games writers play

JoystickNo, I’m not talking about creative justifications for billing your client for the time you spent surfing the web, or writing off your cruise to the Bahamas as a business expense.

I’m talking about video games.

And I’m going to try to convice you that you shouldn’t feel guilty for playing them during working hours — because, admit it, you do. Instead, I’m going to try to explain why game breaks are an essential component of the creative process.

And I’m also going to recommend some good games to play.

Image courtesy

Continue reading “games writers play” for freelancers (mac)

Mail screenWrapping up my discussion of the three techniques I use to manage my freelance writing business, today I review how I’ve configured Apple’s Mail program to manage work e-mail.

(Note: while the tips are Mail-centric, other mail management programs like Thunderbird probably have similar features and plugins that you can tweak to get similar results.)

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new hpda templates: writing ideas

hPDA Template: Writing Ideas“That would make great blog entry!”

How many times have you found yourself reaching for your hPDA to jot down a great idea that came to you in the field? If you’re like me, more times than you can count.

Problem was, I would have to jot them down on whatever card I happened to have handy — a footer, a source card, a half-full note capture, or even a blank card. Later, when I would assemble the cards into the “Ideas” section of my to-do notebook, the hodge-podge of cards of all shapes and sizes just looked all wrong. My ideas deserved something better.

Yours do, too.

Check out my new Writing Ideas Cards on the downloads page. In portrait and landscape, scalable for hPDAs up through Classic.

Active Voice offers templates as free .png graphics that you can drag-and-drop to your desktop and use in your favorite planner. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – Share Alike 2.5 License.

path finder for freelancers (mac)

My Path Finder ConfigurationI rely on three things to administer my freelance writing business: paper files, electronic files, and e-mail. I’ve already written about how I use PaperJamming and Rollabind to administer my paper files; today I’m going to write about how I’ve customized Cocoatech’s brilliant Path Finder app as my ultimate electronic file manager — and how you can, too.

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study confirms best companies include writers from the beginning

The most successful companies bring their technical writers into the loop at the outset of a project, according to a new study by the Aberdeen Group. Back in February, I blogged about the importance of including writers from the earliest stages of a project; it’s good to see that there is evidence to bear out my contention of the writer’s added value.

According to the Society for Technical Communication, the study, which was co-sponsored by STC, the UK-based Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, and the Center for Information-Development Management, that finding was among the most important results of an online survey of over 300 companies.

The study report, The Next-Generation Product Documentation Report: Getting Past the “Throw it over the Wall” Approach by Chad Jackson and Mehul Shah, looked at five key performance indicators:

  • product launch date
  • documentation cost
  • translation cost
  • documentation purpose
  • documentation quality

Nearly three-quarters of the respondent companies that scored highest on these five indicators reported that they launched their documentation and product development processes simultaneously. According to the study, top-ranking companies were also likely to:

  • integrate the documentation staff into the engineering department;
  • rely on document authoring tools that facilitate content repurposing;
  • use software to minimize content localization lags; and
  • measure readability by tracking content resue.

Managers, the results are in: keep your friends close, but keep your technical writers closer.

quick tips for working with SMEs

Stock photo of people in meetingYou know the drill. The meeting is in the small conference room at the far end of some cheap airport hotel. Inside, there’s nothing to sustain you until lunch but tepid coffee and stale cheese danish dusted with spilled non-dairy creamer. Yet, for some reason, instead of bonding over a shared fate, the participants quickly divide into two camps — the experts and the interlopers.

A SME chuckles about “you English majors.” Your publications manager mutters something about “those knuckle-draggers.” And that’s just the morning of the first day.

Whether you write instructional textbooks, online help content, user guides, or even feature articles, as a technical writer you rely on the people who know the topic better than anyone else — subject matter experts, or SMEs. Likewise, SMEs rely on you to interpret and translate their information, to present it clearly and accurately, and to make it easy for the reader to understand and follow.

Nevertheless, writers and SMEs often have difficulty establishing a collaborative relationship, and the resulting friction only hurts the final product.

Like it or not, it’s up to you to establish a good working relationship with your SMEs right from the start. Here’s how:

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discussion: is everything miscellaneous?

I have yet to read David Weinberger’s new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, but I am looking forward to doing so. The ongoing discussion about the impact of hypertext on information classification is of great personal and professional interest to me. Whenever I come across a new article or blog entry on the subject, I read it eagerly and with real interest. There is much that remains to be said.

As a writer with a Masters in Library Science, I am acutely aware of the limiting and liberating powers of classification and its impact on writing. The fundamental element of classification, after all, is the word. However, I have come to believe that many writers are either misinterpreting or misrepresenting the premises and assumptions behind our inherited classification systems.

What makes me say that? And why should writers care?

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followup: the other half of the equation

Royal TypewriterOver on The Copywriter Underground (which should be part of every freelance writer’s complete nutritious breakfast), Tom Chandler reminds us about the importance of client feedback.

And we’re not talking about editorial comments before going to press — we’re talking about taking a hard look at the effectiveness of the piece once it’s published. Did your advertising copy bring in new customers? Did your feature article generate letters to the editor? Did people find your report to be informative and useful? And how can you find out?

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sprehe on the FEA records management profile

J. Timothy Sprehe, long-time observer of the federal records management scene and president of Sprehe Information Management Associates, has reviewed the initial release of the Records Management Profile of the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) in Federal Computer Week — and finds that the profile “focuses exclusively on the risk management side of records management.”

What does this mean for federal records managers?

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quick tip: getting to “thanks”

Do you thank people when you want something from them? Or when you get something from them?

The phrase “thank you in advance” is an accepted technique for encouraging recipients to act favorably on your request. But it’s not the same as acknowledging their time and effort on a task. The latter type of “thank you” conveys appreciation, not anticipation.

A quick, polite expression of gratitude is rarely wasted. It can even double as an acknowledgment of receipt — “thank you for the file.” But it also conveys your professionalism and competence.

Perhaps some correspondents fear that saying “thank you” conveys a familiarity or an informality that does not really exist. Or perhaps they think that saying “thank you” makes them appear vulnerable, that it incurs a debt that the other person can now hold over them.

If so, the issues underlying those concerns won’t be corrected simply avoiding a courtesy. So they might as well thank them first and then deal with the real problem, whatever it is.

In my own experience, thanking someone after the fact is more effective than thanking them in advance. By thanking someone before they do something, I might get that one result, but by thanking them afterwards I stand a better chance of getting even more results in the future.