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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Worst Technical Writing Contest!

Does your company have poor documentation? Have you see horrendous documentation on the Web? Have you written bad documentation: user guides that don't guide, help files that don't help, and training materials that don't train? We have all seen documentation that does not add value to a product. Your examples of the worst technical writing you have ever seen will not only make us shake our heads and laugh but also gain your company discounted services from The Write Solution.

The Write Solution is currently accepting examples of the worst technical writing you or your company has ever seen or done. Examples may include user guides, help files, training materials, policies and procedures, or portions thereof.

Every individual or company that submits an entry into the contest will receive a 25% discount off the first 20 hours of purchased services from The Write Solution. At the end of the contest, we will award the winning entry 20 hours of free services.

The Write Solution's Worst Technical Writing Contest will run from May 15th to July 15th. Entry discounts of 25% off the first 20 hours of purchased services must be used within 1 month of the end of the contest. The winning entry prize of 20 hours of free services must be used within 2 months of the end of the contest.

Entries must be in the English language and submitted via e-mail. If your entry is a help file or exists on the Internet, please e-mail the URL of the offending documentation. Document attachments must be in one of the following formats and must be virus-free:
  • Microsoft Word
  • Adobe PDF
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Adobe PageMaker
  • Adobe Captivate
  • Microsoft Excel
If you have any other formats, please contact us before sending them along.

Please submit your entry to
The contest is open to individuals and companies located in the continental United States. If you live in an area outside the continental United States, or your entry is on a Web site that exists outside the continental United States, please feel free to contact us and we will consider your entry.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

In What Department Does a Technical Writer Work?

Technical writers support various departments depending upon a company’s organizational structure. A company may have a documentation division, in which a technical writer may work alongside several other writers and answer to a documentation or publications manager. In the absence of an established documentation department, a technical writer may work alone and report to a software manager, a lead software engineer, or directly to the Director of Information Technology or the CEO of the company.

Writers oftentimes work with quality assurance and technical support personnel, and may also provide business analysts with their expertise on product specifications and design.

It is vital for technical writers to nurture and maintain excellent working relationships with software programmers, hardware engineers, and their respective managers as this is the first place a writer will go for help when learning a new product.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Procedures Versus Processes

Procedures and processes are integral parts of any documentation project.

In their simplest forms, procedures tell us how to do something and processes tell us how something is done.

A procedure is born of a task, and as a result, contains steps to achieve a desired result. It can be complex, containing many steps, or simple, containing only a few steps. A process defines the movement of, for example, information from one point to another, during which time a change is effected; hence, there is typically an input and an output in a process.

A procedure is static, as opposed to a process, which is dynamic, as it creates change. One can think of a procedure as being discontinuous, that is, the steps may be stopped and restarted at another time. A process is continuous, in the sense that it does not pause unless instructed to do so by human interaction or some other means.

Procedural steps may be completed by various people in different areas of a company. Note that each person may use the procedure to achieve a different objective; therefore, a procedure ensures that tasks are completed in a consistent manner no matter who is performing the task. On the other hand, a process tends to be completed by different people with the same objective; the department in which each individual works is not important.

Oftentimes procedures are mistaken for instructions. Instructions can be categorized as procedures only when they are carried out sequentially and are used to achieve a desired result.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Documentation: What Is It and Why Do I Need It?

Documentation can take many forms depending upon your business type.

Software development companies rely on documentation to add value to their products. Documentation for a software development company can include:
  • User Guides
  • Help Files
  • Training Materials
User guides are typically provided to customers along with the product and contain concept-driven and task-based information.

Help files provide the customer with detailed step-by-step procedures for performing tasks using the software product. Help files can be Windows-based (embedded in the software itself, much like the Help system in Microsoft Word) and HTML-based for Web applications.

Training materials may include written documents for use in a classroom setting and online tutorials that walk a user through a procedure. Online training aids may also include interactive media that allow a student to actually perform the steps required to achieve a particular result.
Companies that manufacture computer or other hardware also require documentation. Value-added items include:
  • Installation Guides
  • Troubleshooting Guides
  • Maintenance Manuals
Installation guides enable a customer to effectively carry out product implementation.

Troubleshooting guides provide a client with the means to remedy any problems that may arise during installation and use of a product.

Maintenance manuals offer step-by-step procedures for product upkeep and efficiency. Maintenance documents may also include calibration information to keep a product working consistently.
In conclusion, regardless of your company's business genre, documentation plays an important part in a product's effectiveness, enables users to quickly learn a product, and provides a user-friendly platform for training.

Other companies that require documentation include:
  • Warehouses
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Insurance/Banking/Financial firms
Warehouses need to maintain inventory and safety regulations. Policies and procedures make up a large part of documentation used in a warehouse environment. Employees must follow consistent procedures when checking inventory into the warehouse, maintaining that inventory (including following temperature requirements, if required), and monitoring inventory as it leaves.

Pharmaceutical corporations require strict adherence to government-regulated policies and procedures when handling paperwork related to research and development and clinical trials.

Healthcare organizations also require exacting observance of procedures for maintaining health records and training personnel.

Financial companies, such as banks and insurance agencies, need documentation to stress compliance with company policies. Consistent training across all departments ensures that procedures are enforced and processes are followed.

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Please check back for information about technical writing and all things documentation related.