Writing Assistance, Inc.

Index of All Articles

7 Little Changes with Your Learner Data That’ll Make a Big Difference
This article addresses an audience of training managers that would like to know what data to collect for improving the learning experience; and/or if they have it, how to use that data to improve the training experience and results. LMS systems offer wide possibilities for collecting data, but not every metric that’s collected is relevant.

An Individual Leadership Development Plan: Where Training Can Help
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
Regardless of whether you are designing and conducting training sessions for managers, demonstrating how to work with employees on development planning, or working one-on-one to support the process, it is critical work to the organization and essential to its future leadership.
Authoring in XML — Why Start?
by Barbara Stuhlemmer
Technical communications professionals had been talking about authoring in XML for a very long time. At first, it seemed like a lot of hype, but that has changed.
Calculating the Financial Impact of DITA for Translation
by Amber Swope
Success in a global marketplace requires translating content into multiple languages. Moving to a topic-based XML architecture, such as the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), can help you control the translation process and save money.
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Layoffs
by Kerri Barber
At the end of each year, corporate leaders look warily toward what is often a bleak and uncertain while making adjustments to already modest budgets. All too many prepare to reduce headcount through layoffs and mandatory retirement programs. Why those actions don’t bode well for long-term strategy.
Communicating for Diversity
by Kerri Harris
Effective communication is a manager’s greatest tool in rallying groups toward a common cause. From the annual department address to daily email, even the most engaging statements lose meaning when barriers to effective communication foster misconception and confusion.
Considerations for Hiring Technical Writers
by Philip Rastocny
Many times, hiring situations provide opportunities to expand your group in more than one way. Finding the right technical writer candidates can be burdensome, but with a clear goal fixed in your memory and renewed each day, your up-stream paddling toil can easily become a down-stream paddling pleasure.
Creating a Successful Training and Development Team
by Cheryl Powell
Putting together a successful Training and Development Team for any type of training project is similar to cooking your favorite recipe. If you leave out or do not have enough of a specific ingredient, the dish is not a success. Here are the key ingredients for classroom/instructor-led training or eLearning projects.
Curriculum Design with Subject Matter Experts
by Lester L. Stephenson
SMEs are the content experts. Instructional Designers are the learning experts. Recognizing the difference greatly enhances these development collaborations. Success depends on teamwork strengthened with good communication and compromise.
Dealing With Professional Burnout
by Whitney Potsus
Professional burnout can strike anyone regardless of their profession – tech writer, instructional designer, editor, butcher, baker, candlestick maker – but it’s not always easy to detect until the damage has been done. This article looks at the signs of professional burnout and dealing with them head on.
Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Technical Writer?
by Brett Hau
You can’t answer this question until you know more about what being a technical writer involves. This article shows you what a technical writer’s skill set might look like and what skills they need.
Editing versus Proofreading
by Brendan Brown
Many first-time clients of a professional editing company or freelance editor are unsure about the difference between editing and proofreading, and which service they should choose. Editing and proofreading services produce different outcomes for writers, and therefore potential consumers must be aware of what they do.
Eliminating the END GAME from Electronic Deliverables
by Alan J. Porter
