story of an experience that motivated the founder); success stories (e.g. users that have benefited, lives that have been saved, etc.).

A personal website might contain elements similar to a person’s resume, their life story. The blog would give the reasons why they made the choices they did and the current status as it evolves.

Professional Blogging Rules

  • Don’t make it personal, unless YOU are the brand. Justin Beiber’s blog will be about HIM, your corporate blog won’t be about you. Avoid using the word “I” and even “we” where possible.
  • Offer the inside story, the information behind what is known.
  • Don’t only write about your company, your offerings – write about more universal (but related) topics. What is of interest to people in your industry?
  • Be subtle – if you believe your solution offers the best options and features, show it by giving examples, rather than stating “we are the best.” Let your reader come to that conclusion.
  • Post on a regular basis.
  • Consider getting others in your company to write as well.
  • Look for blogs with related topics and offer to guest blog.
  • Seek industry leaders to guest blog.
  • Don’t be conventional – work hard to make your corporate blog a place where thought leadership is evident.
  • Make sure you have an adequate blend of corporate news and accomplishments mixed with industry-relevant posts that will draw your readers to come back often. For example, if your company is in cyber-security, most of your posts should be related to cyber-security advances, technologies, key issues, etc. and not press-release type posts about your product, your people, your company.
  • Build a community of readers who come back often.
  • Respond to comments.
  • The tone of a blog is very different than that of a website. Keep this in mind for all posts – informal, informative, interesting.

Personal Blogging Rules

  • Find your unique niche, your natural alliances. If you want to right yet another food blog, few people will be interested. Blend your chosen topic with something that will appeal to many.
  • Post on a regular basis.
  • Promote your blog in groups with a similar interest.
  • Promote your blog on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • If your blog includes pictures and videos – look to promote it on social media tools such as Pinterest, Instagram etc. – with links back to the blog.
  • Focus your blog so that your audience knows what to expect. Your blog can be a blend of personal and political, for example, but you shouldn’t then suddenly start posting another angle without a good reason.

There’s a lot more we could write, but for an intro to blogging, this should suffice. Stay tuned for more…and if you’re interested in studying blogging, consider our Blogging 101 course. Write to seminars@writepoint.com for details (available both in our Training Center and online).

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Social Media 101: Are you shouting in an empty room?

The core of all social media activity is not what you say, but to whom you are saying it. If you have the most persuasive argument, the most sellable product, and even the largest sales budget known to mankind, it means nothing if you haven’t built the network of people ready to listen to the argument, learn about the product, see those fancy ads you spent a fortune on designing.

Social media is dynamic. It’s exciting. It’s reaching beyond your wildest imagination – touching people, teaching them about what is important to you. It can also be amazingly frustrating if you haven’t taken that vital first step, which is building the audience.

And, not just any audience, but the right audience. You can get thousands of followers on Twitter, thousands on Facebook, and even thousands on LinkedIn and not move your business interests forward at all, if the audience was built arbitrarily and without careful planning. The analogy that we’ve often used to explain this involves comparing your social media activity without a proper network to shouting in an empty room with no one there to listen. No matter how perfect the room is, so long as it is empty – your message won’t go anywhere.

Clearly, before you spend the energy to promote your cause, your company, your product, you need to make sure that you have people listening. What this means, in practical terms, involves the following steps:

  1. Identify your audience:
    • Who will buy your product?
    • Who will support your cause?
    • How will you find them? What tools are they using? (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
    • How else can you reach them? Are there virtual groups or popular blogs which you can use to reach your audience?
    • Who are the main players, the thought leaders, in your field…and is your target audience to be found among their followers or readers?
  2. Investigate your competitors, reach out beyond your borders, seek your natural alliances:
    • If your competitors have been more successful in targeting the audience you believe you need to reach, on Facebook and LinkedIn– look at their friends and ask those people to be friends or follow your Fan Page; on Twitter – follow the people your competitor follows and consider following the people who are following them. Don’t retweet what your competitors are tweeting, but go to the source, the industry experts and retweet them directly.
    • On Facebook and LinkedIn – find the groups where your target audience can be found and spend time taking part in the discussions, ask these people to connect with you.
    • If your product/cause has a visual angle, consider looking on Pinterest and Instagram for similar avenues and follow people there.

