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.

As the World Turns, So Does Our ‘Beat’

Posted on September 29, 2015
Filed Under Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment


A technical writer named Rebecca muses on the web about her choices of employment – and her freedom to make them. That, as we know, is one of the benefits of being a “lone wolf” technical writer.

“My long-term goal in becoming a technical communicator,” Rebecca writes, “is  to be an outsourced employee, but without a larger ‘umbrella’ company sending me my W-2’s each year. I want to dictate the companies I work for and have some control over the projects I accept. I am comfortable putting on that ‘company’s uniform’ for a temporary time and then moving on.”

Rebecca quotes R. Stanley Dicks in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: “Many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working. They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators.”

Speaking for herself, Rebecca adds that “I am hoping to open a fortune cookie with just that prediction for my future: “You will soon find yourself unemployed, but always working.”

That’s not a paradox, it’s the work of a consultant, which many technical writers, including Encore’s Dennis Owen, actually are. Their roles are well-suited to an increasingly digital economy in a continuing state of emergence.

Dennis has been something of a pioneer in technical consulting, working in jobs where he’s been needed and can make important contributions, but not working these past few decades in a job. And the varied experiences he has had as a result have been invaluable.

Rebecca expresses something of the same sense of fulfillment: “The technical writing program I was set to enter was very solid and respected. But in 2001, it wasn’t very focused on digital media. Within a few short years, their ‘technical writing’ program became their ‘Technical Communications’ program. It was completely revamped several times over the next few years, as they slowly began to focus the program more on the emerging use of technology.

“Had I enrolled back in 2001,” Rebecca adds, “I would have been ‘getting to the party a little too early’.”

So roll with the opportunities as they arise in a steadily changing world. Like anyone else, actually, that’s what  observant technical writers ought to be mindful of in these challenging times. It’s sort of like a newsman’s ‘beat’. – Doug Bedell 

When to Pause to ‘Get It Down’?

Posted on September 18, 2015
Filed Under Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Jim Grey on his Stories From the Software Salt Mines site makes a clearcut distinction that’s worth stamping into one’s awareness: “Personal computers are for content creators; mobile devices are for content consumers.”  Or, creators – think desktop; consumers – think mobile.

me1-1Makes pretty obvious sense – up to a point that seems to be approaching with increasing speed. The continuing development of iPads and other mobile devices tempts us to use them for creating content, not just reading or viewing it. (Apple says that, come November, its newest iPad will have an external keyboard available.)

Technical writers likely are paying increasing attention to these distinctions, or to their increasing tendency to blur together. It would be nice to create serviceable copy wherever you have the ability to pause a bit, not only at your desktop, but, say, in the park. Your insights might well be sharper and your writing fresher. Using a mobile device is like having your brain more readily at hand, providing your fingers have ready access to what you’re thinking.

Mobile devices as “mere” displays allow us to take advantage of idle time. Jim Grey notes that “an Internet device in our pocket lets us pleasantly wile away the minutes we spend waiting — in doctors’ waiting rooms, before meetings begin, in the john.” But he’s not going to start blog posting on his phone.

Unless, we’d venture, Jim or any of us finds ourselves in a situation where it would be advantageous to get our thoughts down coherently because they’re especially important to us or maybe to others.

You see what’s happening here? The modes of expression are tending to merge with the availabilty of technology that can help that happen. Reflections that used to be random meditations can now be recorded musings – if and when we feel they’re significant enough. This can help make us more observant, as well as more reflective, and that’s all to the good, most of the time.

Remember the title of Jim Grey’s blog – “Stories from the Software Salt Mines.” We don’t want to feel that we’re living in a salt mine, just that we have the ability to use a mental pick and shovel when they’re occasionally advisable – for the record, say. Maybe we’d even get more sleep some nights. – Doug Bedell

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