I Can C Clearly Now

The following article contains much wisdom:
All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.

I would this reword to:
All I really need to know about technical communication I learned from the letter C.

C is the first letter of all the important concepts, practices and other things that you’ll ever need to know about our profession.

We must, of course, excel at Communication, and not just the written kind. We must be excellent visual communicators, with a firm eye for the design and layout of images, diagrams, and text. This includes a good knowledge of typography, graphics, and effective diagramming – for example, formatting screen shots so that each part is clearly identified. We must be effective and Competent informational Craftspeople, taking great Care in every word we write.

We must strive for Clarity in our work. This means being Childlike, with an endless Capacity to ask foolish questions, and thereby obtain the answers our readers Crave.

Clarity includes being Comprehensible. If our readers (or Clients) cannot understand what we’ve written, why did we write it? We must therefore be Customer-focused. Ideally, we should observe our readers attempting to use our documents. At a minimum, we should provide a simple way for them to directly send us their Comments and Criticisms. This involves having Compassion for our readers. They are often stressed when they reach out to our guides. Our job, therefore, is to Care about our readers and create documents that gently guide them onto the right path.

The Content we develop must be Complete and Comprehensive. A document is a puzzle, but one in which you may not know the number of pieces. Knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know is the first step in knowing what you need to know, you know?

At the same time, our documents must be Concise. We should use as many words as required, but no more. We can achieve this balance through the Chunking of information. For example, we can create a simple overview page that contains links to various topics, rather than listing the entire contents of all these topics on one page.

Organizing and chunking the information involves Curating, the active management of all our informational objects. A museum curator decides what pieces should be displayed, where and how; we must do the same.

As we curate our information sets, we must be Cost-Conscious. This involves effective time and project management as we juggle all our guides. It also involves Content reuse at the topic, paragraph, sentence and even word level. Common copyright information, procedures and tasks, and templates are just some of the things that should only exist in one place. This will lead to greater Consistency in all our documents.

Consistency is extremely important. You should not call the same thing by different names, nor describing different things using the same.

Our documents must be Credible (or believable). If there is an error in a document, its credibility is destroyed. Also, we must be credible. Others must believe what we say when we give our advice on content and design and trust that what we say is true – this relates to Confidence.

As you grow in your career, your confidence grows. A junior writer asks others: What should I do? A senior writer is asked by others: What should I do? The difference between the two is confidence, which comes with experience.

Confidence enables you to deal with Conflict, of which there is no shortage of in the business world. When two SMEs disagree on the contents of your document, it is a conflict that you will have to work to resolve with them.

Confidence also enables you to deal with Change. Change happens on so many levels – in people, in companies, and of course, in our documents and the way they get created. Accepting and managing this change is a critical skill to have, and requires Courage. I remember a tumultuous time when, as a result of various mergers, the company I worked for changed about every year. It was a stressful time, but also exciting, as everyone worked to manage the change.

Of all the C-skills to have, Creativity is the most important, because it encompasses all these other ideas. People who win at job interviews do so because they show how they have creatively solved documentation problems. Both your resume and in your interview should overflow with samples of your creative genius. It’s great that you know FrameMaker, but so do hundreds of other people. Instead, focus on how you improved the documentation and the documentation process in a creative way.

Creativity also involves working Colloboratively with others. We tech writers are an introverted lot, a habit we need to break. No person is a cubicle. The more we interact with other writers and non-writers, the better. Have you ever stopped and asked a code developer what they do? What they like? What they think of your documents?

Practicing all these skills enhances your Career. Career management is a whole other discussion. Managing your career and network of Contacts is like tending a garden. It takes time and care, but the end results are worth it. I owe my current job to the contacts I had carefully maintained.

Now, there is one C-word that is not a skill, but a shape: Circle. The letter C is like a circle with a gap:

C

The gap is symbolic of the gap that is present in all documentation: the gap between what the reader needs to know and what is actually in the document.

Salespeople have a saying: A.B.C.: Always Be Closing. Whenever they interact with clients, their entire manner and tone assumes the sale has been made – they just need to “Close” it.

Technical communicators need to practice A.B.C. We must come full circle and close the gap. Because when it comes to us and our readers…

…we are all Connected.

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