      Don’t shout in an empty room! Build your network.

    • Consider natural alliances – complementary businesses or causes may help you find your target audience. In simple terms, it means finding “like.” Someone who would be interested in your offerings might also be interested in a related field. As above, follow/connect/comment there.
    • Example: let’s say you have developed a generic phone app that uses the GPS to indicate the nearest place where you can do something. With an easy bit of configuration, your wonderful app can easily be programmed to begin alerting subscribers when they get within a short distance of a place that offers your client’s offerings and best deals. Your application might be generic, but your clients are not the end-users, the consumers, who use the phone but rather businesses.  So, your target audience would be the those who want to direct that audience to their shops and businesses. You’ll want to reach out to cafes, car dealers, fast food chains, flower shops, etc. Specifically, you’ll visit Facebook groups for businesses, seek out those who manage or market products, etc. LinkedIn pages for small businesses, for food products, etc.
  3. Build and provide content: 
    • As you  begin to build a network of followers, you need to also be providing them with interesting content so that you justify their joining your network. This means having a website and/or blog populated with interesting information. This means creating blog posts that are not solely focused on your services specifically, but offer valuable insight into the industry, conditions, requirements, and benefits. This means tweeting valuable information (and retweeting information as well).
    • This means guest blogging and having guest bloggers. Enhancing where you spread your content and enriching the content you provide. It’s a good idea to balance your time between adding people (something that you’ll continue to do until, hopefully, at some point your audience will begin populating itself as others share and want to join your network).

Realistically, however, to some degree, you’ll always be enlarging your network and you will have to continue to provide valuable content. It’s a never ending process but it can reap amazing results.

 

To learn more about building a network and creating a social media strategy, consider taking our two day Crash Course on Social Media. Write to seminars@writepoint.com for details.

Other courses coming up soon include:

  • Crash Course in WordPress
  • Crash Course in Blogging
  • WritePoint Technical Writing Course
  • eBook to Amazon Course
  • Industrial Design Training Course
  • And much more…

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What Name Shall I Name?

It’s really easy for users to know what something is called in the product they are using. They just have to read the documentation…right?

The problem is…how did that name get in the documentation? Is it the right name? As technical writers, we know that sometimes we can ask the marketing department; sometimes we can ask the developers. But when you live in a place where the language of the product is considered the second (or third or fourth or more) language of the people in charge of developing and/or marketing, you come up with interesting results.

A friend told me a story which we used for years as a perfect example of when NOT to trust marketing and/or the product development team. The company had designed and developed a modular product and each module had its own name. There was Pro-this and Pro-that and Pro-something-else.

Next up for the development team was a graphic element that was going to be added. After the meeting, one of the attendees came and told the technical writer that her next job would be to document this new graphic tool. It would be called… Pro-Create.

Um…no.

The problem for many technical writers is that we are documenting something that hasn’t been released, something hopefully unique and game-changing for our company. But there are standards. There are basic terms. Where can you find them?

Dr. Google, of course. However, ultimately, what matters most is not so much what you call it but the consistency of use. Your end-users want to use your product. They have purchased it and the last thing they want to do is have to toss it out and buy something else. They will learn your words, your names. As with most things in technical writing – be consistent.

Some online resources that might help are:

 

 

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Introducing Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 2017

A new software release is always exciting. It comes with a promise that features you’ve been wanting might have been included. Problems (okay bugs) have hopefully been fixed. Sometimes, it even comes with more than you imagined.

Today, Adobe announced the release of its latest Technical Communication Suite – Release 2017 (TCS 2017). TCS 2017 is especially exciting for us because it will have its premier debut at MEGAComm, Israel’s annual conference for technical writers and marcom professionals!

I was honored to have been given a sneak preview and was amazed at the amount of changes, new features and advances that made it into this release. FrameMaker has been given a huge facelift. It has always been a workhorse, a solid, dependable application that was, to some extent boring. It did its job day in and day out, but without fanfare and without fuss.

