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.

Presentations With Forethought

Posted on January 16, 2017
Filed Under Communication | Leave a Comment

Here’s Sarah Maddox, a demonstrably savvy technical writer, describing how she prepared a presentation for an upcoming summit of the Society for Technical Communication. The process, she notes, starts with “grabbing an idea when it floats by.” Indeed.

How many of us on our daily rounds are struck with an idea worth pursuing but don’t jot it down, only to have it get lost in a stream of mental activity? Value such ideas, carry a pocket note pad, and write them down when they occur. Cursory as it may seem, that’s an invaluable technical discipline. An idea recorded is an idea in play.

Then, Sarah advises, seek out speaking opportunities to share your ideas. That not only furthers a collegial dialogue but spreads awareness of your skills and competence. Preparing an outline is an essential step here. You don’t simply have an idea, you begin to flesh it out. And you’re after clarity, not a tangle.

Then write a summary of what you’ve begun to create. Once accepted for a program, it can be used as a “blurb” for what you intend to present. Sarah has lots of ideas for building your presentation, including taking a walk, in the woods or wherever you prefer to amble. “I don’t consciously think about the problem,” she explains, “but I’m open to suggestions from my subconscious.” When one or more arrive, she sends herself an email “or scribble a note on a scrap of paper.” The point is to preserve a promising insight.

Ideas can rapidly grow complex – get those initial promptings down.

Sarah’s got more suggestions, including a tip on avoiding stage fright. The best way we know to do that, though, is to be well prepared, to step up to a podium confident that you have something worthwhile to say and are sharing it enthusiastically. The likely audience reaction? Hey, this speaker may be worth heeding!

The last thing you want to do in a technical presentation, which is risky enough, is avoid giving an audience the feeling you’re imposing on them. Teaching of any complexity can be done well if it’s presented clearly and enthusiastically.– Doug Bedell

Technical Writing’s Lineage – Surely It’s Deeper than Digital

Posted on January 10, 2017
Filed Under Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Think technical writing just appeared, that it’s arisen out of contemporary necessity, without a pedigree of its own? Not so – technical writing, says Monalisa Sen and Debarshi Gupta Biswas on tcworld has a lineage of its own. But they only date technical writing from the “first technical publication” in 1949.

We’d think the craft would go back farther than that – what did it take, after all, to understand how the Monitor and Merrimack, or even a Roman chariot, worked in their own times? Yet Monalisa and Debarshi start with the “First Technical Publication” in 1949. “Joseph Chapline,” their posted chart explains, “wrote a user’s manual for the BINAC computer that he developed. This was groundbreaking, considering the need for technical communicators was not established…”

Oh, we see. Sen and Gupta are dating technical writing from the advent of computers. That, however, strikes us as rather restrictive, assigning the craft as our own birthright rather than an explanatory discipline going way back. We prefer the latter–instructive materials are part of humanity’s broader heritage.

Maybe technical writers weren’t called technical writers much before the Digital Age. But we’d like to see that discussed a bit. Anything that had supportive qualities in a world of everyday mercantile or military value has had to be validated as reliably dependable, hasn’t it?

It strikes us that this question of the ancestry of technical writing, the craft’s applied heritage, could do with more discussion. If you’re so moved, contribute to the record in a comment here. Many thanks! – Doug Bedell

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