While executive management may sometimes believe that anyone can write and that a technical writer’s job is to ‘Just Publish It’, technical writers need to look at what they can do to improve the ‘end game’ process.
Estimating a Technical Writing Project: Part 1- The Plan
by Robert Klemm
Technical writing project planning has several elements in common with any project plan. Yet technical writing project planning also has its own set of elements not found in engineering, construction, or manufacturing projects. This article provides an example of how to go about estimating a machinery technical writing project.
Estimating a Technical Writing Project: Part 2 – Details
by Robert Klemm
In Estimating a Technical Writing Project: Part 1 a few “Key Assumptions” were given to be able to properly scope a project. Part 2 — Details provides a more comprehensive examination of typical variables that impact technical writing project estimation.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself While Creating a New Documentation Department
by Eric Butow
Congratulations! You’re the manager of your company’s emerging documentation department — and your work has just begun. To create effective documentation for your customers, you not only have to build a sound team, but also build working relationships with all other departments in your company.
Five Secrets to Successful Interviewing and Hiring
by Karen O’Keefe
This article covers five key activities, including: writing a detailed job description; making sure the setting/environment is conducive; conducting a programmed interview; using multiple interviewers; and considering testing.
Five Steps to Revitalize Your Learning and Development Efforts
by Sue Plaster, M.ED.
I asked several Human Resources executives with expertise in multiple industries, “How does a learning and development professional stay refreshed and relevant? How do we rejuvenate and renew ourselves? How can we be resilient enough to embed this very quality in the organizations we support and lead?” Here are some insights gleaned from those experts!
Fostering a Culture of Learning for Your L&D Department
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
As your department, under your leadership, becomes a more powerful voice for learning in your organization, realize the value of communicating about what you are engaged in.
Fostering “Learning Moments” Is Key To Diversity and Equity Education!
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
The most important trait we bring to the learning setting is our authentic interest in diversity and equity learning and our curiosity and interest in the subject as well as the participants. I wish you many “learning moments” in which participants reach a new awareness, are exposed to a difference or similarity in a memorable way, gain or polish a skill, or experience a call to action in a fresh way!
Fundamentals of Leadership: Communicating a Vision
by Kerri Harris
Today’s business climate of outsourcing, in-sourcing, virtual teams, and ROI-driven objectives can leave a manager at any level feeling powerless. Yet, we often see examples of those who can elicit unwavering support from their teams, driving highly effective projects, and getting the best performance from employees despite ever-increasing workloads.
Gaining Visibility Gracefully for Your Professional Efforts
by Sue Plaster
Do you need a boost for your learning and development efforts— well-deserved positive visibility for your achievements? Are you unsure how to go about it in a graceful way that won’t come across as raw ambition or irritating egotism?
Great Documentation Can Save You Big Bucks When it Comes to Support
by Jacquie Samuels
Great documentation is an investment into the product and into the future of the company. It is worth the time and money to get it right and keep getting it right. The savings in call and cost avoidance when it comes to Support can be monumental. As a nice side benefit, your users will be happier. But what’s the difference between good and great documentation, and how does it save money?
Hiring Contract Technical Writers
by Scott Hartmann
So you’ve got approval to hire a contract technical writer. Maybe it’s for overflow work or a special project. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility and you want to do it right.

