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Trilby Trench book now Kindle and paperback

The first book of my new Trilby Trench series is now available on as a Kindle ebook and in paperback form. Trilby Trench is an action hero who also happens to be a technical writer. She’s deft with words, analytic in thought, and skilled in everything that she’s written about. That covers a lot of ground. Things happen to Trilby, and she happens right back at them.

The book title is A Word If You Please. You can get it here:

I first published A Word If You Please in serial form, chapter by chapter, on the Trilby Trench site. Last week I went through the very interesting process of publishing the book with Kindle Direct Publishing, both as a Kindle book and in paperback.

If you order quickly, you just may see the paperback before I do. 🙂 I’ve ordered one, but it hasn’t arrived yet. It has to make its way from the US all the way to Australia. So I have no idea what it looks like in real life, or what it feels like to hold.

Review, anyone?

If you’ve read the book and are happy to put a review on Amazon, that’d be awesome!

Chapter 2 of the adventures of Trilby Trench

Have things improved, or is Trilby Trench still in a pickle? Read A Word If You Please, chapter 2 to find out!

A Word If You Please is the first book in an online fiction series about Trilby Trench, tech writer and action hero. Don’t worry if you missed chapter 1 – you can still read it and get to know Trilby Trench. See the about page on her site. You can also subscribe to updates on the site, to make sure you don’t miss out again. 🙂

What does Stack Overflow’s new documentation feature mean for tech writing?

Stack Overflow has recently announced the public beta release of its new documentation feature. That is, Stack Overflow now provides a platform for crowd-sourced documentation relating to any number of products, for the people, by the people.

For those of us managing the docs for widely-used products in particular, this means our customers may soon have access to an alternative, crowd-sourced documentation set.

What an awesome experiment for us as technical writers to follow! We’ll be able to see at first hand what our customers know they need, in terms of information about our products. Because this is Stack Overflow, the documented products are likely to be APIs, SDKs, and other developer-focused tools and technologies.

What if the documentation on Stack Overflow turns out to be voluminous and extremely useful – where would that leave us as technical writers working on proprietary doc sets? I think it will give us the opportunity to streamline our content, focusing even more than we do now on ensuring our information is up to date, and that our information architecture is the best we can make it.

In other words, we can ensure our target audiences can find what they need, even when they don’t know yet what that is.

Technical writing is hard. Information architecture is hard. The Q&A side of Stack Overflow works extremely well, because it focuses on short snippets of content that answer a particular question. It’s going to be very interesting indeed to see how well the new documentation feature works, with the more narrative demands of technical documentation.

An issue I foresee is that people will be tempted to kick off a topic, and then tire half way through and end up providing a link to the official documentation. Is that a bad thing? Tech writing know-how says our readers find it disconcerting to have to click around to find their information. It’s OK in a Q&A format, but not so good in a tutorial or step-by-step guide.

I really like Stack Overflow’s focus on sample-driven documentation!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this development. Where do you think it’ll go within the next few months, and how about within the next two years? Will it fizzle into nothingness, or explode into something huge and beautiful? Will the original Q&A form of Stack Overflow merge into the new documentation form, becoming something new?

Can a technical writer write fiction?

Can technical writers do other types of writing, in particular fiction? Oh yes indeed! I’ve just finished reading Dave Gash’s new science fiction novel, The ELI Event. It’s a lot of fun.

I fell in love with the characters, including the non-human ones. I chewed my nails in the tense moments, cried and laughed in the good moments, gritted my teeth when things went wrong. When it was all over I felt great satisfaction at the way things turned out, coupled with that sweet sorrow you get when you finish a good book.

The ELI Event

The ELI Event

Dave is a friend of mine. I met him at a technical communication conference two years ago, and we’ve bumped into each other at a couple of conferences since. He’s great. His other big talent is compiling and hosting geek trivia quizzes. 😉

At first I was worried that knowing Dave would spoil my experience of the book. Would I hear his voice speaking through the text, preventing that essential suspension of disbelief that good sci fi demands and facilitates? Even worse, would I feel obliged to enjoy the book? The answer is “No” on all counts. The book grabbed me from page 2 and pushed me through all the way to the end.

