It’s All Relative

Related imageI left England with my family arriving in Canada at the tender age of 6. As a result, I have no English accent, but do have a Canadian one. Accents are strange things: they exist only because of their relative nature. A foreign accent is only heard when someone leaves one country for another. British people do not hear a British accent when they speak with each other; to them, their voices sound normal; it is we Canadians who have the accent.

The perception of things not as they are by themselves, but in relation to other things is ingrained into our very being. It is the foundation of fairness and equality, concepts that shape our world.

Related imageEven a monkey knows what’s fair. In an experiment, five monkeys were given different food amounts as a reward for completing the same task. When one monkey saw that she had received a smaller reward than another monkey, she became enraged and threw the food at the lab worker conducting the experiment.

You could easily conduct a similar experiment with people, but make it even simpler. In a room of ten people, walk up to each person and give the first nine of them $10 for no reason. Then give the last person $5. How do you think that person will feel? It doesn’t matter that they got free money; the person will be angry that they did not get the same as everyone else.

The striving for fairness can lead to other absurd situations. It is not uncommon for government workers in one city to demand the same salaries as workers living in other cities. For example, policemen in one city will often demand the same salary as policemen in another, even though the job requirements and cost of living are different. As a result, salaries continually spiral upward as governments acquiesce to each group.

Students at most liberal universities are extremely sensitive to the notion of fairness. They gladly participate in demonstrations railing against “the top one-percenters” who they view as a pampered class that has stolen money from the other 99%, and demand various forms of wealth distribution. While they have some valid points, any professor teaching a class of these students could crush most of their arguments with this simple question:

“Since you all believe in wealth redistribution, at the end of this course, do you agree that everyone should be assigned the same grade that will be the average grade of the entire class?”

Related imageThe idea of relative value permeates our entertainment. ‘3%’ is Netflix science fiction drama set in a divided future world. In the poorer part of town, people live in poverty and misery. However, each year, they are given a one-time chance to participate in “The Process”, a series of physical and mental challenges. The top 3% of candidates are allowed to move to The Offshore, a paradise where all their needs are met. It is the conflict between the haves and have-nots that make it a fascinating series.

The theme of fairness appears throughout literature: H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine describes the future world of the Eloi race, who live in comfort above ground, and the Morlocks, a savage race that lives underground. George Orwell’s 1984 describes an elite class ruling over impoverished masses in a future dystopia.

Class struggle is a study in relativism. The poor and oppressed struggle to be better off because they know that a “better off” exists relative to their current state. This is why totalitarian countries such as North Korea work so hard to block access to outside information. The “Dear Leader ”knows that if his oppressed citizens believe the rest of the world is the same (or worse) than their country, they will not agitate for change. “Unfair” must have a “fair” to begin with.

Ultimately, relative value is about geography. The irony is that most Westerners protesting against the 1% are actually part of the 1%. They don’t realize this because they are looking at the top 1% annual income earners in their country, which for Canada is $235,000. But why compare only to the country you live in?

According the Global Rich List, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of global inequality, if you make $42,000 Canadian, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income.

Because you can always change the size of the group that you are comparing yourself to, and thereby change your percentage ranking, relative value is meaningless. If people spent as much time and energy comparing themselves to those less fortunate than those more fortunate, the amount of happiness in the world would increase. Unfortunately, the number of people who perform this comparison is only about 1%.

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The Documentation of a Lifetime

The recent passing of my father resulted in many things. A funeral, speeches that tried to summarize his life (as if one can summarize a life within a few minutes), burial, grief and mourning. It also resulted in one of the largest, most complex and challenging documentation projects I have ever encountered.

My father was a brilliant man, university educated, successful, intelligent, a great speaker, and also extremely organized. He left behind various papers contained in two 2-drawer filing cabinets, two small lockboxes, and a couple of cardboard boxes. The paperwork included various legal, insurance, tax and financial information, bills and statements, and other assorted papers. I estimated there was about 3,000 pieces of paper in total; a literal tsunami of documentation.