How is eLearning Helping with Onboarding
This article explains how eLearning helps new employees integrate into company culture, learn, and increase retention.

How Out-of-Date Documentation Can Cost You Your Brand and Your Company
by Jacquie Samuels
In these days of Web 2.0, people don’t sit idly by being furious with you. They take to Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media outlet they can find and they share their anger with the world. So please, on behalf of all consumers of your product, put that extra time and money into writing and updating the documentation. Build it into the cost of the product because, after all, your product isn’t complete without it.
How Technical Writers Add Value to a Team
by WAI Editor
Technical writers are not just writers, although that is certainly a major aspect of their duties. They are also user advocates, researchers, testers and publishers. All tasks that are, in the end, performed to enhance the usability and value of your products or services.
How to Justify Conference Attendance
by Mike Doyle
Professional conferences can be expensive and not all budget managers understand their importance or the benefits derived by conference attendees. Mike Doyle includes some handy worksheets you can use.
How to Market a Documentation Department
by Robert King
When you first ventured into the tech writing ranks, marketing the department was likely the furthest thing from your mind. You already had work to do, so marketing was somebody else’s job.
How To Pick the Right Recruiter
by Meredith McGhan
In the interest of streamlining costs, many companies today are outsourcing their recruiting needs, rather than having a special recruiting department or making recruiting the task of human resources. This puts the onus on the business of choosing the right recruiter. Though it may seem daunting at first, knowing what makes a recruiter good at their job gives a grounding in how to make sure you find the right recruiter for your needs.
Igniting a Culture of Learning in Your Entire Organization!
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
At its heart though, igniting a learning culture throughout our organizations does at times come down to a four letter word epitomized by my former dentist: L o v e. Love of learning. Love of challenge. Love for the work itself. Love of the customer. And love of our partnerships. This love is what ignites passion for learning in ourselves and in others.
Is Your Professional Writing At Its Very Best? Tips for Making Your Everyday Writing Stand Out
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
Are you happy with your business writing? Or do you feel like you don’t always get the level of understanding and response you’d like from your written communications? Whether our daily writing is email, PowerPoint, business proposals, texting, or social media, we influence, inform, and activate others by communicating well.
It’s In the Numbers: Using Metrics to Plan Documentation Projects
by Margie Yundt and Sherry McMenemy
It’s in the numbers. Creating documentation is not an exact science, yet as communication leaders, we are expected to provide real estimates for how much time we need to document a project, or what we can produce given a pre-determined timeline.
Making the Transition From Techcom to Marcom
by Christy Simard
At first glance, technical communication (techcom) and technical marketing communication (marcom) appear to be very different genres. Where traditional techcom strives to help people use products, marcom seeks to make people realize they need products. This article looks at the differences and similarities between these two types of communication specialty areas.
Making the Transition from Technical Writer to Manager
by Steve Capri
This article is a collage of ideas and experiences from some people who’ve made the leap from writer to manager. Although it’s not a step-by-step guideline, it provides some compelling insight as to what individuals might expect as they transition into the management ranks. Even if you are an experienced manager, you might find these ideas helpful.
Managing Conflict
by Kerri Harris
Conflict is characteristic in any situation that brings diverse groups together to manage tasks and obstacles. Conflict resolution is among the many tasks delegated to managers, yet it is often the most difficult to master.
Managing Documentation Teams with Varied Schedules and Locations
by Brett Peruzzi
In many of today’s corporate work environments, the days of managing a group of people who all share a common physical location and the same work hours are waning. More often, work teams may be composed of people who work in either a company office or from home, in different cities, states, time zones, and countries.
Managing SMEs – Part 1: A Primer for Success
by Philip Rastocny
Just the thought of dealing with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can create stress in the life of any documentation manager. Philip Rastocny provides in-depth insight on how best to deal with SMEs.
Managing SMEs – Part 2: Selling the Concept to Management
by Philip Rastocny
Part 2 switches the focus to members of your management team and what you can do to sell your team’s professionalism. Also included are hints on how your writers can individually sell themselves to gain cooperation from SMEs.
Negotiation Techniques
by Kerri Harris
Most of us are involved in negotiating in some form or other on a daily basis. Here is a look at the process of negotiation and tips you can use to improve your technique as you progress through the process.
New Attention to Onboarding: Where Trainers Hold the Keys
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
Whether we have an onboarding plan for the entire organization, an individualized approach, or a combination of approaches depending on organizational level and responsibility, we in training and development have a unique and vital role in developing the plan and implementing it. Done well, onboarding contributes greatly to organizational productivity as well as to its ability to keep and grow great talent.

Onboarding Virtual Employees: Expectations vs. Reality

Unfortunately, all too often onboarding experiences are unorganized, ad hoc (done on the fly), overwhelming (too much information to retain), or simply non-existent. On the contrary, a successful onboarding experience sets a positive tone and leads to higher employee engagement, higher performance, and even higher retention. Wondering how to accomplish this magical feat?

