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TechCommGeekMom’s Guide on How to Write a Blog Post

MP910216414One of my former professors recently asked me for a small favor. Her first-year students are writing up blog posts after attending a plain language presentation, and she asked if I could provide some tips for how to write a great blog post, in light of the work I’ve done with this blog. Of course, I said I’d be happy to oblige.

Of course, that meant I actually had to come up with some actual tips! After some careful consideration, I think there are a few key elements I’ve found that make a blog posting successful.

First, it’s all about the mind set. I don’t think many people necessarily know what they want to say, or think of themselves as “bloggers.” So, the primary step is to have the right attitude. My blog post titled, “I’m not a writer. Wait…you say…I AM?” outlines this concept. As I said in that post, I never thought of myself as a writer until very recently, and in some instances, I still don’t. It’s all about the attitude and the right mind-set of having to write.

Second, I would simply say to write from the heart, and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Use the blog post as if it’s a one-sided conversation with someone else out there on the Internet. You might not know who your audience is, but that audience is out there! I would know–this blog just passed the 9100 all-time hits mark at this writing, and it’s still counting towards that 10,000 hits mark! (Remember, this blog started out as a combination of a grad school project and a whim a year ago. I never expected anyone to read it at all!) It’s important to have an opinion when writing these posts. If you thought that the presentation was boring, you should say so, and say why. If you liked it, then say so, and why. People are attracted to blogs because of the opinions of the writer. It applies in social media too, if you think about it. Why do we follow certain people on Twitter, Facebook or Google+? Because there is something about the point of view of a particular person or group that you find interesting, entertaining, or informative. The same thing applies to blogs, which is really a long-form extension of Tweeting, if you ask me. 😉

Third, make sure that if you don’t have all the facts, admit to not having all the facts. It’s okay if you aren’t the world’s foremost authority on a topic, but supply support or backup for what you do know when you can. For example, if there’s a link to a recording of the presentation you saw,  include it in the blog post, so other people can listen, then read your interpretation. If possible, include a small image (like the one I have above) that helps to visually set the tone as well. I rarely leave out an image, and if I do, it’s because it’s related to curated content that doesn’t have an appropriate image to post.

Fourth, even though you have an opinion and you’ve presented your facts, don’t write unprofessionally. What I mean by that is don’t use profanity or be offensive, and make sure your grammar and formatting is as correct as you can make it. Your blog is just like a portfolio or the clothes you wear. It is a reflection of you, and you want to present yourself in the best light possible, even if you are speaking about something controversial. I know I’ve written about controversial topics in the past, but I would try to provide my point of view as clearly as possible, with as much supporting evidence as I could provide. You don’t need to be über formal, but you have to respect your reader’s intelligence. If you do this,  he or she will respect you in return, even if the reader has an opposing point of view, and will continue to visit your blog.

Lastly, edit, edit, edit!  Even as I’ve written this post, I’ve reviewed it, and proofread, and re-written several sections multiple times. It’s like any other writing process. Nobody nails the perfect post on the first try. There have even been times where I’ve written the post, saved the draft, and walked away for a while to come back with new insight or a fresh eye to tweak it some more.

I think this covers the basics of how to write a great blog post. Be yourself, present yourself in the best light as you write your words, and have fun with it! This is what has worked for me, and hopefully it can work for you, too. You might be surprised by the response you get as a result.

(Good luck, PTC 601 students!)

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“A Fear Stalks Our Profession…”

The STC posted this on Facebook today (I was so busy today, that I don’t know if they posted it elsewhere), and I was struck by how focused it is in the message. Credit goes to Rick Lippincott who gave this presentation, and to the STC for posting it!

This Lightning Talk from the 2012 STC Summit in Chicago expresses exactly why I get so excited about technical communications. It’s an fantastic time to be a technical communicator! Enjoy!

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What Does Knitting Have To Do With TechComm and m-Learning?

I’m so glad that this is now my 200th post on this blog! TechCommGeekMom has come a long way since it started out as a class project in grad school, now hasn’t it? For this particular post, I’d like to share my thoughts on something that I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks or so.  It reveals one of my hobbies to you, but hopefully you’ll like the analogy.

As you’ve seen in the subject line of this post, I’m going to be talking about knitting and how it relates to tech comm and m-learning. Now, I know what you are going to say. Knitting is for grandmothers who make ugly stuff for everyone, and you are obligated to wear it when she comes over and visits. You couldn’t be wrong. Knitting has had a huge upsurge in the last ten or so years, and more and more people are adopting it as a hobby. It goes back to the 9-11 attacks, when people were trying to get back to a sense of security and home. I think with economic times, it’s also a relatively easy and inexpensive hobby to have (unless you are a true diehard like some of us).

Knitters these days make more than clothing items, accessories and toys, but it’s become an artform unto itself. (Ever hear of yarn bombing?)  I can’t remember when I started knitting exactly…but I’m guessing it was around 2004 or 2005. I know I was knitting in 2006 when I went to California for a convention for the now defunct Body Shop At Home businesses, and met Anita Roddick, as there’s photographic evidence of knitting in my hands during the event. In any case, it gave me a chance to learn something new that spoke a whole other language of its own, had a different vocabulary, and I got to work with all sorts of colors and textures in the process. For someone with sensory integration issues, it’s a great outlet for sight and touch. Even the rhythm of knitting up something has a calming effect, and following patterns forces my brain to focus.

