Writing a Technical Book

A writer who used to be on the Visual Studio Tools for Office team, Kathleen McGrath, is finishing up a book about VSTO. She talks about how writing a book is different from writing documentation that is part of a product, how she starting working with the publisher, and what the writing process is like…

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A Writer’s Thoughts about Technical Writing, Part 2

I have recorded episodes with two of the writers on the VSTO UE team (McLean and Norm), and here is the third writer, Brett Samblanet. We talked about the writing process, how Brett became a writer, how school prepared him for his work, and the importance of being able to communicate well and to take…

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When Writers Make Mistakes

If you take on projects outside of your basic job description, chances are some of them won’t work out the way you wanted them to. Generally that isn’t too much of a problem around here–nobody should be sticking right to the basic job description, and not every project can succeed. But you also have to…

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Going into the Field

Writers can increase the value of their documentation by visiting customers where the customers work and seeing what they are doing. It’s easier to write targeted topics when you know what readers need. Ann Beebe, User Education manager for Visual Studio, gave me two examples of writers who went into the field and discovered how…

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Writing the First Draft, Part 1

I got a great request from John in a comment. He suggested blogging about how technical writers prepare their first drafts–how they get started creating a document out of a bunch of facts and features. That’s such an interesting topic I’d like to get as many people as I can to talk about how they…

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Getting Hired as a Writer at Microsoft

It seems that there are not a lot of writers with programming experience who are looking for a position in a big company. But there are jobs available–a search on the Microsoft career site for the job title “programming writer” returns 24 results as of August 15, 2006. My team has been looking to hire a programmer/writer for…

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Providing Marketing Content

Marketing provides the product content that customers read first. This content introduces customers to features, to actions, and to parts of the user interface. Customers will then expect to find those things in the documentation, using the terminology they read in the marketing materials to search the contents or to check the index. For example,…

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Graphic Art and Design in Technical Documentation

Graphic artists and designers are an important part of documentation, but until lately I didn’t look into that side of communication very much. After I talked with Monique Bailey, our documentation designer/artist, about how to think visually, I wanted to get a better picture of the designing profession. I went back for an interview so…

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Thinking Visually

I want to use more illustrations and other graphics in our documentation. Graphics can help clarify ideas that are hard to understand from textual explanations, they can add useful redundancy to the communication, and they provide more learning channels. Plus they’re often fun to look at. The documentation I’ve worked on hasn’t used graphics or…

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Task Focus Can Be Tricky

I was pretty happy with some progress we made today. Just before we took copies of the current version of the docs for an upcoming release, I reviewed the What’s New topic (almost the only new content in the doc set–it’s very early in the cycle) and decided we had blatantly failed to orient it…

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