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Impressions of a Lone Writer

It’s quite likely for a Technical writer to work as the sole contributor towards the documentation needs of an organization. I had this recent experience on a work assignment with a Software company in Pune. While my journey of 3-months was smooth as my reporting manager, SMEs, CTO and CEO were very cooperative and understanding and it proved to be a wonderful learning experience. But as a writer it does becomes bumpy as you are the only person with the reins in your hand.

In this scenario, the writer is his own Boss with ample freedom to carry out the tasks. This gets tricky, as you find yourself at sea initially and at the same time the sense of responsibility is huge as you are the single owner of the work. So, in a way you are your guide and mentor simultaneously. A few impressions out of the experience are shared here:

Not a straw of support
Human habits are tough to break and when you are used to discussing work scenarios with your peers you have to fight your way out to break that habit. Be ready to face problems such as choosing the right Tool, or resolving a tool error, finding the best solution to a recent problem, and so on for a task. Nevertheless, one tends to learn more, by self-exploring and trying. Trust that internet is your best friend.

All in One Role
I am a Technical writer but not anymore, now I am the reviewer, editor, self critic all in one. It is impossible to do justice to these roles by the same person. So a simple trick is to pipeline the documents such that the writing, language reviewing and editing of the same document do not follow the same sequence. My sincere apologizes that I just screwed the DDLC.

Discover the Manager in you.
Gone are the days when I had the luxury of a Documentation manager. Now  I need to self plan the project, decide the timelines figure out the deliverables, set up the Technical review process with the Teams. Be ready with answers for the reporting head, sometimes to defend and justify your position. A key is to be proactive in reporting the status, pointing out glitches, informing in advance that you may need more time rather than waiting for the final day. Importantly keep the reporting head in loop for the delays that are happening to keep a clear picture.

Some useful suggestions from personal experience:

  • Preparation is the key. Be well prepared for the next meeting with your delivery manager and have your list of queries ready. As this was my first assignment as a lone writer, I did not hesitant to ask some silly questions also.  Get a good visibility and scope of your assignment.
  • Sharing and transparency are absolute winners.  Keep sharing regular status with your reporting manager.
  • Know your performance. For a new TW it is good to seek feedback from your reporting manager, not just on the document that you prepared but also about your pace and work style.  It assists in planning further and some areas of improvement might crop up.

It’s beyond doubt that working a lone writer one gains many insights and maturity as aTechnical writer, This further builds up confidence to work single-handedly.  Initially the trail proves a little difficult to crawl but finally one learns to walk.


A day on CMS and Author-IT

On Saturday 19-may-2012 I attended a one day workshop on CMS and cloud based authoring with Author-IT as part of the Technowrites Connect Learning Sessions. The session introduced us to the concept of Content Management System, Cloud based authoring, and collaborative reviewing using Author-IT.

Rajdeep Gupta, the Business head of Author IT Asia conducted the seminar. It was an informative and interesting session as this was my first interaction with a CMS Tool for Technical Documentation. As I have used a Software Configuration Management Tool called Rational Clearcase from IBM for 4 years I could draw many parallels, but Clearcase is extremely huge in that sense.

The session focused on the benefits of a CMS and its need for organizations to efficiently manage content, increase content reuse, single sourcing and achieve faster time to market. The Author-IT CMS offers the features of:

  • Embedded Text for multiple replacements
  • Structured Authoring to prevent mistakes and maintain consistency
  • Reduced Time to market with a real-time reviewer using Author-IT Reviewer
  • Lesser Translation and Localization costs as Author-IT sends content that needs to be re-translated. Content is send in XML format.

The Author-IT on premises version of the Tool packs configuration capabilities for administrator that offers a flexible approach to manage the documentation projects with comprehensive control mechanism for the projects and access privileges for project members or groups. The UI of the Tool has been smartly designed to resemble Microsoft Office Suite, this is indeed smart enough to make the users feel confident on their first interaction with the Tool.
Author-IT follows Object Oriented Design methodology wherein all the elements or components of a document are treated as individual objects in relation to each other. All these Objects are contained in a higher level Library. A library will also consist of all your project working folders, templates, styles and so on. For one organization it’s recommended to have one Library although importing content among different libraries is permissible.

The Author-IT cloud based model is customized to organizations with limited budget or short duration requirements for a help authoring solution. The distinguishable feature of the cloud based model is its faster ramp-up and implementation time along with the other benefits of cloud based solutions from anywhere anytime access to lower operational costs. A one-hour hands on with the application helped us to get ourselves familiar with the Author-IT cloud.

The Author-IT solution sounds convincing for organizations with huge documentation needs and greater need for single sourcing along with shortened and faster review mechanism. So if your documentation workload is huge and involves large and multi location teams you may consider exploring the Author –IT platform.

An interesting take away from the session was on the nuances of evaluating a Tool for your organizations. Rajdeep shared some useful insights drawn from his experience as a Usability Expert like focusing on the Usability aspect of the Tool, amount of integration effort required to deploy the Tool, Cost, and so on. The concept of taking out surveys within the organization and different users, collecting, consolidating and analyzing their feedback is also crucial for the success of a new Tool to be introduced in the organization.

All in all it was a very valuable session esp for me when I am trying to understand this field and its vastness, challenges, solutions each day. It introduced me to yet another frontier of Technical Communication.


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