Now, to be fair, it was somewhat organized. Items were placed in drawers marked for the lawyer and the accountant. However, when I began actually reviewing the papers, I discovered that the collection was sheer chaos.

The main problem was that there were many papers which did not need to be retained. These included bills and statements that were many years old and therefore had no value. In addition, there were many of the informational inserts and brochures that come with statements which are generally quite useless. You can find the information within these either online or through a phone call. I estimated that I discarded almost 95% of all the papers, filling several garbage bags.

The remaining papers had to be meticulously examined and properly filed. I purchased several cardboard banker’s boxes and a box of 100 legal-size file folders and began organizing the papers into individual folders, such as: Banking, Insurance, Investments, Utility Bills, Legal, Tax, and so on. The entire process took about three full days. I had to reverse-engineer what my father was thinking, and then organize the papers accordingly.

However, that was not the end of the project. For the purpose of organizing all these papers was so that that my mother could bring them to her various professionals (her lawyer, financial advisor and accountant) and be able to easily supply them the required documents. Organizing the documentation was not enough. I also had to create an entire set of electronic documents that described these paper documents, how to manage them, questions to ask her professionals, important things to do and so on. I also created documents of a more personal nature, including links to the various obituaries and speeches, and inspirational information, a sort of “Widow’s Toolkit”. It sounds strange, but my mother found it helpful.

However, this is not not the end of this documentation project. My mother and I will continue to work together so that when the time comes, all of her paperwork and information will be in order. Never again do I want to go through the pain of organizing a mountain of information after a parent has died. It is an unbearably tedious and painful task.

Therefore, everyone, no matter what age, should organize all the information that is important in their life. This includes:

  1. A to do list describing everything that needs to be done upon your death.
  2. A list with phone numbers of all your important contacts including your lawyer, accountant, financial advisor, spiritual leader (priest, rabbi, imam, and so on) and your primary doctor.
  3. Information about all your bank accounts, credit cards and financial investments.
  4. Documents for your lawyer – your will, marriage, birth certificate, passport, health card, and power of attorney in this folder
  5. Life insurance information, policies and amounts
  6. Tax documents for your accountant – these include old tax returns and related documents, which you must keep for 7 years
  7. A living will describing how you want to be treated if you are terminally ill, instructions for your funeral, and any parting words for your loved ones
  8. Your home and auto and insurance policies
  9. Logins and passwords – these should be stored in a password protected document and should include not only your online passwords, but passwords for your phone, tablet, computers and any of your other devices that require a password
  10. Info about your Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, or any other pensions you have
  11. Health plan information
  12. A list of all calling cards, rewards cards, memberships and subscriptions
  13. Documents related to your property: the house sale, deed, mortgage, assessment, letters of sale, and land survey
  14. If you have pre-planned your funeral (which is advisable to do to spare your family a financial and emotional burden), information about the funeral home and the package you have selected
  15. TV, phone, realty tax, hydro, gas and other utility bills
  16. Miscellaneous documents
  17. Warranties and any other important bills

Any financial, banking, insurance, legal, tax and other important information should include:

  • the name of the institution
  • the account number(s)
  • the balance of the account (if applicable)
  • the name and phone number of the primary contact

Organize the printed documents in a clear, easy to follow file folder system, with the folders in alphabetical order. At the start of every year, discard any documents you don’t need.

Maintain as much information as you can in a single password-protected Word document, then give your loved ones that password! Review this document every year (perhaps on your birthday) to ensure it’s up to date.

By documenting your life, you’ll ensure that your relatives will not have to go through the pain, frustration and anguish of having to sort through, decipher and decode this mountain of information.

In doing so, you’ll finally solve life’s ultimate documentation problem. And don’t you want to enter heaven with all your docs organized?

