Docforce https://docforce.io Writing as a Service Mon, 18 Nov 2019 12:51:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 https://docforce.io/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/favicon-100x100.png Docforce https://docforce.io 32 32 Documentarians through the Ages–Part 1 https://docforce.io/documentarians-through-the-ages-part-1/ https://docforce.io/documentarians-through-the-ages-part-1/#comments Fri, 10 May 2019 14:00:23 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=237347 Technical communications didn't start with the US Military; it goes back to beer recipes in Sumeria!

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From bread and beer to textiles and metallurgy

Believe it or not, technical communications did not begin with the US Military or in the Industrial Age, where everyone needed manuals to operate the new machinery driving the expansion of the middle class and leading us into this Age of Technology.  The Sumerians wrote recipes with wedged sticks on clay tablets.  In fact, pre-industrial societies invested as much labor in textiles as in food production. So, it makes sense that these arts were documented.


Sumerian cuneiform recipe for beer 3100-3000 BCE

Deadly Water

How important do you think a mere recipe for beer was to early readers? Civilization makes water unsafe to drink. Fermented beer didn’t give you cholera or typhus, so direly proven in the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak by neighborhood beerworks workers–their daily allotment of beer kept them from drinking that well’s deadly water. Of course, Mother Nature plays her own tricks,  luring us to drink cool, sweet stream water only to give us a nice dose of Giardia. The survival tactic of drinking fermented beverages promoted the growth of Civilization. And merchants were quick to learn that good recipes sold more product.

Recipes for Success

Recipes are technical writing. Procedures and ingredients for many industries are precise. It’s basic chemistry that gluten strands form as you knead flour mixed with water, fat, and active yeast, turning the concoction into dough…if you’ve done everything just right. Another area of precision is metallurgy. If you’re off just a little bit when measuring and mixing ingredients or you skip a step, the product could literally blow up in your face. And let’s not even think about the human cost of that precious recipe for black powder. Directions are critical to learn and follow, and more importantly, the written form is necessary for training and to reliably reproduce a product.


Leiden Papyrus X has 111 recipes for extracting precious metals (~250 CE)

It’s in the Pattern


Chinese parable on weaving from the biography of Mencius (77-6 BCE)

Weaving and knitting patterns are technical writing. Textiles were once more valued than people today buying off-the-rack bargains think. Sure, today Gucci and Versace textiles command the big bucks, but in past ages, clothing and linens were passed down through generations. You made the fabric. No one wasted a scrap of cloth (ever hear tales about the Rag-and-Bone man?). A young woman with a large hope chest full of linens was considered a catch because it meant that she had mad skills for weaving and sewing. Celtic tartan weaving patterns designate clan, and so were coveted and closely guarded secrets, explicitly followed when woven in castle keeps. Historic plaid examples date to burials as early as 1000 BCE.


Egyptian ‘Coptic socks’ 1000-1300 CE

And whether it be true knitting, as illustrated by these Coptic socks, or Nålebinding, an early single-needle form with examples predating knitted historic examples, patterns were written to maintain consistency and spread from Egypt to Spain by Arabic invaders. I love this quote from journalist/novelist Linda Grant:

Clothes as text, clothes as narration, clothes as a story. Clothes as the story of our lives. And if you were to gather all the clothes you have ever owned in all your life, each baby shoe and winter coat and wedding dress, you would have your autobiography.  

This speaks to the documentation of life; the documentation of the Human System.

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Procrastination: Part 2 – The Why and The How (to Stop!) https://docforce.io/stopping-procrastination/ https://docforce.io/stopping-procrastination/#comments Thu, 09 May 2019 17:13:36 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=237310 Tackle the root causes of procrastination and drill down into why we procrastinate and how we can stop.

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In Part 1 of this series on procrastination, we looked at what procrastination is and how it can affect our behavior: from simple things like missing daily deadlines to actively torpedoing our career goals.
But to really understand this bothersome trait, we need to tackle the root causes of procrastination and drill down into why we procrastinate and how we can stop.


Why am I procrastinating?! I have so many things to do!

One of the biggest enablers of my own procrastination was in fact my reading habit.

“Oh, let me just read this book about this subject before I start doing the actual work related to it.”

