After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Mischief Lurks Amidst the Data

Posted on March 25, 2015
Filed Under Business, Technology | Leave a Comment

Wow, the sheer scale and density of information on the Internet, not to mention corporate computer networks apart from the web, is becoming mind-boggling, and a growing opportunity for cyber mischief, intentional or by happenstance. Technical writers need to pay heed to what’s going on around them in this regard.

Mark Schaefer in his engrossing new book, The Content Code, discusses “content shock,” and points to “a 500 percent estimated increase in the amount of information on the web between 2015 and 2020. If you can imagine the vastness of the web today…well, pretty soon we’re going to have five times that! And some think that number is low, projecting as much as a staggering 1,000 percent increase in information density in that timeframe!”

Schaefer adds that 75 percent of this information increase will be coming not from automated sensors in homes and on highways, the long-anticipated Internet of Things, but from brands and individuals. “Nearly every person on earth is becoming his or her own personal broadcast channel,” he advises.

So what is a conscientious technical writer to do in the face of an information tsunami? Simply shrug it off and continue adding his or her own rivulets? Partly that, of course – completed pages, assignments and newly authorized documents prompt paychecks.

Yet from within the deluge promptings toward order, economy and clarity of expression would seem to be increasingly advisable. Sanity, not to mention safety, comes in providing reliable guidance and making such output as accessible as possible to its intended consumers.

But still, the mass of data available on local servers is an invitation to mischief or, to be less discreet, prying and spying. Chris LaPoint, Vice President of Product Management at SolarWinds, writes on the Technically Speaking blog that “insiders are starting to supplant external hackers and terrorists as the greatest cybersecurity threat.” In a SolarWinds survey of federal IT pros, “more than half (53%) of the respondents identified careless and untrained insiders as the greatest source of IT security threats at their agencies, up from 42 percent last year.”

So, it would seem that a responsible technical writer needs to be attuned not only to his own computer screen and keyboard, but to what is occurring around him as he pursues his work.

Mischief might not always be intentional, sometimes it’s the result of sheer sloppiness. Along with the increasing volume of network traffic, “the growing use of personal devices is another factor, as is mounting pressure for IT pros to change network configurations quickly, rather than correctly. Combine these issues with simple human error – a misplaced USB drive here, an unattended laptop there – and lack of training, and one can understand how insider threats can loom so large.”

It’s no longer that growing amounts of internally generated information are merely unwieldy, they may also be hard to safeguard, that is, to police. Let conscientious technical writers be mindful of that. – Doug Bedell

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A Tech Writer’s Requirements: Curiosity and Clarity

Posted on March 10, 2015
Filed Under Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

imagesIt can be argued that technical writing is a higher form of writing than other types of written expression. Or if not a “higher” mode, than a more demanding one, in that there can be prompt physical consequences to technical jottings. Technical writing provides directions for acting in physical space – it needs to be clear and accurate.

Instructional materials are consulted with a presumption of expertise and diligence on the writer’s part. And yet, what goes into assuring that directions and procedures are accurate and useful? What are a good technical writer’s most important traits, his or her most essential operative values?

Technical proficiency is needed, but it may not be enough. Sharon Burton, a veteran California technical writer, feels that curiosity, plain and simple, is a key requirement. “I can teach someone to write,” she says. “What I can’t teach is the curiosity to ask questions, to poke at the product, to constantly ask ‘What if…?'” Indeed, whatever it is that makes something functional (and, of course, safe) is of key importance. There’s no mistaking that.

Once you’re confident about the scope of a process, and are ready to put it into words, clarity and economy of expression are required. At Encore Technical Resources, proprietor Dennis Owen feels that a technical writer’s most important trait is “to thoroughly understand a process, so that you can write about it in a logical sequence. It needs to be a well-written, intelligible path to be followed.”

Curiosity and clarity – two values central to good technical writing. We try hard to make them Encore’s hallmarks. Unlike the often fleeting satisfaction that comes with completing a gripping work of fiction, technical writing can have immediate and lasting consequences. They need to be the ones intended by the writer from the start, the fully predictable results of all that’s been invested in his, or her, craft. – Doug Bedell

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