Taking Stock of Where You Are

Recently I downloaded an iPhone app (Stylebook) to help me take an inventory of my closet. Like many women, I stand in front of my closet full of clothes and feel as if I have nothing to wear.

Closet Inventory

The first step in using Stylebook is to take a closet inventory. My process worked like this:

  • Take pictures of all tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories in the closet
  • Try on all clothes
  • Get rid of clothes that no longer fit
  • Put together looks with all of the above

In going through my trousers, I snapped pictures of 16 pairs of blue jeans, 11 pairs of black trousers, four pairs of khakis, three pairs of shorts, two pairs of leggings, and so on. I began to notice a certain penchant for blue jeans and black trousers. I’m not sure why, although many of the jeans are of a different style, that is, skinny jeans, bootcut jeans, jeans that zip on the side, dark rinse, and so on. Perhaps it’s just easier to find blue jeans and black trousers in my size. In any case, upon this realization, I now know that I don’t need to buy any more blue jeans or black trousers!

So far, I’ve inventoried:

  • 76 tops (sleeveless, t-shirts, sweaters, blouses, blazers, striped tops, long sleeved tops, tunics, and so on)
  • 44 bottoms (shorts, trousers, skirts, leggings, workout trousers, and khakis)
  • 17 items of outerwear (coats, jackets, vests, kimono, and so on)
  • 30 pairs of shoes (boots, sandals, flats, heels, running, and so on)

This list is not the full extent of my wardrobe because I’ve stopped taking pictures of certain pieces.

I feel rather guilty at having this much stuff. However, in going through this process, I’ve been able to get rid of items that no longer work for me and concentrate on identifying the pieces that I actually need or want. My local thrift shop has benefited greatly from some really beautiful tailored clothes that were too small for me. I was hanging onto these thinking that I would lose weight, which hasn’t happened.

Now that I have most of the inventory done, I can create looks with all of the items in my wardrobe. This helps me to stay organized, particularly on those days where I don’t know what to wear. It also helps me to identify new looks because those items in the back of my closet are now in the app and part of  my closet inventory.

Technical Writing Skills Inventory

By the same token, I think it’s necessary to take an inventory of one’s technical writing skills and determine those skills that will keep you in the game and more marketable. To this end, take a look at current jobs to see what kind of skills are in demand. As a technical writer, it’s a given that you’re already a good writer, that is, you know how to write well and you know your grammar. There are classes if you need to brush up on your editing skills.

In some cases, you may need to gain expertise in a new domain area like Hadoop or a certain programming language, like Java or C, or you may need to learn a new publications tool.

From what I gather, some of the growing domain areas and publication tools include:

  • API documentation (particularly REST APIs)
  • Hadoop knowledge
  • MapCap Flare

In addition, I find that it’s important to be flexible when it comes to the publications tools you use on the job. It used to be that FrameMaker was the tool of choice, but this is no longer a given anymore. In certain companies, you may need to use their own in-house publication tools like Google Drive, Google Doc, or Google Sites to create the technical documentation.

Documentation Inventory

While I’m on the subject of inventories, I’ve also had to take inventories of existing documentation in several jobs. In many cases, just as with a closet inventory, a documentation inventory allows you to see if there are duplicative areas and identify those pieces of documentation that are missing (gap analysis).

Taking a documentation inventory may be helpful when:

  • Writing a documentation plan
  • Creating a content strategy
  • Migrating documentation from one electronic format to another, for example, from FrameMaker to Dita

In many companies, there may be multiple contributors or authors of the technical documentation. Taking a documentation inventory can reap other benefits such as:

  • Zeroing in on the target audience
  • Understanding the process flow for a particular product
  • Using consistent terms for the same thing, for example, Sign In versus Log In
  • Chunking information, for example, conceptual context, tasks, and reference material
  • Using consistent product terminology and capitalization as per product branding
  • Quantifying the existing documentation
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The Art of Technical Writing and Crocheting

At the end of February, I attended the Stitches West Conference with my friend, Dianne. Dianne loves to knit and I love to knit and crochet, although I’m better at crocheting. For those of you who don’t already know, Stitches West is an annual conference held at the Santa Clara Convention Center for knitters and crocheters.