Eleven “Productive” Minutes!


This is called distracting yourself to postpone the inevitable. We all do it.

There will always be another book, another article, another tutorial video, another super-informative course. But reading doesn’t do the dirty work of finishing a job: only elbow grease helps with that.

What reading can do is offer us some answers and teach us the techniques to help overcome the root causes of procrastination.

In my case, reading helped me to identify the root causes of procrastination as:

#1: Lack of Confidence & Low Self-Esteem

This guy knows!

Somewhere along the winding road of life, we all take knocks that impact the future people we will become.

Even if our lights shine brightly as children, real life has a way of eroding our individual hopes, dreams, and senses of ourselves.

Childhood experiences and memories can stay with us subconsciously; and by early adulthood we understand that most of us will need to submit to a more ‘scripted’ life.

Over time, these knocks can give our systems quite a battering.

I needed to restore my self-esteem!

To build myself up again, I started to practice some techniques that I had read about in the past but written off as nonsense:

  • meditation
  • visualization
  • positive daily affirmations.

I’ve come to understand that our mind, like every other organ in our body, needs to be fed and maintained.

We are what we tell our mind we are!

Root Cause #2: Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is real with this one!

Another reason I’ve sometimes postponed taking action in the past is because I’ve felt I’ll get things wrong, i.e. the fear of failure.

And if there’s one thing secret perfectionists (see Part 1) can’t stand, it’s getting things wrong.  

But other people fail too and failing is normal!

Reading about the many icons and world-class performers who failed before they became successful has helped me to realise that failing is a normal and necessary part of getting something – anything – done.

At the age of 23, for example:

  • J.K. Rowling was broke
  • Oprah had just been fired as a TV reporter
  • Walt Disney had just declared bankruptcy

Once again, visualization, meditation, and positive affirmations have helped me to picture and feel success and to eliminate the fear of failure by ingraining in my mind that failure is not just okay but inevitable.

I now view failure as a blessing in disguise.

When I fail, I learn about another way of not doing something, and I progress one step closer to ‘the right way’.

As Nelson Mandela famously said:

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.”


Root Cause #3: The Pursuit of Perfection

Always chasing those perfect 10s!

This is one I’ve struggled with for the longest time.

For me, chasing perfection has been one of the biggest impediments to taking action. But perfection isn’t really a thing – it’s more like a mental battle that we play with ourselves.

Imperfection is good and normal

Most of the products we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch on a daily basis were not always present in their current state. They were released into the market in an imperfect form and they have been revised and upgraded over time based on market feedback.

Had Bill Gates procrastinated and waited until the Windows P.C. was perfected, we may still be living in a world without the modern personal computer.

Perfection isn’t the starting point. It’s the end goal.

All of that said, my own experiences with procrastination have been full of peaks and troughs.

One day I’m extremely focused and productive; the next day procrastination rears its ugly head again.

But while I’m still a work in progress, the techniques I’ve adopted have undoubtedly had a profound effect on my productivity and mindset.


How About You?

Have you had issues with procrastination when it comes to your everyday life, work, or education? Do you have different techniques to overcome procrastination in your life – and how are you implementing them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Procrastination: Part 1 – Self-Sabotage in Disguise https://docforce.io/overcoming-procrastination/ https://docforce.io/overcoming-procrastination/#comments Tue, 07 May 2019 20:59:27 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=235890 Today I want to talk about procrastination. I’ll discuss my own personal struggles with procrastinating. I’ll also show some of the steps I’ve taken – and am still taking – to conquer my mind. In all of my endeavors, my aim is to reduce and eventually erase procrastination. Then, I can pursue my goals with […]

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Today I want to talk about procrastination. I’ll discuss my own personal struggles with procrastinating. I’ll also show some of the steps I’ve taken – and am still taking – to conquer my mind.

In all of my endeavors, my aim is to reduce and eventually erase procrastination. Then, I can pursue my goals with a singleness of purpose. (Yep, that’s my aim!)

Since procrastination is such a knotty issue, I’m going to attempt to unfurl it out over two blog posts.

Let’s start by taking a look at what procrastination is. We’ll then examine how to judge when it’s become a problem.


Procrastination – What is it?