So what does all this have to do with tech comm and m-learning? Well, as I thought about it,  there’s definitely an analogy that could be made about the benefits of knitting and how they lend themselves to these topics.  All this first came to me after I had spent the day at Adobe Day, and later took a small soujourn into the city of Portland with four fabulous technical communicators who also happen to be knitters. They had invited me to go on a yarn crawl with them (similar to a pub crawl, but in search of high quality yarn instead of libations), and I readily accepted. We only made it to one store, but we had a great time checking out all the high-end yarns and knitting notions available.

Pardon us drooling over the yarn!
Five technical communicators who
are also knitters! We know!
At KnitPurl, Portland, OR, during LavaCon
L to R: Sharon Burton, me, Sarah O’Keefe,
Marcia R. Johnston, and Val Swisher

As I reflected on Adobe Day, one of the big themes of the morning was the idea of using structured content. Without structured content, all of one’s content could fall apart and lose strength. An architecture needs to be created to make it work. Well, knitting is like that. If one doesn’t follow a pattern, and just knits in a freestyle, haphazard manner, instead of a nice jumper/sweater, one could end up with a garment with no neck hole and three sleeves. Without the structure of a pattern, and even reusing good content (or stitches, or groupings of stitches describing appropriate methods for structure), the whole thing falls apart. The beauty, too, of reusable content in content management, just as in a knitting pattern, content that is produced well, is solid, and the reader can understand clearly and concisely will produce good results, and can be recombined effectively in different instances without losing its meaning.  Take a look at a sweater or knit scarf you might have. You’ll find that each stitch makes sense, even when you look at different pattern of how the cuffs and collar differ from the sleeves and the body. But it all fits together.  In my mind, this is how reusable content can be used.  Very tight, well written content can be reused in different combinations without losing its context and form if done correctly.

The other way I thought of the analogy of knitting again had to do with how one learns how to knit, and how it relates to m-learning. Knitting fair-isle sweaters, Aran sweaters or lace shawls doesn’t come on the first day of learning how to knit. Heck, I’m even still learning how to do all these techniques! It comes with learning a foundation–namely the knit stitch and the purl stitch–and building upon that foundation. Any piece of knitting you see is all a matter of thousands of knit and purl combinations to make the item. But first, one has to master the simple knit and purl stitches by learning how to understand how to gauge the tension between the needles, the yarn and your fingers. Once that is mastered, then learning how to read the “codes” or the knitting language of K2, P2, S1 (that’s knit two, purl two, slip one), for example, then the real fun begins. Knitters have to pay attention to details in the directions, because knitting can be a long task. Except for tiny baby sweaters or sweaters for dolls or stuffed animals, I don’t know any sweater that could be hand knit in a single day, even if it was done from the time the knitter woke up until the time the knitter went to bed. It just couldn’t happen, even for a fairly experienced knitter.  So, each part of the knitted pattern must be learned or read in chunks so the knitter can understand where he or she left off.  Talk to me about lace patterns especially, and it’ll make more sense. But each technique takes time to master, and most knitters learn these techniques a little bit at a time. Whether a knitter is self-taught or taught in a conventional learning environment, nobody learns all there is to know about the most advanced knitting techniques on the first day. Just getting knitting and purling down takes a while. It’s an arduous task to learn to knit and knit well, and to be patient enough to see a pattern all the way through.

Just like in m-learning, things need to be learned in small chunks for comprehension. Information has to be short and to the point so that the reader, just like the knitting pattern reader, can take that information, mentally digest it, and then work out how to use the information. There is definitely trial and error in both m-learning and knitting; if one doesn’t succeed, then it’s possible to go back and try to re-learn the information and correct it, and in doing so, retains the information better.

Now, if one happens to be BOTH a technical communicator AND a knitter, then these are easy concepts. Reusing content, breaking down information into smaller portions for better learning retention, structuring the content appropriately and consistency comes both with our words and our stitches.

A variety of tools can be used in either case to create the content. For technical communicators, it’s the use of different software tools that help us achieve our goal. For knitters, different sized needles, different kinds of yarns and other tools can be used in the process. Is there only one way of doing things? Of course not. Is there any single tool that will do the job? Generally, no. This is the beauty of both technical communication and knitting. In the end, the most important tool is the mind, because without the individual mind, creativity and intellect cannot be expressed. When all of these tools and factors work together, it is possible to create a fantastic piece of work. When this combination of factors aren’t followed, it can look pretty disastrous.

So, next time you see someone with a pair of knitting needles in their hands, look carefully at the workflow that person is following. You might learn something from it.

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Harvard Business Review: I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

Harvard Business Review: I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

An English professor friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and it struck a chord with me. While I will never claim to be an expert grammarian (even though I did very well in my Professional and Technical Editing class in grad school), I have to admit I’m a bit of a stickler for good grammar as well. I suppose because some of the basics come so easily to me, I don’t understand why they don’t for others. I’m always surprised to see people who are pursuing Master’s degrees in technical writing have such poor grammar. Okay, not everyone, but a good portion of them. How did they get through high school and college and still not have some of these basics down as described in the article above? I don’t understand that concept. The whole essence of being a technical writer, to me, is being that precise and picky when writing or editing content. If words are not crafted in a particular way, their meanings or messages are lost or misconstrued, and that can be disasterous.  I happen to know that the part-time job I have at an academic publishing house was originally gained because I was the only one who actually sent a cover letter that was written in a grammatically correct way.

This article truly speaks to me, and it’s why I try to work very hard at being as detail oriented as I can be, because it’s the difference between getting a job and keeping a job.