20 August 2010

E-learning: another form of technical communication

I've always considered myself to be both a technical author and a teacher/trainer, and I've also developed software simulations for well-known companies – and, to me, e-learning development uses all of those skills. I've learnt a lot over the years from people I've worked with on various projects, and am about to start one of the Open University's Online and Distance Education courses... but nothing beats talking to other enthusiastic e-learning professionals when you're not trying to meet a deadline. Technical Communication UK is an annual conference hosted by my own professional body - and I'm really looking forward to this year because.... there is a dedicated e-learning stream! See you there?

12 August 2010

A geek at heart

I'm learning how to write documentation using the DocBook format... and it's quite a learning curve, but I'm enjoying the challenge. The XML aspects are fine – I've got a fairly good grasp of that side of things – but the practicalities are proving interesting.

I've got a number of files to convert from unstructured FrameMaker files to DocBook format. That is relatively straightforward, although I think there's going to be a fair amount of manual intervention involved one way or another.

I've then got to work out how I'm going to publish the resulting book as a PDF. I can use FrameMaker to do that bit, but part of the reason for the change is to remove reliance on any one tool. There are a lot of other products out there that do the same thing, but in slightly different ways.

I'm enjoying working within the constraints of the schema, and the construction of the documents is (obviously) very logical. Watch this space and I'll let you know how I get on...

07 August 2010

Blaming the tools

A frequent debate – you might almost say lament – amongst people in the technical communication community is about the tools we use to do our jobs. Every tool in existence has those who love it – and those who hate it. Personally, I feel it's a case of “best tool for the job” – and for the most part, I don't care what I use. In fact, I quite enjoy the challenge of someone requesting something I haven't used before.

I do, though, feel quite strongly that I should understand how a tool works or I won't be working efficiently. What's worse, I could leave a project with a documentation suite that collapses like a heap of cards as soon as someone tries to make a change. But it's not all down to me. Anyone who edits a complex document has the same responsibility.

A lot of the grumbling about the various tools is because someone hasn't taken the trouble to find out how the one in question works, or what its limitations are. Imagine how a car manufacturer would respond to these complaints:
Fuel consumption is through the roof, the engine is noisy and I can't go faster than 40mph People have told me I need to change gear – but I don't see why I should have to do that. I want to stay in first gear. Your car is rubbish.
I bought a small car because it was cheap, but it can't tow my very large caravan when I go on holiday in the mountains. I should be able to tow any size caravan I want with your car – I don't care that it wasn't designed to tow anything more than a small trailer.
I don't think the person complaining would get very far – do you? But that's similar to what I see and hear all the time about the various tools out there. What do you think?