Warning: Procrastination may result in searching for many, many GIFs online

Presumably, the fact that you are reading this suggests that you’re already aware of procrastination and what it is. (Most people who are reading stuff on the Internet are procrastinating.)

But let’s recap just in case:

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. It could be further stated as a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing it might have negative consequences.”

Wikipedia

So procrastination is an obstacle.

And it’s one we’ve all encountered, and perhaps struggled with, at some point in our lives.

Let me tell you about my own experience.

My Experience with Procrastination

My own experience is that I’ve suffered with procrastination for many, many years.

I’ve always put things off indefinitely, or at the very least,  until the last minute. I’d tell myself that “I work better under pressure,” or some other convoluted lie to justify my lack of action.

I was the personification of a procrastinator. Not only in my professional life, but also academically, or when it came to personal “to-dos”.

I had many personal and professional goals, and the drive, determination, and motivation to go after them. But the lure of procrastination has always been there in the background. Silently it played with my mind, preventing me from getting things done.

If I knew the end goal and I had the motivation to get there, why was I not executing and achieving?

Procrastinating – putting things off –  has often been associated with depression, a sense of inadequacy on the procrastinator’s part, low self-esteem, and issues surrounding a lack of confidence.

I’ll add to that list and include the fear of failure: procrastinators are often perfectionists in disguise.


How Big a Problem is Procrastination?

Everybody procrastinates sometimes.

When we can’t figure out a way to do something easily, we procrastinate – we put off finding the solution. But procrastinating can often transition from a harmless habit into something potentially more damaging.

This was the case for me.

It was only at the very breaking point, when I was putting in hours of work a day and seeing no results, that I realized that something was wrong.

I had big ambitions, but my external actions weren’t reflecting my internal visions.

I had to find the answer to the problem of why I was procrastinating, or I would be forever stuck performing my “action faking” routines, and watching my dreams pass me by.

What do I mean by “action faking”?

The best way I can explain action faking it is “being busy for the sake of being busy”.

In doing this, you’re doing lots of tasks that have no real return and don’t move you closer to your end goal.

Spending weeks designing a logo is a great example of “action faking”. Actively going out and meeting with prospects to grow your business – that’s action TAKING not action FAKING!


Procrastinating: a form of ‘self-sabotage’

Procrastination can stem from many root causes.

In my case, I was unsure exactly where my tendency to procrastinate came from.

After spending quite some time in deep though and self-analysis (literally sitting down and asking myself “why am I doing this?”) I pinpointed my tendency to procrastinate as stemming from a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, a fear of failure, and (closely related) a desire for perfection.

It’s important to realise that procrastination actually further emphasizes those kinds of issues.

Or, to put it differently, to procrastinate is to commit a form of self-sabotage.

If you suffer from a lack of confidence or low self-esteem, and you procrastinate and fail to take action, you simply re-enforce those thoughts in your mind and further question your abilities: your mind continues to tell you that you are incapable of getting things done.

In Part 2 of this series on procrastination, we’ll examine those root causes more closely, and look at some steps and techniques that can help us to reduce the amount of time we waste procrastinating.


How About You?

My own experiences with procrastination have been full of peaks and troughs. One day I’m extremely focused and productive, the next day procrastination rears its ugly head yet again!

However, the techniques I’ve adopted (which I discuss in Part 2) have undoubtedly had a profound effect on reducing procrastination in my life.

Have you had issues with procrastination when it comes to your every day life, work or education? Do you have different techniques to overcome procrastination in your life – and how are you implementing them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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So You Hate Change: 5 Tips for Finding Your Feet with New Tools https://docforce.io/5-tips-for-finding-your-feet-with-new-tools/ https://docforce.io/5-tips-for-finding-your-feet-with-new-tools/#respond Fri, 19 Apr 2019 13:07:54 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=236886 Recently, while editing for a Docforce client, I came across some research that described a phenomenon that will be familiar to most people leaders: employees hate change. Changing the way you do things can be hard. It can also be boring, and often – if your change involves doing a lot of things you’ve never […]

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Recently, while editing for a Docforce client, I came across some research that described a phenomenon that will be familiar to most people leaders: employees hate change. Changing the way you do things can be hard. It can also be boring, and often – if your change involves doing a lot of things you’ve never done before and so don’t know how to do – a deeply uncomfortable process.