Paying some interest to your docs

With the release of the Ontario and the federal Canadian budgets, debts and interest rates are again in the news. Both budgets continue to run deficits; this is especially frustrating in Ontario, whose government recently commissioned a document (the Drummond report) that recommended major spending cuts; yet another effective user guide that has been promptly ignored.

Interest rates are the lowest they’ve even been in years. This keeps borrowing costs low, but creates another problem: if rates rise even a small amount (as they inevitably will), borrowing costs increase tremendously.

Canada’s debt is currently about $566 billion. Even a tiny .1% rise in interest rates (that’s one-tenth of one percent) would increase borrowing costs a staggering $566 million a year, or over a one and half million dollars per day.

Interest rates are also important on a personal level. For example, if you have a $375,000 mortgage, a 1% rise in rates adds about another $3,750 a year in interest, or over $300 per month. If you’re already treading water and living paycheque to paycheque, this could be enough to push you into bankruptcy, and out of your house – exactly what’s been happening in the United States.

We see then, that the following formula is life-altering:

debt X interest rate = interest payment

Even a small change in rates can greatly increase the interest payment, if the debt is large.

All this got me wondering: What is the interest payment of a document?

To find this out, we need to determine:

  • the debt of a document
  • the interest rate of a document

The debt of a document, like financial debt, represents the total value of the document. This is comprised of the size of the document, including the total number of words, graphics, index entries, cross-references and other information elements.

The interest rate of a document includes:

  • the volatility of the document – the degree to which the document needs to be updated because of changes in the product or thing being document; in other words, how much and how frequently the document must be maintained
  • the importance of the document – a document that is not used or is considered irrelevant or unimportant has little value; the users or the organization that owns the document literally has little interest in it

A document’s interest payment is the amount of effort a technical communicator must exert to ensure that the document is properly maintained. It is the size of the document multiplied by its interest rate.

Larger documents generally have higher interest payments than smaller ones, because greater effort is required to maintain them. However, a large document may have a lower interest payment if its interest rate is sufficiently low, for example:

Large document: 5,000 x 1% = 50
Small document: 3,000 x 2% = 60

The first figure in each equation (the debt or size of the document) is arbitrary and is simply there to indicate relative sizes.

Now, what happens if you fail to make the interest payments? The debt of the document increases as it becomes more outdated and chaotic. It may even reach a point where the owner must declare bankruptcy and create an entirely new document.

Who knew documentation could be so…interesting?

Single Sourcing Greece’s Default

Related imageGreece is now dangerously close to defaulting on its national debt. Despite the recent bailouts, many financial experts believe that the situation is unsustainable. Greece simply cannot afford to pay its bills. Its debt to GDP ratio is a staggering 140%, meaning it owes almost one and half times the value of all its goods and services. It could only be a matter of time before Greece defaults.

Defaulting, while certainly undesirable, does not necessarily mean the end of a country. Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and many other countries have also defaulted, and have gone on to have healthy and vibrant economies.

Still, the European Union is desperate to save Greece from default because they believe that if Greece defaults, it could plunge the entire region into financial chaos and destroy the value of the euro. Therefore, you could say that the decision to unite the currencies of Europe caused this problem in the first place. If Greece had never joined the euro, they still would be in a mess, but it would have been their own mess.

Single-sourcing in technical communication refers to the process of storing a piece of information once and then reusing it as needed. The euro is a political and economic example of single-sourcing. Seventeen different European nations use it, instead of maintaining separate currencies.

When the euro was first introduced, Europeans were hopeful that by single-sourcing their currencies, they would eliminate the disadvantages of multiple currencies, namely the inefficiencies of currency conversion. But as we’ve now seen, these advantages have been decimated by the Greek fiasco, costing billions of euros to fix.

It is very easy to make the object to be single-sourced too large. For example, you may have a complex procedure containing ten steps that appears in three separate guides. As long as the procedure does not vary, there is no problem. However, what if later you need add a new step to only one of the guides? You could add the step and then conditionalize it so that it is hidden in some of the guides but appears in the necessary guides.