In the last couple of versions, FrameMaker began making noise. Not content to be in the shadow of Microsoft Word, it broke out and away by adding HTML output. This latest version continues by focusing on simplification and it is…simply wonderful. There’s a new Search option that allows you to quickly type in the name of a command rather than have to remember on which menu the command is located. This feature alone will save you hours! Another amazing feature is the ability to allow users to search for text within SVG images! FrameMaker 2017 also enables you to auto-generate mini-TOCs (automatically updated, of course) for ALL supported outputs. I think the feature that I liked the best was one that would benefit my team – and that’s the new Insert menu. Everything you want to insert – images, files, variables, elements…in one easy place. Oh, and if you’ are someone who loves shortcuts (me, me, me), the menus have been modified to now include a listing of all the many shortcuts you can use.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been using, recommending, teaching RoboHelp almost since it was first released. In this latest version, Adobe continues to bring RoboHelp and FrameMaker closer and closer and yet still, RoboHelp remains the tool that enables you to more easily customize the look and feel of the output to the needs and preferences of your end-users. One great new feature I wouldn’t have thought to ask for and yet has frustrated me for years, is the ability to import whole folders, rather than individual files, to baggage files. Like FrameMaker, RoboHelp is setting the industry new standard with its Dynamic Content Filters, which finally lets your end-user choose the visible content according to tags you set. For example, if you support and sell multiple versions, users can select to see topics related to their specific version. Multiple user roles? A user from one role can filter results for that specific role (or any other). Multiple region support? Users from each region can filter out other regions dynamically while still having access to the information should they need to shift regions.

Considering that TCS 2017 was only released today, I guess I have time to detail other amazing features in the coming weeks and months as I familiarize myself more and more with the latest features Adobe has added to this version but from my brief sojourn into the world of TCS 2017, I can tell you it’s a solid, exciting, ground-breaking release and I look forward to writing about it again soon (and even more excited to really begin working with it for real as I move my work-related projects into 2017 and beyond).

Kudos to the Adobe team – you guys did a great job!

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Latest Trends – Globalization

One of the greatest changes that has occurred in the field of technical writing over the last few years is the concept of globalization. This is a step beyond localization and a full two steps beyond translation. Let’s begin by defining the differences between these terms:

Translation

Translation is what companies have been doing for decades. Taking a document or an interface and converting it to another language. The same word structure, the same concepts, the same interpretation. What this means is that a manual that was written for the European market will be translated word by word for the Asian market, for the American market, for countries in Africa. Straight translation without consideration for the knowledge of the end user or how that end user will interpret the words. (An example of translation mistakes: 9 Little Translation Mistakes That Cause Big Problems).

Localization

Localization takes translation to another level. It is when a successful translator translates not merely the words, but the concepts from one language to another and more, from one society or culture to his or her own.

Globalization

And finally, globalization. Globalization is, in many ways, the opposite of localization. Localizing means making the content more understandable to the local market. It means translating the content and the context for local consumption. Globalization means smoothing out the differences; it means writing something in a way that it is universally understood. It means avoiding euphemisms, idiomatic phrases, cultural references, and local nuances.

As we write for the internet, we are more aware than ever before that the audience we are reaching crosses all borders – physical, cultural, perhaps even economic. In a recent document that I reviewed, I saw the phrase “crystal clear.” How will that translate? I asked the writer?

Well, in Hebrew, that would be phrased using language that, when translated back into English, would mean “as clear as the sun.” But if you spoke to an English speaker and said that something was as clear as the sun, they would likely wonder what you were trying to convey.

While technical writers are often challenged with learning new tools, globalization presents a major shift in how we write, the words we use, the audience we address. Bringing globalization back to the area of translation/localization. Without question, the more careful we are to write language and culture-agnostic content, the easier the translation process will be.

Also see:

Latest Trends – Introduction

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Latest Trends – Part 1

We’ve been meaning to write this next series for some time now and so, here goes. Where is technical writing? Have we reached the end of the road? If not, where are we going? What are the latest frontiers for tech writers?