This year, I won something in the marketplace door raffle, but I neglected to look at the board on my way out, so I didn’t realize it. Lo and behold, two of my fellow technical communicators sent me emails saying that I won something! This got me wondering about the connection between technical writing, and various crafts such as knitting and crocheting.

The Common Thread

So, what do technical writing and crocheting have in common? At first glance, you’d probably say “nothing.” Upon a closer look, however, you begin to see many similarities. How many times have your heard “writing” referred to as “crafting?” Let’s look at some other similarities:

  • Both disciplines are subjective with more than one way to accomplish a task.
  • Both disciplines require practice to produce good results. The old saying “practice makes perfect” really does apply.

So, let’s look at one of my crochet projects to further explore the similarities between technical writing and crocheting.

The Anatomy of the Crochet Baby Blanket

Recently, I pulled out a crochet baby blanket that I have worked on since 2007. The original pattern was for a knitted stroller blanket, a 1979 kit, which included Bernat acrylic yarn. I decided to create crochet squares instead. I inherited this kit along with my mother’s stash of yarn when she passed away, so some of the yarn had already been used up for knitted squares. I ended up with the following several crocheted squares:

  • 16 yellow
  • 16 pink
  • 17 blue
  • 18 green
  • 20 white
Assembling squares

My granny square crochet blanket

The Layout

With a random number of squares and five different colors, I had to figure out a pleasing color pattern. This is harder to do than it might seem, and it’s pretty subjective.

I searched the web for random pattern generators, but I couldn’t figure out how to use them. So, in the end, I looked at other crocheted patterns for inspiration.

In technical documentation, the page layout matters, too, whether the target audience is reading documentation on a website, in printed materials, or in an electronic book. These are things that an accomplished technical writer will know how to do through experience with their craft.

The Finishing Process

My next problem to solve was how to sew the squares together. I find the finishing work on a crochet project to be very tedious. There are two main ways to accomplish this task:

  • Whip stitch the squares together
  • Crochet the squares together

At first, I decided to whip stitch the squares together instead of crocheting them together because I liked the look of an old-fashioned blanket. No sooner than I had done several rows, I noticed that the stitching tension varied because I got this idea to pull the stitches to make them tighter. This really bugged me. I ended up by ripping out the stitches.

Next, I decided to crochet the squares together. How great it is to have the web at our finger tips! I was pleasantly surprised to find some seriously good technical documentation in PDF and video formats. After some research, I finally decided to use the flat braid method to join the crochet squares together. Priscilla Hewitt, a crochet designer invented this method. You can find her PDF documentation for the flat braid technique here. I also found that annemkell videos complemented Priscilla’s PDF documentation quite nicely. By the way, I consider Priscilla’s picture tutorial to be a great example of “how-to” technical documentation.

Technical writing, like crocheting, does have some very tedious aspects to it. For example, it’s not very much fun to run the spell checker on a document filled with programming constructs, but it’s a necessary task.

To be an accomplished technical writer takes a lot of practice as does crocheting.

Conclusion

I was surprised to find such great crochet resources online. In fact, crafters are now able to make a living out by posting their videos on YouTube or selling their crochet patterns online. This also got me thinking about the connection between technical writing and crocheting.

To get some more inspiration, take a look at this Forbes article. Teresa Richardson outlines all the reasons why a video is better than a static PDF. Oh, and along the way, she became an accidental entrepreneur!

I have to say that some of my fellow crocheters are way ahead of me! They have already become adept at videography, blogging, and more. So how do you view technical documentation? Do you view it as an art? What do you think about using videos to complement your technical documentation?