In the workplace, new or modified tools and processes for getting things done are usually the first things we have to adapt to. These tools and processes pave the way for other changes that we see over time, such as changes in how we act, speak, and write, our company policies, and where we work. Change is how we got where we are right now. But sometimes the onslaught can feel overwhelming. This latest app we are suddenly now all using? Another upgrade of that thing?

‘I know you just landed in Winterfell and have never worked with dragonglass before, but I need this on my desk by Monday.’

It’s Not Just You

Maybe you think that everybody else finds picking up new tools and processes as easy as breathing. Maybe you sense an expectation that in this hyper-connected society we should all just know how to do new stuff, and get it right first time. Maybe you worry about being left behind: that it’s just you who prefers doing it the old way (read: the easier way).

It’s not. Humans have always formed weird, emotional attachments to the familiar, and emotional relationships with tools. (Consider the Luddites.) Boiler installation folk like working with a certain type of boiler. Bricklayers prefer a certain type of stone. Interior decorators sulk when their clients want them to use the fancy new paint they keep seeing on Instagram. Why? Because they know that paint is difficult to apply, takes longer to dry, and requires an awful lot of fiddling around with to get right. Which is to say: they worry they might end up not getting the expected performance out of it. They worry they might end up letting someone down,

But Change We Must

This idea – letting someone down, whether it’s a client, a manager, or just yourself – is pretty central to the resistance and worry we can feel when faced with the new. This is because somewhere along the line we have repeated the same task with such-and-such a tool or process enough times to get to a stage where this way of doing it has come to represent a kind of safety. If the old tool escorts us reliably through our comfort zone towards our final destination (our paycheck, our result), then the new way of doing something can represent a kind of danger zone. If you’re finding it hard to quell the rumbling background anxiety about working with your new tool or process, consider these five tips for getting up to speed.

Tip #1: Just jump in

When I first started out in the technical communications industry, I was far too nervous to start poking around in the documentation management system on my own. Creating objects, moving them around a structure – unsupervised? My fear was that I would delete something in error, or accidentally open and modify somebody else’s work. I did not want my green pawprints left lying around. My manager told me, ‘Don’t worry. Just jump in. You can’t break anything.’

The bottom must be just below the rim… right?

Reader, I managed to break something. And yes, my digital prints were all over it. But as my manager kindly pointed out, all that this meant was that there was a bug in the system and that my inexpert fumbling around had managed to highlight it. So the ‘just jump in’ approach is still the best. You might break something, but soon somebody will come along to set it, and you, right. Which leads me to my next tip nicely.

Tip #2: Rope in an expert

Learn from the best.

If you’re stuck on a particular issue with the tool or task, and can’t find a way out, ask yourself who can help you. Figure out who the expert is. (You’ll know because you’ll find yourself wishing you were them.) True experts won’t mind demonstrating their knowledge at all, because they understand their subject from every possible angle, including the beginner’s. They are usually self-confessed subject matter nerds who will be delighted – even flattered – to be approached. But a word of caution here: make good use of that approach. Don’t be tempted to let the expert demonstrate the task. Instead, invite them to pull up a seat at your desk (or share your own screen if you work remotely) and ask them to watch while you do it.

Tip #3: Let time do its thing

“There is always time for another last minute” 
― Terry Pratchett

This one’s hard. It involves accepting that time has to pass and that you must endure a certain amount of pain with the new tool or process while you try and fail to accomplish something. Most people misquote Samuel Beckett at this point. Some people call this stage ramping up, pivoting your approach…Whatever. This is the undignified part, where you fall often. You can also just think of it as ‘growing older.’

Tip #4: Do more than just the basics

Just don’t try juggling your computer in a similar manner.

At some point, once a little time has passed, you’re going to hit a certain level of competence with the new tool. Your fear and dislike of it will fade, and you’ll start feeling like you know what to expect. Now it’s time to push yourself. There are likely great ‘pro’ features hiding within it that somebody has designed for a reason. Find them out and make use of them – here, YouTube tutorials are your friend. (Also consider roping back in that expert.)