But what if later the situation becomes even more complex? What if you need to hide or add certain steps to certain guides? By choosing to single source the entire procedure, you have essentially backed yourself into a corner, much like Europe with Greece.

The only effective long-term solution is to store each step as a separate object, then assemble each step in each document as needed. This gives you the full flexibility to include or omit steps as needed.

In essence, you need to “default” on your original documentation architecture, declare informational bankruptcy, restructure and begin anew.

To choose not to would be a Greek tragedy.

Failsafe

See the source imagePresident Obama recently proposed an intriguing solution to deal with his country’s ever-growing debt: a “failsafe” trigger. Here’s roughly how it would work: if the debt as a share of the economy (the debt-to-GDP ratio) does not drop below a certain ratio by a certain date, then spending cuts, tax increases, or both would automatically be implemented.

Politically, it’s a brilliant solution, as it transfer the onus of decision-making from the politicians to the bureaucrats, as they are forced to make the deep but necessary cuts to lower the debt, currently a nightmarish $14 trillion.

A failsafe system can be applied to any process. It is comprised of:

  1. a specific, measurable goal to be achieved
  2. a date or time period by which the goal must be met
  3. a specific, measurable action that will be taken if the goal is not met

A simple example is weight loss. For example, you could set a goal of losing 3 kg. in two weeks. If you fail to meet this goal, you would have to lower your intake by 300 calories, exercise an additional 30 minutes, or both. You would repeat this failsafe system until you have reached your ideal weight. Then comes the tough part: maintenance. A second failsafe system ensures you stay on track.

Could a failsafe system be developed for documentation? It could, if we can define a measurable goal. However, objectively measuring the quality of documentation can be difficult. To obtain an objective, measurable goal requires carefully observing a user interact with the documentation.

Some of the measurements of documentation could include:

  • the success rate at which the user finds the relevant topic
  • the length of time required for the user to find the relevant topic
  • the average rating given a topic by the users

Another measure could be the number of contacts (phone calls or emails) to technical support. This could be broken down further into:

  • contacts made due to incomplete or inaccurate documentation – for example, a procedure is missing or a field is not explained clearly
  • contacts to report specific documentation problems – this occurs when users give direct feedback on the documentation

After deciding what it is you are going to measure, you can then set a goal based on a specific date or time period, for example:

  • improving the success rate by 15% over the next 3 months
  • reducing the topic search time by 20% over 6 weeks
  • reducing technical support contacts by 10% by August 1

Finally, you need to select an “action item”. That is, what specific action will be taken if the goal is not met?

Ideally, the action would be be implementing a thorough review of the documentation (or portions of it) based on feedback from users or internal staff such as QA, Business Analysts, Product Managers, and so on.  This could include creating a “closed feedback loop” whereby users can directly comment on any topic; the results are then sent to the appropriate writer who will make the necessary changes.

Is this idealistic? Yes. Many technical communicators are already stretched to the limit, so asking them to set aside time to improve their existing documentation is not always realistic. However, for those who are fortunate enough to implement such a failsafe system, the end result is documentation set that actually saves a company money.

An obvious blog entry

Image result for hello my name is debt freeHere’s an important formula to know regarding your personal finances:

Total household debt (mortgage, credit cards, student loans, etc.)
divided by:
Annual disposable income (your yearly gross income minus taxes)
equals:
The ratio of household debt to disposable income

Canada’s average ratio of household debt to disposable income has now reached 148%, a staggering new record, higher than the U.S rate of 147%.

It means that, on average, Canadians owe about one and half times what they make after taxes. For example, someone who earns $50,000 would owe a whopping $74,000.

As many financial commentators have noted, the solution to this problem is rather simple:
Don’t spend more than you make.
-or-
Don’t spend money you don’t have.

These principles seem obvious, but they are obviously not that obvious, as millions of people continue to ignore them to their peril.