Why page 2? Well, it took me most of page 1 to forget my worries about knowing the author. I’m sure the book will grab you from page 1!

Here’s a challenge 😉

Can you find anything in The ELI Event to indicate that a technical writer wrote it?

Details of the book

Dave Gash provides the book in paperback and in Adobe ePub format. You can order it from his website: The ELI Event

Title: The ELI Event
Author: Dave Gash
Publisher: Dave Gash with Xlibris.

WritersUA 2011 Monday – Quick survey of technical communicators

This week I’m attending the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. There were a number of kickoff sessions yesterday, but today (Monday) is the first official day of the conference. These are my notes from the opening session. If you find any inaccuracies, they’ll be mine.

The opening session was called “Let’s Look in the Mirror and See What We See”, hosted by Joe Welinske, Matthew Ellison and Tony Self. After a quick introduction to the conference by Joe, we moved into the interactive part of the session. This was a quick, interactive survey of the tools, techniques and goals of the technical communicators in the audience. I found it very interesting and attention-grabbing. What a great way to open a conference!

How the survey worked

Each member of the audience had an electronic response pad. The three hosts asked us a number of multiple-choice questions, and we pressed keys on the response pads to register our answers. The survey tool registered the answers immediately and displayed the results as graphs on the screen.

The full results will be posted on the conference community website. I jotted down notes during the session, and wrote this blog post based on those notes.

A touch of fun

At the beginning of the session, Tony chastised Joe for telling Tony and Matthew that blue shirts were the uniform for this session. It turned out that Tony and Matthew had chosen to wear very similar blue button-down shirts, purely by coincidence. Matthew then informed the audience that we could easily distinguish between him and Tony, because Tony was wearing brown shoes and Matthew black. Ha ha, trust this trio to inject some humour right at the start of the conference!

The questions and answers

1) Which actor did NOT grow up in Long Beach?


  • The majority (42%) answered “Snoop Dogg”.
  • The correct answer was “Emilio Estevez”, and this answer got the fewest votes (14%).

This result caused some hilarity amongst the audience and panel.

2) Which TV show has not been filmed at some point in Long Beach?


  • The majority (30%) said “Breaking Bad”. Woohoo, we got it right!
  • But 27% said “CSI: Miami”, which Joe mentioned is almost all filmed in Long Beach!

3) Which skills are most important in your career?


  1. Writing
  2. Understanding of IT
  3. Ability to learn quickly
  4. Knowledge of tools
  5. Interpersonal


  • The majority (45%) said “Ability to learn quickly”.
  • Fewest (5%) said “Understanding of IT”.
  • 9% said “Knowledge of tools”.

4) What’s your favourite way to learn to use a new authoring tool?


  1. Trial and error
  2. Official manual
  3. Third-party book
  4. Classroom training
  5. Live webinar
  6. Self-paced eLearning


  • Majority (42%) said “Trial and error”.
  • Second highest (25%) said “Classroom training”.
  • Fewest (3%) said “Live webinar”.

5) Improving skills in which of the following might best prepare you for the future?


  1. Use of social media
  2. Delivering information via hand-held devices
  3. eLearning design, development and tools
  4. Usability testing
  5. DITA principles/practices
  6. None of the above


  • Majority (35%) said “Hand-held devices”.
  • Second (25%) said “eLearning”.
  • Lowest (8%) said “None of the above”.

6) When asked at a party what you do for a living, how do you respond?


  1. I’m a writer
  2. I’m a technical communicator
  3. I’m a user assistance professional
  4. I work with computers
  5. I’m unemployed, homeless and crashing this party for a meal


  • Majority (42%) said “I’m a writer”.
  • Second (33%) said “I’m a technical communicator”.
  • Lowest (6%)  tied position, “I’m unemployed” and “I’m a UA professional”.