Tip #5: Teach someone else

Don’t try this one at home, unless you’re an expert!

Yes – your time will come. Sooner or later, you too will be called upon to help somebody else out and show them how to find their feet with the tool. What happens if you feel you still don’t know enough, aren’t fast enough? It might surprise you to find out that you know more than you think: sometimes, the act of explaining the basics to another can trigger the realisation that you’ve come pretty far. And if you can’t find the answer your pupil needs, you can be honest and suggest working together to figure out how to crack the problem. Either way, your teaching approach will be rooted in empathy and I’ve-been-there-ness. And we all need more of that!

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Technical Ying and Yang https://docforce.io/technical-writing-ying-yang/ https://docforce.io/technical-writing-ying-yang/#respond Wed, 17 Apr 2019 16:46:07 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=236803 Technical Writing has a cornerstone: empathy. The origin story of pandas is also one of empathy. Learn how the two are similar in this article.

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Pandas and Empathy

I love pandas. Their cute little faces, their big fluffy bodies. Their slightly comedic gait. I love it all. The mythology around the panda is fascinating too.  In the written history of the Xizhou Dynasty (the Shangshu) of 1027-771 BC, Chinese lore describes the panda as an invincible animal, a warrior as strong as a tiger. According to legend, the panda was once an all-white bear.  Legend has it a little girl saved a panda cub from the clutches of a hungry leopard. In doing so, she became the new focus of the leopard who then decided to eat her instead. The pandas were so moved by her sacrifice that they attended her funeral with black ashes dawbed on their arms as a mark of respect. As they comforted each other in grief, they smudged the ashes on their bodies thereby creating their hallmark bichromal appearance.

The panda’s ability to empathize with another creature, a different species to them, one who surely seemed strange, perhaps even dangerous, is touching. For me, the story has personal and professional significance. For me, the story is a reminder not to lose sight of the other. To maintain an interest and an appreciation of motivations and experiences that are foreign or removed. It reminds me that taking an interest in humanity and the wider world can make us stronger, that empathy and efficacy are not mutually exclusive.

Traditional Technical Writing

Traditional technical writing/instructional design attempts to deliver instruction to the nth degree. Nothing less than instructional totality is acceptable. Whether it be a user-guide, a white paper, an on-site instructional manual…the method is the same. Every facet, angle, and probability is covered. There is no room for uncertainty and very little margin of error. But technology is not a constant, it is a flow. Technology is rapidly evolving and so too our documentation processes. Contemporary technical communication means information on an as-needed basis. Sometimes this is also a just-in-time, as needed basis but always there is the need for restraint. Technical writers must provide the right amount of information without overloading their audience with superfluous and distracting instruction. Current writing practices require us to present information that is at once meaningful and minimal. This is new and, like most change, takes some adjustment to become habit.

The central tenet of tech writing is empathy. Like our panda friends, it is important that we step out of our comfort zones and into the shoes of another. When we allow ourselves to relax our thinking, to loosen the strictures of our processes and naturally explore the experiences of our end-users we can truly say we are communicating. When our work is excessively effortful, when we try to compress too much information into our content we succeed only in creating a them-and-us scenario where the end user is an afterthought, subordinate to the process.

The Balance Between Pandas and TechComm

Empathic writing is balanced writing. It achieves a harmony between the need for information and the end users capacity to absorb it; Yin and yang. It enables instructional designers/writers to convey important information while themselves learning something about their fellow humans; Yin and Yang.

It is important not to lose sight of the key truth here, pandas are sooo cute!

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Your or You’re – You’re home, or your home? https://docforce.io/your-or-youre-youre-home-or-your-home/ https://docforce.io/your-or-youre-youre-home-or-your-home/#respond Fri, 12 Apr 2019 20:29:49 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=236442 The difference between 'your' and 'you're' eludes many people, but we want to help you learn the difference and remember it forever!

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Your or you’re – a spark of misspelling that can conflagrate the most tame grammar argument. It has gotten worse in recent years with the rise of text speak or SMS language. If you’ve ever seen ‘ur’ or ‘u r’ then you’ve seen the simple abbreviation of the above words. That isn’t to say these are supposed to be substitutes, but using the SMS abbreviations is an easy way out of remembering the difference between the two. The misspelling is so common that one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, poked fun at it. Can you tell us which is correct?

