Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recasting the recipe

Just because I do something well does not necessarily mean I like doing it. Cooking, for example. Hence, I steer clear of all recipe booklets, cooking websites, and similar. But a weekend conversation on FaceBook about things planned for the Holi break needed me to sit down and write a recipe for my friend, fellow techwriter Samartha Vashishth. One look at my mail and he wrote back saying "put in blog post" etc. Hence.
I know the first list in that recipe should've been an unordered one. :-)
Let's take our edit hats off while we look at the recipe, shall we? 

How is it different from standard recipes? Here's how:
  • It assumes you are doing only this task and nothing else. There's no "Do X and keep aside" instructions (despite possibilities); there's only a linear task flow.
    Lesson for techcomm: Do not introduce branches into a procedure.
  • It does not just list the ingredients but group them according to when they're going to be used in the process and what they're going to be used together with.
    Lesson for techcomm: Grouping of logically related items aids in (i) comprehension (ii) task completion.
  • It does not have pictures :)
    Lesson for techcomm: Use pictures only if they are essential to performing the task.
How I could've made it better? Listed the utensils, perhaps. No recipe that I've come across ever lists them (except, maybe, cakes, and that too a grudging 5" baking tray mention) even though they are very important to the task at hand. Notice how, in step 9, I suddenly introduce a utensil (bharta toaster) that is otherwise not logically related to the cooking of haleem? Bad!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tweet, don't twitter

"Talk rapidly and at length in a trivial way * " is what prompted this blog post. I've been on Twitter for close to two years now and thought it was time I compiled a "Thou shalt not" list for tweeting. So, here goes:
  1. Do not use "Pls RT". Not only does that use up six characters, it also presumes I am not smart enough to know if something is good enough to be shouted of from rooftops.  That, and the fact I hate being told what to do.
  2. Do not use up all 140 characters unless unavoidable. Leave enough room for your twitter handle (if someone wants to RT) and some comments (from people who're sharing your tweet).  The first is self-promotion, the second is courtesy.
  3. Do not tweet ONLY to share your blog post URLs. Thanks, but we have feed readers for that.
  4. Do not keep retweeting like there's no tomorrow. If we are linked through Twitter, there's a 1 in 2 probablity that our Followed list is very similar. Retweets by you clog up my timeline.  If you find yourself retweeting stuff too often, consider putting those tweets into paper.li and sending out ONE single paper.li-automated tweet daily. Besides, if all that you do is retweet, I am going to Unfollow you within a week (unless what I was looking for was a human feed-aggregator. For free).
  5. Do not just retweet - tell me why you thought it was retweetable (see #2).
  6. Do not be a radio commentator on the sports field. If I am as enthusiastic about that game as you, I am watching it (and not reading your tweets). If I hate sports, you're clogging up my timeline and, No, I can't filter you out because you never use hashtags and words consistently. This holds true not only of sports but of TV programs as well.
  7. Do not tweet something that wouldn't make sense to 50% of your followers. What, you do not know about your followers? Bleh! You talking to chairs and tables, then - where's the point?
  8. Do not tweet long updates one after the other, 16 tweets to a minute for 3 full minutes. If you have lots to say, use Twitlonger (or whatever) or write a blog post.
As with life, so with Twitter - do not blabber and do know who you are talking to.

* One of the definitions of 'twitter (verb)' given by the Oxford dictionary

Disclaimer: Sorry for the rant post but I just had to. Rant, i.e.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Listen! Do you want to know a secret?

Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read, you begin with A-B-C
  • A is for Adobe.  The company that left Anindita with the distinct impression that it thinks that that the techcomm world revolves around it. Also see F and R.
  • B is for Beta.  It stands neither for the second letter in the Greek alphabet nor the second brightest star in a constellation. It stands for not-yet-ready releases and is an excellent medium for techcommers to get feedback on their work.
  • C is for content. That which makes the techcomm world go round.
  • D is for DITA.  That thing which cures all ills.  Sane voices suggest otherwise but people still see through the glass darkly.
  • E is for English.  A language much maligned by a tiny, pint-sized apostrophe, which, if misaligned, can even become a comma. E is for editors. That group of people who are haplessly left with correcting the thats and whichs when what they’d dearly like to do is spend time on indexes, navigation, and coherence and cohesion.
  • F is for FrameMaker (See A). F is for feedback. A message where the message is often confused with the messenger, often unjustly.
  • G is for Google.  It is a help authoring tool that saves a lot of SME time (see S).
  • H is for Help. A verb and a noun (See the possibility related V). Help is a privilege. You may want it but not get it.
  • I is for information. Information is a noun that cannot stand on its own; it must always be used as an adjective. Information design, information architecture, information developer, and information overload, for instance.
  • J is for coffee and pictures. As in, Java and JPEG.
  • K is for knowledge.  Of, besides writing, the tools, domains, and processes.
  • L is for listening.  It stands for the characteristic of being alert and ready to hear anything that might lead to knowledge (see K).
  • M is for multimedia, an umbrella term for anything that moves, creates noise, and can be packaged.
  • N is for No. As in, “No, I will not document how it should work; only, how it does indeed work”, “No, I will not put this screenshot here because …”, “No, this will not go into an install guide because….”
  • O is for obfuscation.  So long as obfuscation exists, so will a technical communicator.  If you do not know what obfuscation is, here is an example: “The relationship, which I might tentatively venture to aver has not been without a degree of reciprocal utility and even perhaps occasional gratification, is approaching the point of irreversible bifurcation and, to put it briefly, is in the propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination.”
  • P is for PDF.  It was born in 1993. Other births that year include Microsoft Windows NT and the republics of Slovakia and Czech.
  • Q is for  curiosity. Why should I…? How does this…? When will it…? If I do this, what will….? What’s the difference between…? What is the weight of the moon?
  • R is for RoboHelp (See A). R is for respect. An emotion that causes much existential angst among techcommers.
  • S is for scrum. It means giving daily updates to your team and then running back to do the work you yourself promised to. S is for SME.  It means the fount of knowledge from which information must be gleaned. S is for substance (See C). S is for style. It is something best only followed, not tampered with.
  • T is for Twitter.  A medium used almost exclusively to pimp blog posts, product launches, and rave reviews. T is for TWIN. Bonded for life.
  • U is a letter so important that it must never be used in isolation. U is royalty and must always be teamed with other letters, like this: UX, UA. U is the reason techcommers exist; U is for users.
  • V is for vision. That which makes techcommers put descriptions in alt text, pick the reds and greens with care, and prefer lists to tables. The ability to see beyond the obvious, to ‘write’ for everyone.
  • W is for wiki.  Everybody knows it’s there but nobody knows what to do with it, hoping that somebody comes up with a wiki-to-source roundtripping that helps anybody adopt a wiki.
  • X is a placeholder. As in XML.
  • Y.  A letter for which I could not come up with a word. I did try to match it to words such as Yes, Year, Yearn, and Yesterday but felt something was missing.  So, I am leaving Y alone. For You, the reader.
  • Z is for zen.  And the art of writing for motorcycle mechanics.
When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most anything
This first appeared in the Nov-Dec2010 issue of INDUS, STC-India's newsletter.

  • Rachna Singh Ganguli for G = Google, F = feedback, Help is a privilege, J=Java and JPEG, R = respect; T=TWIN.
  • Anagha Bhat-Chandratrey for K = knowledge, L = learning.
  • The Beatles, for “Listen! Do you want to know a secret”.
  • The people of The Sound of Music (1965) for “Let’s start…with A-B-C” and “When you know…most anything”.
  • The people of Yes, Minister (BBC) for “The relationship…termination”.