Well, the first thing we’d like to say is that we firmly believe that so long as there are engineers speaking to end-users, the world will need technical writers. Just as engineers and users have changed, so too have technical writers and so, here are some of the topics we’d like to cover in terms of future trends. Stay tuned as we cover each one.

  • Globalization – not just localization or translation, but true globalization
  • A change in the way we write, what we write, why we write and to whom we write
  • Deliverables – this is likely to be several posts and will discuss:
    • Mobile documentation
    • Video documentation
    • Dynamic content that the user can filter as needed
    • WIKIs
    • Corporate blogging and technical blogging
    • Embedded help

We’ll probably add more topics along the way but we’re excited to present this latest round of posts…

 

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Enabling Users Dynamically

As a long-time RoboHelp user, I have to say one of the best features for end-users that Adobe has rolled out in recent years is the Dynamic Content Filters option. In many ways, past versions of RoboHelp and most help authoring products have focused on helping the help author rather than the help user. Great features have been added over the years – enhanced reviewing capabilities, improved help-to-print output, exciting new deliverables for mobile and HTML5 outputs, and much more.

But, in many ways, the user experience has been largely left untouched – perhaps not in look and feel (thanks to HTML5, etc.) but certainly in terms of functionality. RoboHelp 2015, and its “colleague” in the Technical Communications Suite, FrameMaker, now feature a way for the end-user to customize and filter what is displayed in the help window. This is done dynamically by selecting predetermined filters. This means, Admin users can focus on topics specific to Admin functionality or view the entire help at will. Users of Version 5 can filter out topics specific to that version, or, as in the past, sort through all topics.

What makes this feature particularly attractive to end -users is that it means that they have all the information at hand and can choose to read through any or all topics, or focus in primarily on their area of interest. In the past, it was the technical writer that decided what the end-user would receive and there was no way for the end-user to go beyond that which was provided by the tech writer.

Now, with this new feature, Adobe has enabled the end-user full access, while still enabling the tech writer to guide the focus of the reader. This is accomplished primarily with the familiar conditional tags functionality so that tech writers can still choose which topics are provided to each type of end-user, in addition to allowing the end-user to further filter  topics as needed.

The practical implications of this feature are quite extensive. Some examples:

  1. One of our clients had six different types of users. In the past, we gave the Admin users all of the information related to their tasks, as well as the other five user types. Each of the other five only had access to their related topics. There was the standard user which has the most basic tasks. Then, there was the branch manager, who was given topics related to both the standard user, as well as those of a branch manager. The regional manager, received standard, branch manager, and regional manager topics, and so on. Finally, the Admin was granted access to all of the other user categories. Now, with Dynamic Content Filters, the branch manager can quickly filter to view only standard tasks, branch manager tasks, or both combined. Similarly, the Admin can filter any level of user, effectively dividing the help project into six unique and very clear chunks of information.
  2. Another client had a product with several “live” versions released to clients at any given time. While end-users would only have to view topics related to their specific version, some updates affected more than one version at a time and so the engineers who reviewed the documentation used to have to view each output separately. With Dynamic Content Filters, the engineers can now filter per live version, or view the entire help file as one, including topics that were common to one or more versions.

There are many other ways that a technical writer can use the Dynamic Content Filters option. I have to admit that it is one that I enjoy presenting to potential clients because it has truly raised the standard of documentation, not just the ease of production, as in past RoboHelp versions, but quite literally, the level of usability for end-users as well.

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Why Social Media is Important to Technical Writers

A long time ago…the world was created…and in this great world, there was a great order of communication with many laws. One law stated that engineers should not be allowed to speak to end-users and so, technical writers were born.

Okay, that’s not really how or why we were created. But the reality is, technical writers did come into existence because there was a gap between a user’s ability to instantly understand a program or a product without assistance…and his/her ability to understand a program or product WITH the assistance of an engineer/developer.

In many cases, what fascinates and impresses a developer has little to do with the end-user. There is so much knowledge that the developer has learned, that does not impact directly on the end-user’s typical workflow. And, by contrast, there is so much going on inside the minds of users that has little to do with the mechanics of creating the functionality within an application.