Outsourcing Medical Communications
by Clayton Luz
Pharmaceutical, biotechnology and life science companies are enjoying substantial cost savings from outsourcing their medical communication needs. As a business strategy, outsourcing is an increasingly popular vendor model that can save money while delivering high-quality documents within time and budget constraints.
Paradigm Shifts are Never Pretty: Advice on Making the Move to XML Authoring
by Sarah O’Keefe
Most people are risk-averse, and profound changes such as the move to structured authoring require new skills and workflows. To ensure a successful transition, XML implementers need to assess their team members, identify allies, and build their implementation strategy around the staff members who embrace change.
Planning for Our Future Workforce: Teaching Leaders to Prepare for Succession
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
Leadership development and succession trainers have an important role in helping leaders understand how to go about evaluating future potential of employees, and how to create realistic and practical succession plans. The system used need not be complex. In fact, simplicity is an asset in talent and succession management.
Potential Position Descriptions for Information Engineering Professionals
by Steve Capri
This article defines the tasks and responsibilities for up to seven levels of information engineers, plus two levels of management, because the author found that many companies do not provide formal position descriptions for their technical writers and other communication specialists.
Proving Worth: What Technical Communication Managers Must Do to Prove the Value of Their Deliverables
by Hannah Kirk
Technical communication managers are often required to prove the worth of their deliverables over and over again. The trick to increasing value with internal and external users is to identify areas where documentation can save time and money, to create agreement that the documentation can save time and money, and to ensure that the documentation does save time and money. Find out how.
Pulling Facts, Info, and Good Data From Engineers
by Lester Stephenson
Engineers are great; we couldn’t get along without them. But, the very thing that distinguishes them is also the bane of technical writers. Here is a workable tip that explains a highly successful technique a technical writer has used to pick the brains of engineers for those incomplete sections where there is something wrong, but you’re unsure what it is.

Quick Edit Tips
by Lester Stephenson
Technical writers need a quick way to proof and edit their work to meet a looming deadline. Here are four tips and techniques for quick and accurate editing that work.
Raising Your Documentation Team’s Visibility
by Whitney Potsus
Whether the documentation department has a staff of one or a team of 12, visibility within the company is a frequent concern. The reasons for this concern range from personal to professional. You want to be remembered when promotions and bonuses are handed out. Here’s how.
Saving Money with Virtual Teams and Working at a Distance Without Travel
by Barbara Stuhlemmer
Telecommuters are becoming a larger part of a company’s human resource equation. Also, there is an increasing trend to outsource parts of projects. To ensure the consistency and quality of any product or deliverable, it is imperative that teams are able to communicate throughout a project – tough enough to do when everyone is in one place, but even more challenging when team members may be thousands of miles apart.
Separating Great from Good: How To Hire the Right Technical Writer for the Job
by Jacquie Samuels
When hiring for any job opening, it’s hard to know quite what to look for to get the perfect candidate. In technical writing, there are a lot of good writers. Great technical writers, however, take everything one step further.When interviewing technical writers, look for these 10 qualities.

