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Technology & Tools

Trends in TechComm Tools

14th August 2014 Posted in Blog, Technology & Tools 0 Comments


Technical Writer Tom Johnson recently wrote a two-part look at the fragmentation or ‘diversity’ of tools used by technical communicators today. The topic focused around the vastly different tools in a technical writer’s/technical communicator’s toolbox today and whether a standardized tool set or a diverse set of tools has the advantage.

The recently published results of the Writers UA 2014 User Assistance Tool Survey seem to confirm the divergence that exists in technical communications tool usage, at least within the software user assistance community.

In his first post, Is Tool Fragmentation a Good Thing?, Johnson looked at the pros and cons of tool fragmentation as well as the role played by DITA in such fragmentation. While DITA is growing in popularity, the tools used to implement it vary widely.

In part 2, Benefits of Tool Diversity, Part II, he makes the point that standardization can have obvious strategic benefits, but it also encourages stagnation and hampers creativity and agility. Unfortunately, HR managers often over stress tool knowledge when it comes to screening technical communicators.

What’s in your technical communications toolbox? Do you believe it’s better that the technical communications profession employs a diverse set of tools or would you like to see more standardization when it comes to tool adoption? Please leave a comment.

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Tech Comm Around the World

9th May 2014 Posted in Blog, Documentation, Technology & Tools 0 Comments


Sarah Maddox, author, blogger and technical writer, has been working on a personal open source mapping project that shows technical communications activities–events, societies and more–around the globe. Sarah, who is the publisher of the technical writing and fiction ffeathers blog, explains the project in her post, Introducing Tech Comm on a Map.

The map shows at a glance centers of activities for Tech Comm around the world. Zoom in, or click on a circle in the location of interest and voila: information with dates, times, address and mapping. Just zoom out when you’re done and go back to global view.

The map’s source data is maintained in a Google Sheets spreadsheet. The map is updated instantly with each spreadsheet. Three other Google open source tools were used in the project:

  1. Google Maps JavaScript API
  2. Google Places Autocomplete widget
  3. Google Apps Script

Sarah says that she is planning to invite a few people to add more items and help keep the map up to date. She is also now working on v2 of the map and is looking for suggestions and ideas for enhancements and improvements.

To us, Sarah’s project is innovative and shows great promise for open source tools that are already available to make the world a better place. What are your thoughts on the idea? Please leave a comment below. She is looking for your feedback and invites you to leave your feedback on her post.

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How Best to Handle Linking in DITA Documentation

11th April 2014 Posted in Blog, Documentation, Technology & Tools 0 Comments


Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an XML-based open standard that provides the technology foundation that controls and manages creation, translation, workflow and publishing of content. Its use in the technical publishing community has continued to blossom. But as most communications professionals will tell you, DITA is not without its headaches and drawbacks.

In this post on Content Wrangler, Mark Baker provides a very detailed look at potential issues with linking in DITA publications. He not only looks at direct issues to consider within DITA itself, his discussion includes consideration for usability and how and why humans read.

What are your thoughts on using links in DITA? Should you keep them inline with your content, place them in a table at the end or avoid them all together? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and experiences, and let us know what you like and don’t like about using DITA.

Related topic:

Calculating the Financial Impact of DITA for Translation

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Does a Writer Need to Know About Website Design?

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Nearly everyone seems to have a website today.  From graphic designers to politicians, it seems anyone can make a site and show off who they are.  But since there are professionals out there who can handle website design, does it make sense for a writer to learn about this process too? 


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Tech and Writing: Tools of the Trade

31st October 2012 Posted in Blog, Software Tools, Technology & Tools 0 Comments

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No matter what type of writer you are, the fancy technology tools out there are intriguing. They promise to help you write books, to create plots, and to follow your characters. But for the working writer, what technology is worth your time and your money?

The best tools of the trade are those that do what you can’t actually do on your own, or organize tasks that you might otherwise have trouble organizing. For example, some writers get so focused on their writing that they can forget to stand up or to head to the store for milk. Today, there are timers and applications that can help you with remembering these sorts of tasks.

While every writer is different, here are some technology tools that nearly every writer could use:


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Crossing the Content Divide: What to Expect on the Other Side

Editor’s Note: This was the feature article in this month’s TechCom Manager newsletter, reprinted here with permission. Click the previous link to subscribe to the newsletter.

by Rahel Bailie


Rahel Bailie

Traditionally, various types of communications professionals could, and did, work in silos. Marketing communicators worked with sales and marketing professionals, technical communicators worked with engineering professionals, social media communicators worked with community managers, and so on. Content was considered a byproduct of a larger process. Publishing content was simply the end point of a business process. How each camp handled content followed very different processes and used very different software.

In some ways, it’s still the same. However, there has been more recognition that different types of content are connected, and more cross-over as communicators move across disciplines. What ends up being a surprise is when communicators move to the other side of the house and discover that the amount of control they have over content is very different from what they’re used to. Here, we’ll look at the two fundamental differences between how content gets managed through content management systems, demystify the processes, and discuss how to work around some of the limitations.


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Who Needs a CMS?

28th August 2012 Posted in Blog, Industry Articles, Technology & Tools 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This was the feature article in this month’s TechCom Manager newsletter, reprinted here with permission. Click the previous link to subscribe to the newsletter.

by Jo Levitt


Jo Levitt

Imagine you run a team of technical writers who have been working the same way for years. You start to feel that there is never enough time to do even the basics, though you used to produce high-quality work. You have customers in five countries, and you are spending a fortune on translation. You have related products with separate document sets, and you know there is duplication.

You wonder about the new ideas, such as content reuse, that everyone talks about, but you have enough on your plate keeping up with your current work, without taking time out to investigate things that might be irrelevant to you. What can you do?

Traditional methods have worked fine for years in the group, but could you save money by using an XML-based tool, perhaps using DITA? Would a Content Management System (CMS) help?


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SEO and Copywriting

19th July 2012 Posted in Blog, Content, Technology & Tools 2 Comments

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While you don’t need to worry about getting found in search engines with internal documents, if you’re writing or publishing a piece for web delivery you want to make accessible to the public, it’s something you should consider.  No matter how many times Google changes its rules about search engine optimization (SEO), the words featured in a web article or document do matter. And that’s where SEO copywriting comes into play.

When a reader needs to learn about something, the first inclination today is often to conduct a web search.  The vast collection of writing on the web that answers pressing questions and can help to inform readers of new ideas means your piece can face some pretty stiff competition in getting found. Including the right keywords as well as words associated with those keywords in the right places, with the right frequency and in the right formatting within the page can make all the difference in the world.


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Proper Documentation Assists Users with Mobile Apps

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Mobile applications are a hot topic right now, and that became apparent at the STC Technical Communication Summit in May of 2012. While technical writers are generally the ones behind the scenes, it’s become apparent that in order to use apps on your phone, you need to have some helpful documentation.

Technical writers step in to write the helpful documents that allow users to:


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New Rules, New Writing, More Opportunities for Tech Writers

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If you hadn’t already noticed, the economy is changing.  From the housing market to the increased interest in green living and energy, it’s become clear that new technologies are emerging, creating opportunities for new technical writing services and formats.  With each new technology that comes out to save the planet, a technical writer gets to write a new user document.

While it may seem that some user documents are simliar to the pre-green economy technologies, this is an overgeneralization. (more…)

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