7) Which of the following help controls do you use?


  1. A links
  2. K links
  3. A and K links
  4. Neither A nor K
  5. What the hell are A and K links?


  • Majority (66%) said “What the hell are A and K links”.
  • Lowest (1%) said K links.

This question came courtesy of Tony Self. Of course! He professed himself to be disappointed with the result, but he said it with one of his trademark smiles.

8 ) What’s the biggest challenge to adopting a new tool or process?


  1. Lack of funds
  2. Intrastructure constraints
  3. Resistance from personnel
  4. Enough time to do it


  • Majority (45%) said “Enough time to do it”.
  • Fewest (11%) said “Infrastructure constraints”.

9) Where do you think AIR Help will be 5 years from now?


  1. Widespread
  2. Used in isolated cases
  3. Not sure
  4. What the hell is AIR Help?


  • Majority (37%) said “What the hell is AIR Help?”
  • Close second (36%) was “Used in isolated cases”.
  • Lowest (8%) said “Widespread”.
  • 19% were not sure.

These are interesting results coming from a set of technical communication professionals, particularly from Adobe’s point of view.

10) Have you considered using a wiki for SMEs to review content?


  1. Using one now
  2. Yes, but not doing it
  3. No, but it’s worth looking into
  4. No, we don’t want SMEs (subject matter experts) fooling around with our content
  5. What the hell is a wiki?


  • Majority (33%) “Yes, but not doing it”
  • 26% “No, we dont want SMEs fooling around with our content”
  • 25% “No but it’s worth looking into”
  • 15% “Using one now”
  • 2% “What is a wiki?”

11)  Which of your hosts is known for being somewhat feeble-minded?

In case you hadn’t already guessed, this is just our three panel members having fun. 😉


  1. Tony
  2. Joe
  3. Matt

At this point, Joe attempted to influence results by asking the question in a somewhat vague manner! He also assured us sincerely that he has not rigged the results! Tension mounted.


  • 57% “Joe”
  • 36% “Tony”
  • 7% “Matthew”

12) How do you keep your users up to date on software changes?


  1. Newsletter
  2. Webinars
  3. Blog
  4. Other
  5. We can’t keep up


  • 56% “Other”
  • 19% “Newsletter”
  • 13% “Can’t keep up”
  • 7% “Blog”
  • 6% “Webinars”

Panel members remarked that the high proportion of “Other” is worth investigating, to see how people are coping with this problem.

13) How often do you telecommute to work each week?


  1. Never
  2. Less than 1 day
  3. 1 or 2 days
  4. 3 or 4 days
  5. Full-time


  • 31% “Never”
  • 30% “Less than 1 day”
  • 19% “1 or 2 days”
  • 12% “Full-time”
  • 8% “3 or 4 days”

14) In the past year, what has been your primary method of non-sales contact with users regarding their needs?


  1. In person
  2. Teleconference
  3. Email
  4. Other
  5. No contact


  • 30% “No contact”
  • 25% “Other”
  • 23% “Email”
  • 13% “In person”
  • 8% “Teleconference”

Panel members remarked that the high proportion of “Other” is worth investigating. It could well point to a wide usage of social media.

15) What type of smart phone do you have?


  1. Blackberry/RIM
  2. iPhone
  3. Windows Phone
  4. Android
  5. Noikia
  6. Other
  7. No smartphone


  • 40% “None”
  • 23% “iPhone”
  • 16% “Android”
  • 13% “Blackberry/RIM”
  • 4% “Other”
  • 3% “Windows Phone”
  • 0% “Nokia”

Another report on this session

Chuck Martin has blogged about this session too, over on the 2011 WritersUA Conference Blog.

My conclusion

Kudos to Joe, Matthew and Tony for designing and carrying out such an interesting and attention-grabbing session to open this great conference!

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