So, for years, technical writers have been writing; and end-users have been reading; and programmers have been developing. In more recent years, with the continued growth of social media, engineers are once again directly in touch with end-users…or they can be. The question, of course, is should they be?

It is at this moment, that we remember that there was a reason why technical writers were brought into the picture in the first place, and a reason why our participation in the user experience remains a critical element in the success of a product.

What has changed is not the need for our services as technical writers, but rather a need for us to expand what services we offer. We still need to provide valuable user content but now we need to be more involved in identifying and meeting the needs of users who want that information from a different access point. Rather than turn to the standard PDF user manuals, and perhaps even the help files we’ve been generating for years, users are turning to social media – to YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, etc.

The challenge for technical writers is to meet them there, in these other venues and provide answers there.

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Managing a Global Team of Writers

I had the pleasure of presenting at TC World/TEKOM in Stuttgart last week. I’ve been to several international conferences in the last few years. In some cases, I was impressed; sometimes I was a bit disappointed. Often I felt very proud of our own conference here in Israel (MEGAComm). The audience in Stuttgart was respectful, interesting, engaging.

It was interesting presenting to a global audience, discussing how global teams should work. Here’s the presentation:

 

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What Agile Brings to the Company…and to Documentation

An Agile environment offers many benefits (and challenges) to the company, to the technical writers, and to end-users. It is, without doubt, a challenge in and of itself because each sprint, each chunk of time between deliverables is much shorter than in a standard, non-Agile development cycle. Where once we planned 6-8 months ahead (and sometimes even longer), now we speak in intervals of two weeks to four weeks. We don’t speak of dozens of new features, but of a handful at most. In Agile, we are tasked with working within tight and regular deadlines. Before focusing on the challenges (another post), I want to focus first on the benefits, and there are many.

For the Company:

  • The best time for a company to promote a product is when it is new and fresh. By releasing regular updates – every 2 weeks or 4 weeks, the company is constantly announcing new features and regularly offering new incentives for new users to try their “updated” system and for existing users to upgrade.
  • In the past, with a 6 month or yearly release, the company would come out with a long list of new features. While this new product may attract tremendous attention in the market, five months into the new development cycle, as its competitors are announcing new features, the company appears, to the outside world, as being behind, stagnant, quiet. By releasing smaller amounts of features more often, the marketing department has more to work with, more hype to generate.
  • We all know that every product has bugs. If a company releases a product every 6 months or once a year, it is faced with the option of release “patches” – which, from a marketing point of view sound like…exactly what it is. The product didn’t work – we’re going to patch it (fix it) until the next release. In an Agile environment, you avoid many patches simply by including the bug fix in the upcoming release. Even in a worst case scenario, where a user discovers a bug the very day they upgrade, relief might be only 2 weeks away. In this case, Agile companies work with releases and hot fixes. A hot fix might be released for a show-stopper or a critical bug. Otherwise, one release away, the worst bugs are hopefully eliminated quietly and without much fanfare.

For the Developers:

  • By doing away with much of the standard work flow, developers are no longer working alone. Rather, they are part of a team and the team succeeds or fails as a unit. http://www.writepoint.com/blog/what-agile-brings-to-the-company-and-to-documentation/ http://www.writepoint.com/blog/what-agile-brings-to-the-company-and-to-documentation/ http://www.writepoint.com/blog/what-agile-brings-to-the-company-and-to-documentation/Knowledge is shared.
  • Downside for some engineers – they sometimes find themselves doing QA; upside – they sometimes find themselves doing QA 🙂
  • By dividing the “new features” requirements into segments, the developer should have a more granular schedule for deliverables. Instead of having 6 months to develop a set of features, each feature is “chopped” into smaller chunks that are likely more easier to estimate.
  • Rather than finding out 5 months into the 6th month cycle that the developer will not meet the deadlines, the schedule is more fluid in an Agile environment. A developer that can’t meet the 6 month deadline will be monitoring progress on a regular basis (once every 2 weeks or once a month, depending on the sprint interval). This means that the company will know, well in advance, if the schedule is slipping, and estimates can be adjusted as needed.

For the Technical Writer…stay tuned!

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