TechCom Case Study: Putting it All Together
by Pat Grabill
Here’s the scenario: You are a techcom manager who has just been informed by the boss that, due to budget constrictions, one department of the company will be shut down and its remaining employees transferred to your department. Those transferees might be engineers or software developers joining a group of writers—or vice-versa. Your assignment is to assist with the transition so it appears seamless.
Technical Writers are Communicators
by WAI Editor
Before the emergence of the personal computer, primary technical writer deliverables were operating manuals and instructional guides prepared for print publication. However, an argument can easily be made that even in pre-PC times technical writers were still more than writers – they were communicators.
Technical Writers as Subject Matter Experts
by WAI Editor
Many firms who seek outsourced technical writing help to complete their projects only have the expectation that the technical writer they bring on board will become knowledgeable enough to be able to communicate to the firms’ customers and do an adequate job to get the material out the door. Instead, firms would benefit from viewing technical writers they hire as potential subject matter experts that they’ll use on a regular basis so that the technical writers working for them will become increasingly knowledgeable about the company, its customers, its products and the audience for what’s being documented.
Technical Writing and Agile Scrum: Where’s the Fit?
by Robert Spielman
Why the modern technical writer needs to be part of the Agile Scrum team and closely aligned with the meetings and deliverables contained within each sprint.
Test Driving Your Next Employee’s Skills
by Daniel Rieger
For the past few years, the buzz phrase in interviewing has been behavioral interviews. In behavioral interviews, the interviewer asks the candidate what has been done in the past in order to extrapolate what will be done into the future: past performance indicates future performance. How to ‘test drive’ a new employee and why it matters.
The Art of Self Marketing
by Kerri Harris
Savvy career-minded professionals should consider incorporating these marketing techniques into their annual objectives.
The Cost of Hiring the Wrong Employee
by Meredith McGhan
There are many hidden costs attendant to the termination and hiring cycle, including revenue losses, outlays of extra cash, and man-hours spent in various recruiting duties by all levels of staff – especially for small businesses. The cost of hiring the wrong employee is substantially greater than the cost of hiring a more productive new person, even at a higher salary.
The Global Classroom
by Lester L. Stephenson
Teaching in a multiple culture/multiple language classroom is the new reality. It offers some unique challenges but is not impossible.
The Life of a Lone Writer
by Whitney Potsus
‘Lone writers’ — those who work as their employer’s only staff writers — are a different breed, with their own unique set of professional and personal challenges. At the same time a blessing and a curse, the lone writer life offers flexibility, variety, and autonomy, along with feelings of stress, isolation, and burnout. Here are some first-hand insights from a lone writer.
The ROI On Using an Outside Recruiter
by Meredith McGhan
Because it’s so difficult to put a monetary value on hiring the right versus the wrong person, many organizational decision-makers simply assume that it’s more cost-effective to use in-house resources for recruiting. However, hidden costs in direct recruiting endeavors add up. The ROI on using an outside recruiter is actually substantially higher.
The Value of Documented Processes
by Marcia Weeden
How good documentation assists well-planned, business growth, while helping to make business dreams a reality, by providing clarity, history, road maps, insurance, and checkpoints.
The Well Written SOP – Critical for Continuous Improvement
by Marcia Weeden
A well-documented SOP means the company can identify which improvements make the best sense and which will give the best ROI. The well-written SOP is one of the best tools for keeping abreast with change and thus, it is truly critical for continuous improvement.
The Why and How of Content Convergence and Integration
by Rahel Anne Bailie
Industry is discovering content as a commodity; the rules are changing, and fast. What have traditionally been seen as the lowliest form of commercial content within an enterprise – technical manuals – are starting to take their place alongside the other valued corporate assets.
Think Globally, Write Locally
by Kristen Giovanis
Companies operating in a global marketplace know they need to translate documents for their audiences. But some documents need more than translation: they need localization. Although a document’s words can be translated perfectly, the document can still be ineffective in another market, due to differences in the way local businesses operate and in the way people think.
Top 6 Advantages of Hiring a Freelancer
by Billy Kirk
Freelancers have obvious reasons for choosing their path—the flexibility of working from home, setting their own hours, et cetera—but as a business owner or hiring manager, what advantages would your company stand to experience through the hiring of freelancers?
Top 10 Interview Tips
by Karen O’Keefe
As an interviewee, these actions might give you a competitive edge. As an interviewer, they might help set your standards on how you rate potential candidates.
Topic-Based Writing to the Rescue: Project Considerations for Managers (Case Study)
by Rahel Anne Bailie
What do you do when someone asks you to help with a ‘rescue’ project that requires a number of deliverables, including training materials and user guides for a new enterprise system, in under eight weeks? Here’s a case study that details how just such a project can be successful.
Training Issues in Small Business
by Lester L. Stephenson
Wise small business owners who commit to a sound training program will discover that finding time for training is easy. When they see the success that results from formally trained employees, fitting training into the workplace schedule becomes a priority.
Training Technical Communicators for Management
by Jessica Erber-Stark
Identifying management candidates and training technical communicators before they get promoted to management positions can make for a very smooth and successful transition for both the candidate and the organization.
Turning Web 2.0 Into Business as Usual
by Kerri Harris
Web 2.0 is hip, trendy, and reminiscent of catch-phrases from the Dot-com boom when just about anything related to binary was so ‘Now.’ How Web 2.0 is merely a tag used to convey the generalized concept that collaboration is changing.
Understanding the Need for Content Quality Management
by Diane Wieland
An interview with Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, that’s both a bit controversial and inspiring in that it looks at how good content quality management can be a great benefit for tech pubs departments.
Use Your L&D Savvy to Give Great Presentations!
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
Your experience in learning and development gives you wonderful ability to make great presentations! You bring strong assets as a presenter. And, there are steps you can take to shine even more brightly when you get your time in the sun!
Using Recognition to Inspire Your Training Team
by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.
All of us in a learning and development capacity play important roles in the successes our organizations achieve, and we see the results every day. Sometimes a boost of internal or external recognition adds momentum to our efforts, or gives us inspiration to keep achieving.
Using the CIA Method in Learning Projects
by Cheryl Powell
The CIA method as used in learning projects includes the Content phase, the Imagery phase and the Appeal phase. Using just a few of the techniques in this article, and adding the time to your project plan for implementing them, can save you major re-work and costs in the end.