Other obvious principles you know are:

  • If you eat alot, you will get fat.
  • Exercise is good for your body.
  • Drinking and driving is dangerous.
  • Dropping out of high school is dumb.

We know these things, but often act as though we don’t.

In technical communication, there are also obvious principles we often forget:

  • Technical communication requires good communication and technical skills.
  • Resumes and cover letters are documents; it’s therefore a good idea to make them good documents.
  • Typos are really bad.
  • The best way to learn a new tool is to use it.
  • You can learn about technical communication by talking with people who are actually technical communicators.
  • It’s a good idea to write with the end user in mind. They are the people who will be reading what you’ve written.

Make a new year’s resolution to think of more obvious things, then practise those things. Principles are nice, but useless if not acted upon – obviously.

TFSA is a four letter word; Gmail is not

Related imageAnd the winner of the “it seemed like a good idea at the time award” goes to…the Tax Free Savings Account, or TFSA.

The TFSA is a special type of savings account established by the Canadian government, and which came into effect in 2009. Individuals can contribute up to $5,000 per year, and the amount grows tax-free.

Sounds great, right?

Here’s the problem: if you contribute $5,000 to your account, withdraw it, and then add it back later, you will get a stiff penalty.

That’s right – even though the total balance in your account never exceeded the $5,000 maximum, you will still be penalized.

I know this because it happened to me, along with about 72,000 other taxpayers. (For full details, read my entry on TFSA overcontributions in Wikipedia.)

CRA later admitted the contribution limit rules were confusing, and has said they will allow taxpayers to appeal if they genuinely felt they were mistaken, and that they will review each situation on a case-by-case basis.

The problem was that the entire TFSA programme was inadvertently designed to cause confusion. In other words, failure was built into the system. How?

With many people using online banking, transferring money back and forth between accounts is extremely easy. I, like the 72,000 other hapless taxpayers, simply moved funds back and forth on a regular basis, hoping to get the higher interest rate of the TFSA account.

A warning in small print did appear on the banking website, stating not to exceed the TFSA contribution room. But all that indicated to me and the other users was to not exceed the annual limit. There was no warning indicating that the limit doesn’t apply just to the balance but to the total amounts transferred within a year. That difference makes all the difference.

This confusion exposes problems both in usability and documentation. There are several ways it could have been avoided. In order of effectiveness, they are:

1. Clearer documentation should have given to everyone who signed up for a TFSA account. All financial institutions should have emailed, or better yet, phoned, every applicant and clearly explained the transfer limit rules. Even with this warning, though, many people would still have over-contributed. So we move on to the next solution: clearer on-screen warnings.

2. When transferring funds using online banking, a clear warning should have appeared stating that if you transfer more than $5,000 into your TFSA, you will be penalized even if your total TFSA balance is less than $5,000. But again, even with this warning, some people would still have over-contributed, so we move on to the proper solution.

3. The online banking system should have tracked all TFSA transfers and prohibited all transfers that exceeded the overall yearly limit. A message would appear indicating that the transfer would exceed the user’s limit, and stating that if they still want to perform the transfer, they would have to phone it in.

This last solution is the only valid one, because it builds success into the system. It prohibits the user from making a really dumb decision, which is what all great software should do. (Of course, it wouldn’t prevent overcontributions that occur from one bank to another, but it still would avoid much grief.)

Compare the poorly-designed TFSA with a Gmail’s “forgotten attachment” feature. In Gmail, if you prepare an email with the phrase “I’ve attached”, but forget to actually include the attachment, a message appears asking if you still want to send the email without an attachment. Brilliant.

Now, it is not a perfect feature. It won’t work if you use the phrase “I attached” or “Check the attached file”. Ideally, the feature should just search for the word “attach”. But still, it’s a fantastic feature because it attempts to build success into the application.

Building success into our documentation means doing everything we can to anticipate how a user will screw up using both the document and the application. It means creating VAD – Value Added Documentation.

