Give Some Space

Sorry for a clickbait title… I wanted one with a play of words.

The article isn’t really aimed at people who are old enough to have learned (learnt for those who speak the English English) typing on typewriters, but also for those who are still taught to use two spaces after every sentence.

The trend has (almost) changed. In the past, people used two spaces for a reason: typewriters had monospace fonts that inserted equal, not proportional, spaces for all letters. So, the “i” consumed as much space as “w” or “m”. The obvious confusion was when sentences ended. So, it was required that the writers insert two spaces after sentences to visibly mark the end of sentences.

Why this post? Now, in 2018? Well, I still come across write-ups from people who use two spaces. I have seen people encourage two spaces, especially in legal documents. I see some people use double spaces in résumés and personal profiles that are not just printed, but shared digitally, as well. In technical publications, we encourage the use of a single space after sentences because we use proportional fonts.

We are increasingly sharing information digitally. Given that context, I’d encourage you to give only space after a period (full stop in the UK English) or any punctuation mark toward the end of a sentence. Not two.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 6, 7, and 8 Lessons Combined


If there was one word that defined the online and offline social communities, it would be Connect. That true at least for the lessons I received through the last three days.

Social connection and interaction, in context of the learnings I have received, is both the origin and the destination of the content on this site. If I were to assign a term to it, it would be a progressive loop of interaction.

This is something I have said in my book, The Write Stride: A Conversation with Your Writing Self. Although a major part of the book is aimed at benefitting technical communicators, the theme (of communicating correct messages correctly) truly underpins the importance of the message in the lessons 6, 7, and 8, and remain relevant for all of us.

As I write this, here’s something noteworthy:

  • In the course of time, I’ve given enough time and scope to this site. I’ve helped it mature into something worth sharing on my online social space.
  • I keep reading the work of fellow bloggers.

I’ve even brought back some of them to WordPress.

  • I keep sharing good content with good people. It works for me in two ways: I bring people to my content and I bring good content (both mine and otherwise) to the people around me.

But, of course, it is a continuous process, and not a one-day, one-time effort.

It takes time to build masterpieces. And, I am taking my own time with this site. You know what I mean!

Happy writing.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 3, 4, and 5 Lessons Combined


The customer is the king. No. The customer is your friend. Well, almost. The customer is where it all begins AND ends. Now that’s correct. The technical communicator in me is smiling.

The learnings in the lessons 3, 4, and 5 are straightforward: listen to the customer. The simple question is how do I do that. This post helps me find the answers I am looking for.

I’ve been writing for quite some time. I know that some of my posts in the past were more like a commentary on what I had read. But aren’t opinions just that? Though mostly unknowingly, I was also listening to the customer (reader, in this case) – most of us do. And, the figures justify that. I have increased the site views by as much as 15 times in the last four years.

So, what am I doing correct to make this site a nice place for you to visit?

Most of my top-read posts are either related to technical communication or poetry. I do get feedback on the fiction/nonfiction I write, but we will talk about it in a moment.

I’ve observed that my readers prefer something that is either too short (for a quick read) or that’s truly explained at length. Those who like to read poetry have interest in the interpretative style of writing. The rule is simple for me: answer some of their questions and raise a few of your own. Walking this thin line of suspense and certainty is definitely not easy, but well rewarding.

Those who wish to read the lengthier prose, wish it to be broken into subheadings and highlighted text. This brings me back to my technical-communication principles of creating content that’s comprehensive AND comprehensible.

The creative prose has been in the recent past received quite an accolade. But, I believe that’s because my writing is connected to the root. Readers look for originality and simplicity.

I’ve also written on well-searched (on the Internet) and well-researched topics, such as photography. Such topical writing is not simple. At least not for me because I am not an expert photographer. But, as long as I can make sense for the readers, they continue to stay with me.