“When you’re here then you’re home”

or

“When your here then your home”

By the end of this article you’ll laugh at how easy that example is, and remember the difference between your and you’re.

I’m firmly in the “Leslie Knope” camp here.

First things first, what exactly is ‘your?’

Your is simultaneously a possessive determiner, an attributive adjective, and just an adjective. All definitions agree that the word means something related to your self, physique, or belongings or related to the person you are addressing and their self, physique, or belongings. All of that can be boiled down to you or a person’s stuff, person, and associated paraphernalia. For example, your car and your home are both possessions, but so is your idea. Your face definitely belongs to you, but your friend’s face is still theirs – and they’re still yourfriend. A good way to remember this is: whose thing/place/idea/body part is this? Yours!

Your style is your own.

Now for the second part: ‘you’re.’

You’re is the contraction of the words “you” and “are.” It is followed by a noun, adjective, or present participle. Here are examples for each:

  • Noun: When you’re here, you’re family.
  • Adjective: You’re organized, a good quality in a city counselor.
  • Present participle: You’re making a city slogan!

You can use ‘you’re’ in a variety of situations, and it’s widely searched on the internet for its definition. The absolute golden rule for ‘you’re vs your’ is: if the sentence makes sense with ‘you are’, use the contraction you’re!

Ross gets it.

With all of that, what is your choice for the right answer between these two?

‘’When you’re here then you’re home’’

Or

‘’When your here then your home’’

If you picked the right one, congratulations! You’ve overcome a mental block many people struggle with! Keep the golden rule ‘you are = you’re’ in mind and you won’t struggle with this term again! Now, get back to your work, where you’re needed!

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How Life in Tech Comms has Changed … or has It? https://docforce.io/how-life-in-tech-comms-has-changed-or-has-it/ https://docforce.io/how-life-in-tech-comms-has-changed-or-has-it/#respond Thu, 28 Mar 2019 20:04:41 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=236162 Tools change, but one thing remains constant… When I started as a technical writer, I knew what I signed on for. When I started technical writing, I had no idea that’s what it was called. I was just creating guides to help a user play games. It was 1982 and I worked for a company […]

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Tools change, but one thing remains constant…

When I started as a technical writer, I knew what I signed on for. When I started technical writing, I had no idea that’s what it was called. I was just creating guides to help a user play games. It was 1982 and I worked for a company that made The Widgit (yes, that’s how we spelled it): a port expander for the Texas Instruments TI 99 home computer.  We also made games and zapped them onto EPROMs. As one of my many tasks in this company, I wrote instructions in troff on how to play the games.

TI 99
The Widgit

Years later, I worked for a tech writer starting a placement agency. He saw that I had potential in this field and sent me through a certification course at a local college. I worked for him as a “ghost” tech writer, writing for clients and editing behind the curtain. I learned FrameMaker on a Mac SE with a whopping 56k of memory. I remember counting ahead keystrokes to access a dialog box. I’d input 6 keystrokes, and two minutes later the dialog I needed appeared.

And so began my career, working on a Mac in FrameMaker and Illustrator, and learning all the ins and outs of Tech Comms. I became an ACE (Adobe Certified Expert, though I label it Frame Guru), and taught engineers (my SMEs) how to use FM and not muck up templates with new tags, further expanding my skill set.

Like this, but with Adobe.

Growing up in Silicon Valley (once the beautiful Santa Clara Valley, which with its spring blossoms is now gone), I have worked in high tech my whole career. I’ve written for hardware and software. I’ve put together courses for ID trainers and built help systems. I’ve worked in every flavor of authoring tool, and have favorites, but know not to hold too tightly to any one tool as they are an ever-changing aspect of this job.  What doesn’t change? The user.

I am the user advocate!