VAD does not simply tell the user what they already know, but what they need to know.

For example, a user may want to send a letter to many different people. If the user doesn’t know about the mail merge feature, they will insanely copy and paste all the letters.

Having an index entry of mail merge is useless, because if the user doesn’t about this feature, they can’t look it up! However, having these index entries could help:

  • distributing a letter to many recipients
  • letters, sending a letter to many recipients
  • mailing a letter to many recipients
  • mass mailings, sending
  • recipients, sending a letter to
  • same letter, sending to many recipients
  • sending a letter to many recipients

Yes, these are long index entries, but so what? A good index attempts to anticipate all the strange and wonderful ways a user might look up a topic.

The mail merge topic itself has to clearly explain why doing a mail merge is better than copying and pasting, because if the user cannot see the benefit of what you are suggesting, they won’t do it.

Bottom line – when it comes to bad documentation, don’t get mad – get VAD.

Give Me Some Credit

Related imagePeople love their credit cards, and why not? A slim piece of plastic allows you to buy almost anything at any time; you don’t even have to leave your home. There’s just one small detail: eventually, you must pay it all back. And if you can’t do this right away, the credit card companies are more than happy to oblige, and will lend you the money at an obscene interest rate.

Millions of people don’t realize this, and simply pay the minimum balance because, hey, isn’t it easier to pay $30 now rather than $1,000 now? Credit card companies love people who think like this.

Deadbeat, and Proud of It

I, on the other hand, along with my financially intelligent peers, am scrupulous about paying off the balance each month, in full. In addition, I pay no annual fee, and actually receive back 1% of everything I spend in free groceries. Over the years, this has added up to thousands of dollars.

Credit card companies hate me. They have an interesting name for people like me who pay their balance in full: deadbeats. We’re deadbeats because we don’t provide any extra income to these companies.

Now, however, the number of “deadbeats” may be increasing, thanks to recently proposed Canadian government legislation. It includes a minimum 21-day interest-free grace period on all new transactions when people pay their balance in full by the due date. The other two main changes involve documentation; that is, the infamous Credit Card Statement.

An Inconvenient Document

Under the new law, grace periods and interest rates would have to be clearly displayed in a summary box on the statement. That’s important, but it’s not the biggest change.

The biggest change is that the statement would clearly indicate how long it would take you to pay off your balance if you only made the minimum payments every month. It is this omission of a single, small piece of data from this document that has cause more grief, more financial suffering, and more debt than anything else.

Loan Shark, Inc.

For example, let’s assume you have a $2,000 balance and the interest rate is 19% (a fairly common rate). If the minimum payment allowed is 3% of this balance, and you can only make this payment, then your monthly payments will be $60. It will take you a whopping 14.5 years to pay off this debt, and you’ll pay an astounding $2,007.03 in interest, just over 100% of the entire amount you borrowed! (To try more numbers, use this calculator.)

How many people would have paid off their balances sooner if they had known this? Now you can begin to see why the banks fought against this legislation. They (and many lawyers) are the antithesis of our profession, because they wage war against the most cherished principle of technical communication:

Tell readers what they need to know to help them succeed.

A Tech Writer’s Guide to the Recession

Image result for RecessionStock markets – down.
House prices – down.
Oil prices – down.
Employment – down.
Consumer confidence – down.
Consumer spending – down.
The “Big Three” car makers – going down.

Misery – up.

All this talk of a depression is so….depressing. Still, it is what can happen when the economies of nations are so intertwined, so “single-sourced”. America sneezes, and the world throws up.

Recession, The Great Clarifier

A recession (also know as “depression-lite”) clarifies things. It exposes the reality of buying objects we don’t need using money we don’t have.

This is effectively illustrated on the show Till Debt Do Us Part. Each week, host Gail Vaz-Oxlade, who is incredibly obnoxious and pushy, but in a practical and charming sort of way, examines the insane spending practices of a lucky couple. She gives them various financial and relationship-building exercises to perform. If they succeed, they get a modest cash reward, which I’m sure they then spend on a 52″ mega TV after the cameras have stopped rolling.