In a nutshell, I am writing more of what sells the most from my site. I am giving the readers something that they wish to read about. The layout of the site is simple to navigate through. That, on my part, is a clean combination of responsive content and design.

A lot of that writing is born from experience; the experience of, for example, staying behind the camera to bring out something that’s ready and reference worthy. The idea is simple: my readers’ time is limited; I better not waste it. You might have read some worthy archives I shared recently, now haven’t you? Let me know which ones.

I am curious to listen to you – the reader – for everything begins and ends with you.

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.

Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:

How do you think the two pictures contrast?

Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:

As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.

Given that background, look at the first picture.

 

Lotus-Temple-Aerial-View

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.

Look at the second picture.

 

victorinox_mountaineer_lg

Multi-utility tool

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.

But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.

So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.

What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?

The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.

We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.

Good versus Well

Good versus Well

Much like the previous post, in which we discussed the differences between the usage of I and Me, this post, too, discusses something that people find confusing: the use of good versus well. I’ve fallen prey to it on a few occasions (in the past) and so have most of my friends.

What’s the difference?

The thing is, our mental ears have always known (or is it registered?) the difference. So, none of us will ever, EVER say, “You did a well job”, while all we wish to do is praise the other person for their efforts. However, things get a little tricky for some of us who might happen to say, “Hey, you look good, buddy!” I’ve often used that in the past, and some of those who I know still use it.

Good is an adjective; it is a property of the subject of the sentence; it describes the subject. When I say, “You look good, buddy”, I mean that the “buddy”, or the subject of the sentence, has good eyes or, perhaps, vision because the word good describes buddy’s look. The sentence really means I am telling my buddy that they are actively using their eyes well. And, that isn’t what I intend to say. All I wish is to remark is that my buddy is looking hale and hearty. And, I must say what I intend to.

Well, as you rightly guessed, is an adverb; it describes the verb that relates to the subject of the sentence. So, instead of “You look good, buddy”, I should say, “You look you are doing well, buddy.” Yes, I might sound odd. But, I would choose to sound one rather than end up being one.

Are there any rules?

Yes. A rather simple one to remember: if you are referring to your or other’s health, use well. For example, “I heard he is doing/recovering well after the surgery.” Another advice: keep listening to your mental ear.

But, wait! There’s a catch!

First answer this: is it OK to say, “I’m good?” Good, based on what we just discussed, is an adjective. And, because it describes something, it should be incorrect to say…

WAIT, right there, for here lies the catch. I’d like you to read about linking verbs, which I covered in my previous post. The linking verb, “am” in the sentence, “I’m good”, connects the subject to the property of being good. So, it is OK to say, “I’m good.” However, you still can’t use good as an adverb. So, never say, “you did good”. Instead, say, “you did well.”

Happy writing.

Are Technical Writing and Instructional Designing the Same?

Are Technical Writing and Instructional Designing the Same?

This post originates from a couple of related question that I answered on Quora, which you can find here and here. For those who are rushing, here is the gist of the post: Although I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different, I do acknowledge that the tools and methodologies both use are quite different.

For the elaborate explanation, I resort to breaking the big question in parts:

How are technical writing and instructional designing different?

Howsoever thin, there is a line that separates technical writing and instructional designing. Yes, I agree that though the end-result is still similar, the routes taken are different. And, here is the first difference. Technical writers focus more on collecting, collating, and presenting information, while instructional designers focus on streamlining the correlated tasks into stepped instructions and courses. Another difference I see is in the approach. I always say that technical writers are backstage players. No one knows they are there, but they are. And, unlike instructional designers, technical writers can never become the front-stage players.

As a technical writer, I deal with creating and maintaining user guides, help files, and release notes, but if the time and scope permits I also get to write white papers, knowledge base articles, full-scope or abridged customer-driven metadata, and blogs. The goal, however, across all cases of documentation and complexities is empowerment. Instructional designing deals with information that’s both specific and generic. It does include offline or online learning, self-paced or instructor-led learning, and activity-based learning from simulation or gamification. The goal, however, across all cases and complexities is still on learning. But then my exploration limits my knowledge.