I believe this my most important initiative and constant in TC. In many of my “previous lives,” my end users were mostly engineers. You make a few assumptions about this audience, but I still try to write for the lowest common denominator. KISS (keep it simple stupid) was hammered into my writing early on and I still may be too imperative. A manager once told me that my writing was too concise. I was shocked. I never thought that could be a problem. Give them what they need to get the task done. Don’t give them flowers. Start steps with an active verb. Rip out all passive voice. Don’t use”‘you,” use “the user.” This last rule, thankfully, is less employed today, but writing tight is always appropriate, especially in the mobile space where real estate is limited.

I was the Gordon Ramsey of technical writing.

TC is the best career. I constantly learn new technologies, new authoring languages (flavor of the month? markdown),  and new authoring tools. My position with Docforce is my dream job as I don’t have to leave my position to learn new technologies. We have a myriad of clients and we finish projects. I’m no longer embedded in a company with long-term projects and a focus on one product. After one project wraps, I move on to something new. It’s the most exciting place to spread my love for tech writing and guide my co-writers down the path of user advocate.

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Documentation: Gateway to the Flow State https://docforce.io/documentation-gateway-to-the-flow-state/ https://docforce.io/documentation-gateway-to-the-flow-state/#respond Fri, 22 Mar 2019 21:24:50 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=236025 The flow state will help you get stuff done - in my case, defeat the blue screen of death with documentation!

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Recently, I was listening to the incredible story of Colin O’Brady, who pulled a 375 lb sled by himself across Antarctica in -100 °F temperatures. Colin completed 932 Miles in 54 days. He mentions that for a majority of this incredible trip he was in what he calls a flow state— full immersion and fixation on completing a task.

If you’re not trying to be the first person to trek solo across Antarctica, flow states can be rare.

The Problem

Until…you get the blue screen of death.

Nightmare material, tied with unreadable documentation.

We’ve all seen this screen, and it throws us into panic–the PC is near death. Will it recover? Now we’re facing unexpected costs, the inability to get work done, or worse, no way to access memes for a giggle.

Memes make for friendships and laughter.

My specific problem was “Boot Configuration Data for your PC is missing or contains errors.”

Where did it go? Is it expensive?

This task becomes my main objective. The solution takes all my effort. I enter the flow state.

The Solution

Through this state, I end up in the documentation. I’m going line-by-line at the command prompt, entering commands like I’m Bill Gates. I’m scanning for the Boot Configuration. Aha! Located it. Now it’s time for the rebuild… 3…2…1…Operation Complete. I’ve surgically rectified the problem.

This is me going through your documentation.

I restart and in a moment of glorious triumph, I’ve returned to normal. I glance at the clock; 25 minutes elapsed while I was in the abyss.

Being someone that appreciates and geeks out on relevant documentation, reflecting on this experience showed me that without documentation, I may have never entered the flow state and reached the mindset of solution.

That feeling when the docs save your life.

I may not be crossing the Antarctic, but without the help I found through documentation, it would’ve been a black screen…the true death of a PC.

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How Value is the Trojan Horse in Your Arsenal https://docforce.io/how-value-is-the-trojan-horse-in-your-arsenal/ https://docforce.io/how-value-is-the-trojan-horse-in-your-arsenal/#respond Tue, 26 Feb 2019 21:54:40 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=235271 Let’s say it’s 1000 B.C and you’re looking to besiege a castle. We can all understand the tremendous human costs involved, assaulting the walls, building a trebuchet, not to mention the wasted food trying to distract the alligators while you’re crossing the moat! Not ideal right? The Trojan Horse Obviously, the Greeks weren’t having much […]

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Let’s say it’s 1000 B.C and you’re looking to besiege a castle. We can all understand the tremendous human costs involved, assaulting the walls, building a trebuchet, not to mention the wasted food trying to distract the alligators while you’re crossing the moat! Not ideal right?

That doesn’t look like a fun moat at all.

The Trojan Horse

Obviously, the Greeks weren’t having much luck after a 10-year siege on Troy, so they took a different route; the famous Trojan horse. Legend has it, Odysseus and his 30 goons, hiding inside Bojack, were pulled into Troy by the Trojans, who saw the horse as an offering to Athena. They then watched the remaining Greeks sail away in defeat. Or so they thought. Once inside, Odysseus and the gang opened the gates and let the rest of the Greek army in, having sailed back under the cover of night. And the rest is history.

Odysseus’ ‘sneaky plan’ face.