It’s an entertaining show, but I can save you the trouble of watching it. Here’s the formula for financial success:

earnings minus expenditures = X

  • If X is a positive number, then you are on the right track.
  • If X is a negative number, then you are in trouble.
  • If X is an extremely negative number, then you are extremely screwed.

The recession has revealed our spending insanity on a global level. Out of this financial nightmare, fewer people will spend more than they have. There is a word to describe this type of controlled spending. The word is: normal.

Tech Comm Survivor – Outwit, Outplay, Outwrite

No doubt we are in very painful times. And the question every technical communicator is asking, indeed the question every working person is asking, is simple: how can I survive?

I have a bold solution:

Cease to be a technical writer.

That’s right. Stop.

Stop now.

Have you stopped?

Do not be just a technical writer. Instead, be more.

Technical Writer +

Technical communication involves so much more than writing. In fact, it can involve any of the following jobs:

  • Information Analyst – review documents, specifications, white papers, design papers, needs requirements, and marketing material
  • Project Manager – plan, estimate, forecast, juggle, execute, and track multiple documentation projects simultaneously
  • Software Tester – use, abuse and expose the software and all its flaws
  • Content Manager – manage, update, and control thousands of pages of content; have an immediate answer when asked where a guide is at
  • Marketing Communicator – write release notes and other marketing material
  • Coding Analyst – analyze and describe samples of code, possibly even add comments directly to the code
  • XML Expert – structure and tag content using XML tags
  • Error Message Author – write clear, concise error messages that indicate what the problem is and what the user needs to do to solve it
  • User Interface Designer – correct all the mangled or missing text that appears in the interface, including screen and dialog box titles, buttons and on-screen instructions; give improvements to the layout and design to make it easier for the user to actually use the product, rather than allowing the engineers to create a nightmare
  • Personnel Manager – juggle developers, salespeople, marketers, QA testers, managers, customers and other technical writers with one hand as you develop and execute your documentation
  • Investigative Reporter – research, interview, probe, question, doubt, argue, threaten to expose, take nothing for granted, assume nothing, and get a second or third opinionand, most importantly:
  • Business Analyst – understand what the end users need to do their jobs and not only create documentation accordingly, but suggest changes to the product you are documenting

Oh, and in between all these jobs, you may do some writing too.

Recession Recap

This recession will:

  • stop people from spending more than they have
  • force companies that are weak to either change or cease to exist, and as a result:
  • force companies to ask for even more from their workers

The more jobs you have been working in your current job, the more valuable you will be. And if you haven’t been doing these other jobs, then good news: today is the first day of the rest of your working life.

Cheques and Balances

Related imageI recently submitted three cheques to an individual, verbally indicating to him that two of the cheques were post-dated. Naturally, his office worker promptly deposited all three cheques, thereby incurring two NSF charges.

Just as doctors make the worst patients, technical communicators often neglect to write instructions down. What we have here is a failure to communicate. They say hindsight is 20/20, but 20/20 simply denotes average (not superior) vision. As professional communicators, we need to be far above average in our written instructions.

Therefore, in superior hindsight, I would have documented the cheques as follows:

  1. A note written on the cheques themselves stating POST-DATED, highlighted in screaming bright yellow.
  2. A florescent post-it note placed on the cheques, again indicating the cheques were POST-DATED.
  3. A letter with the cheques in an envelope, again indicating the cheques were post-dated, and listing the amounts, cheque numbers and dates of each cheque, with explicit instructions not to deposit the cheques until their date arrives.
  4. A note on the envelope itself: POST-DATED CHEQUES ENCLOSED!

Overkill? Most probably. Would it have avoided the user error? Most probably. In documentation, assume the user will err, and use all your communicative powers to prevent it.