The thin line that differentiates technical writing and instructional designing becomes thinner at the object level. For example, when you create a knowledge base write-up, you focus both on empowerment and learning. You wish that when a user reads through your document, they will know what next to do and why. I can also see some rules that apply to both technical writing and instructional designing.

In today’s mobility-friendly world, people want everything on the go, including information. And, depending on what you seek or what you have (a smartphone, tablet, watch, or eyewear), the information complexity, language, and medium changes. This means that both information and instructions must be easy to understand and easy to use. In one way, this means fewer words and more visual content. But, we’ll discuss this some other time. Let us look at the second part of the big question.

Do technical writing and instructional designing require different skills and tools?

Quite rightly, the thin line of difference in the professions extends into the skill set and tool set as well. While it is true that both the skills and tools mostly are common, the percentage of a skill’s or tool’s relevance certainly changes based on the profession. I feel that technical writing involves more researching than instructional design. But, like I said, my exploration limits my knowledge. Instructional design involves more of storyboarding. So, it is good to assume that it will also involve more of action-driven, task-based sentences.

Both involve writing instructions, but technical writing restricts such instructions to stepped procedures in user guides and troubleshooting guides, while the entire storyboarding in instructional designing is task-based and action driven. Instructional designing is more of learning management. Consequently, you should have a better understanding of what users do with your products.

Let us take a small example. Consider that you have a job at a place where even a small error might result in huge losses for the company. Now, we will agree that the software or hardware products that you will get to use in such places will come with manuals. But, will it still not make sense for you to undergo a formal training before you get involved in your daily duties? I hope you can now see the difference. You limit your information goals based on your work processes and sequences of actions; on how a tool is designed to work and how it may fail; and, one how you wish to keep yourself and your peers safe and the work processes smooth.

In the context of the differences in technical writing and instructional designing, given the information goals you seek, it would be right to consider instructor-led training first followed by a regular check into the user guides wherever required. That should lend you insights into the only possible difference in the professions. Let us now address the last part of the big question.

As a technical writer, can I switch profession into instructional designing?

Either way, switching shouldn’t sound challenging; it wouldn’t be easy, for sure. But decide what you wish to do or help the users in accomplishing.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let me take a moment to help you look at how I’ve understood this indifference. First I determine what the user wishes to accomplish. Then, I determine how they wish to accomplish their learning objective. Then, I look for the resources I could use to help them accomplish their learning objectives. Then, I break that learning objective into logical, sequential parts. Now, I see if I could create content that ushers them through those logical, sequential parts. The point is that I register the impact of each of those logical, sequential parts. I register the growth of user’s learning as they move from one goal to another and, eventually, one objective to another.

You see that the already thin line of difference between technical writing and instructional design further begins to blur.

Let’s just introduce a new word into our discussion: training. The word adds a lot of clarity in our understanding and helps us define the scope of both technical writing and instructional designing. Based on what we’ve discussed so far, can we say we are talking about technical training instead of instructional designing? If yes, can we say that technical training helps graduate a user’s understanding from one logical sequence to another or from one learning goal to another? And if that’s also true, aren’t we negating the difference between technical writing and instructional designing?

This is exactly why I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different. They may be two sides of the same coin, and I am OK if they are that way. But, that still doesn’t change the end-result for the users. Despite what users wish to peruse, they seek insights and accomplishment. And, as someone who enables them to achieve both these, I continue to remain a problem solver for the users. And, I don’t care what you name me as.

The Key Elements in Technical Communication

The bent towards information design is on account of its applicability – A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. The use of graphics minimizes the use of content. Rather, it squeezes the underlying message of the content into a graphics. Despite the usually observed bent of mind, I believe that the key elements of Information Design and Technical Communication are the same. Here’s how…