Your Value to Customers and Clients

Now, we can’t be sure if this actually happened, but the story lends itself well to my credo. I look at every sales opportunity as a war – a war of value. Your main objective should always be to position yourself to bring value to the client by means of your own army. Consider the moment you’re able to prove – not just conceptually, but really prove the value of your product or service. The moment of victory. Always come from a place of pure value, and understand that everything you will do will be built from that perspective. If you’re thinking about the monetary return or the way you will be seen externally, you’re already failing. Know that what you’re doing will provide true value and advance the human race, become the horse and not the man inside, and every victory will be that much sweeter, and there won’t be a castle you can’t storm.

Victory!

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Malaphors: We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Get to It https://docforce.io/malaphors-well-burn-that-bridge-when-we-get-to-it/ https://docforce.io/malaphors-well-burn-that-bridge-when-we-get-to-it/#respond Fri, 22 Feb 2019 23:22:28 +0000 https://docforce.io/?p=235033 I will explain what an idiom is, a few examples of some particularly well-known ones in English, where the word “malaphor” comes from, and finally how to craft your own.

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Have you ever had trouble recalling the beginning or end of a particular idiom and mixed it up with a completely unrelated saying? Has the cow come home to roost? I want to teach you how to mix these up on purpose and have some fun with the language you may use extremely often. I will explain what an idiom is, a few examples of some particularly well-known ones in English,  where the word “malaphor” comes from, and finally how to craft your own. But we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it!

Homer Simpson, a master of malaphors.

What is an idiom?

First things first: What’s an Idiom? According to the very fun dictionary.com, idioms are:

“an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one’s head, or from the general grammatical rules of a language, as the table round for the round table, and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics”

Which is the fancy way of asserting that an idiom is a nonsensical saying whose meaning cannot be interpreted from the text alone. Idioms seem to be things you grow up with hearing, and then use yourself, often to the confusion of people who’ve never heard your particular idiom before. They’re also language and geographically based, with English speakers in Ireland having different idioms than English speakers from the United State’s Deep South. For example, in the South you could say “They’re walking through high cotton” for when someone is very successful, but in Ireland you would say “They’re richer than Midas.”

Scrooge McDuck is the Midas of the Duck Universe

Common American Idioms

Some of the more common Idioms in American English and their meanings include:

  • It isn’t rocket science – It isn’t complicated.
  • Don’t beat around the bush – Be clear and blunt with what you’re saying.
  • Speak of the devil and he shall appear – The coincidence when someone you’re talking about shows up where you are.
  • We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it – We’ll address that problem later.
  • Does a bear poop in the woods? – A sarcastic way of saying “Yes” to a question.
  • Does the Pope wear a funny hat? – The same as above, but with the Pope.
  • People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – People who have many faults should refrain from pointing out another’s faults.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – What you have now is worth more than the potential of what you could have later.

The list is pretty inexhaustible – we Americans really love speaking with idioms. Now that you’re solid on what those are, let’s turn our attention to the real star of this show: The Malaphor.

This IS rocket science!

What are malaphors?

A Malaphor, as defined by wiktionary, an error in which two similar figures of speech are merged, producing an often nonsensical result. The basic gist is – mash up two idioms into something silly and possibly absurd. You can use these on accident or on purpose, depending on what your purpose is. I mostly like to use them in a silly way to see if anyone notices the idiom is incorrect.

Here are some examples of malaphors built from the above idioms:

  • It isn’t rocket surgery!
  • A bear in a glass house is worth two in the woods.
  • Speak of the Pope and he shall appear.
  • People in glass bridges shouldn’t cross when they come to it.
  • We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
This bear is clearly upset at the lack of glass houses.

Add your own malaphor!

And on into even sillier pairings. Now that you have the idea of what exactly a malaphor is –  and how to create one – what combinations can you come up with? Do you have any favorite malaphors? Let us know in the comments or submit your own below! See The Big List of Malaphors.

Katherine Reynolds is the Business Solutions Coordinator for Bardwrite N.A. and the Social Media Coordinator for Docforce. She has a passion for helping people and organization and enjoys working closely with others. If she isn’t in the office or at home reading and playing with her dogs, she’s out in the boonies hiking.

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