Virtual Classroom Best Practices: Making the Classroom Fun Without Technology Getting in the Way

With just a little more preparation, L&D professionals can deliver a much better classroom experience to their learners.  Spending time doing some groundwork can make training more engaging, without technology getting in the way. In this post, we’ll explore some ways that trainers can prepare for a course, regardless of the learning platform they use, or the course delivery technology framework.

Vital Skills Every Medical Writer Needs
by Jacqueline Mahon
A medical writing career is enjoyable for many reasons, paramount of which is stimulation. A variety of skills are required, and the work is quick paced and thought provoking. Although every job includes at least a few tedious tasks, you rarely will be bored as a medical writer.
Wearer of Many Hats: One Management Style Does Not Fit All
by Jeffrey Young
Trying to convince multiple individuals to head in the same direction requires figuring out their mindsets and what it takes to motivate them. This article discusses four ‘hats’ managers may have to wear and which management ‘hat’ works best for each situation.
What Happened to the “E” in ADDIE? 
by John Cecil
ADDIE doesn’t always have to have the “E”.  In fact, authentic evaluation is frequently left behind in the real-world development process. Training done this way may still meet the learning objectives. It may still teach something and it may change behaviors. But how will you know?
When Should You Hire a Contract Writer?
by Jacquie Samuels
Have a product idea? Hire a contract technical writer early. The earlier the better. Need to meet a sudden deadline or temporary increase in demand? Fill out your staff with experienced, skilled, and cheaper resources for the life of the project. Hiring a contract writer gets you the right skills in the right place at the right time.
Which Skill Sets are Important for a Technical Writer?
by WAI Editor
Like any profession, becoming a technical writer requires a mastery of a certain set of skills. This skill set used to involve primarily writing and illustration skills, as large manuals for print publication were the standard in the profession. The worlds of communications and technology have evolved dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of this century. How has that evolution affected the skill set required for a technical writer?
Why Audience Analysis is Essential in Technical Writing
by Molly Carter
While understanding an audience is important in all types of writing when it comes to technical writing, it’s essential to being successful. When you’re a technical writer, knowing your audience determines what information you present, how you present it, and even how you write about it.
Why Developers Write Horrible Documentation
by Jacquie Samuels
Discusses why technical writers – and not developers – should write the documentation.
Why Hire an Outside Recruiter?
by Meredith McGhan
All in all, it pays to partner with an experienced outside recruiter who has a proven track record of matching talent to organizations and knows how to convey the qualities of your company in such a way that top people see long-term career opportunities there — and invest their time and talent in improving your bottom line.
Why Technical Publishing Shouldn’t Be Art
by Alan J. Porter
Give a canvas and a box of watercolors to a landscape painter and a second-grader. The same materials, the same process, but you get very different results. “Writing is a solitary occupation. Publication is a group exercise,” stated novelist Madeline. Why she’s correct.