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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