Archive for October, 2009


October 21, 2009


Last week I sent an email to Mr. X. I got an Out-Of-Office reply from Mr.X as follows:

I am on leave (dd/mm/yy). For any urgent queries, please contact Mr.Y.

 Ok, this is fine for me because I know both Mr.X and Mr.Y and their email ids (even their mobile numbers). Imagine if someone who don’t know Mr.Y and his email id (obviously), how he/she will contact Mr.Y on urgent situations. Am I sounding correctly..?

In Office 2007, there is an Out-Of-Office assistant (tools > Out-Of-Office assistant), where you can set many rules. No, this post is not about how to enable an Out-Of-Office reply from Office 2007. I wanted to point out the communication gap happens while we communicate with others. We assume that we have communicated effectively.

So, here’s my revised O-O-O version:


Thanks for your e-mail. I am on leave (from dd/mm/yy to dd/mm/yy). Please contact Mr.Y [e-mail id & work phone (if possible Mr.Y’s mobile also)] for any urgent queries you may have.

Hope I have covered all the information for a new user. Did I missed anything..? Comment section is always open for you. 🙂


US English or UK English

October 16, 2009

 Today when I was commuting to my office, I saw a display board hanging in a petrol station.


 What a big deal..? That Z in authorized and the word ‘centre’ draw my attention. I mean to say; those words draw a TW’s attention.

Authorized – It’s clearly an US English style

Centre – I believe, in the US, this word is spelled as ‘center’.

So a perfect mixture of (or confusion I would say) US and UK English has happened in this display board. Either it should be

“Govt authorised centre….” 


“Govt authorized center….”

(Here, I haven’t pointed out the acronym Govt refers to Government).

In India, people love to ask one common question when interviewing technical writers “Are you able to write for US audience?”

I am searching for a book or journal which discuss the difference between the US and UK English standards in detail. Any suggestions..?

Ten important Points to Remember While Creating an Online Help

October 15, 2009


I started testing my hand with online help three years before. From then, it’s always my favourite cup of tea. There are a lot of room for logical and analytical thinking in an online help. While reviewing an online help, few points came into my mind which I believe are very vital for an online help. Here we go:

1)  Know your needs

Rather than saying know your needs, I’d say know your client’s need. The fact of being you a RoboHelp guru, it doesn’t mean that your client should be happy to accept a webhelp output from you. He may be comfortable with a .chm file. But make sure your learning curve doesn’t get affected by your client’s preferred Help Authoring Tools (HAT).

2)  Track back often with your Developers

Once the application development stage moves to freezing point, you may start your online help. But still few UI changes may occur. So better you track your developers’ path to avoid any last minute confusion.  Any client will wish to read an updated (including images) online help.

3)  Learn HTML before you start

Though you have WYSWYG environment nowadays, it’s always better to learn some html tags before you start. Most of the HATs’ will add their own junk codes. If you’re html literate; it’s easy for you to fix it in later stage.

4)  Design your Style sheet first

Before getting started with your online help, you make sure you have a standard, well defined style sheet in hand. In the middle of the process, re-thinking about a table header column style is not a wise idea. List your needs and in rare case you can include a new style (only in rare case, don’t make it a habit).

5)  Analyse and freeze your TOC

Before starting an online help, it’s always recommended that first do a research and freeze your TOC. It will help you to structure your help.  If you’re curious about single sourcing, it’s always recommended to have a structured TOC.

6)  A picture is worth of thousand words

Add images, flow diagrams in right places. But your user will get irritated with irrelevant and excess images. Showing a confirmation image with an OK button and Cancel button in the online help is not a great idea.

7)  Link the links properly

One general thumb rule for all online helps is “Write shorter, link them properly”.  Instead of writing two page lengthy instructions, give correct hyperlinks at right place. Don’t forget to include a relevant ‘See Also’ section in an online help.

8)  Add a Glossary and Index

Adding a glossary section in an online help is always a great idea. You can include smart definitions and acronyms in a glossary. Every user will like a crispy index section. Pick out mostly used keywords from every page and index it. Make sure your index keywords make sense. Adding ‘HAT’ as a keyword is a good idea than adding ‘because’ as a keyword in the index section.

9)  Hotspots and pop-ups

Giving too much of hyperlinks may sometimes backfire you. Sometimes, the user may hesitate to click your hyperlinks as he may be curious to stay within the same page. During such scenarios, introduce hotspots and pop-ups to keep your user in the same page.

10)  Get the feedback

Once your online help gets shipped with the product, don’t stay back as if you’re done with that. Try to figure out any gap between the application and your help by including yourself in the client’s feedback e-mails. You might have missed a warning message or a pre-requisite step required to fetch a row from the database.

Re-generating a TOC in FrameMaker

October 14, 2009

Recently, one of my friend who is also a TW, came across with an issue while updating the book in FrameMaker. The issue is quite simple.

She generated a Table of Contents (TOC). She has got some five chapters in a book. Later, she included some content in one of those five chapters and updated the book. Now she has to re-generate a new TOC again. But she was not able to carry out the task.

After getting an e-mail from her, I tried to reproduce the same scenario. I just wanted to get the same error message so that I can investigate the problem in detail. So, I created five dummy chapters, included in a book and generated a TOC. Now, I included some content in one of the chapter, saved and updated the book. Here is the climax. I tried to re-generate the TOC, yes, I got it without any error. 🙂

So what went wrong in her case…?

The solution was so simple:  I kept all the five chapters open and minimized while re-generating the TOC. But she closed all those chapters and tried to re-generate a TOC.  Though simple, quite annoying, right..?

She was also surprised and raised one valid query.

Should we keep open all the chapters even if we have 100 chapters in the book..?

My answer is still ‘YES’ though sounds ridiculous. Only Adobe people can give a convincing answer for this query, I believe.  🙂

Three inevitable skills for a Technical Writer

October 13, 2009

If you are looking for a Java software developer, your requirements will be someone with good knowledge and experience in core Java or advanced Java, able to write some Java scripts and so on. It is very straight and narrow.

Now, here is the question:

how do you evaluate while recruiting a Technical Writer..?

Should we test his/her knowledge on conditional text knowledge in FrameMaker or test his/her context-sensitive help creating ability..?

It’s a bit wide and confusing. In fact most of the programming managers don’t know or ignorant while interviewing a technical writer. 🙂

This post is the answer for all these questions. Please note that this is just my point of view and need not to be the same answer as like how much will you get when you add four and three?  🙂

  1. Can you write..?

Imagine you are in the National Cricket Selection Board. While selecting a player, will you ask someone “Do you know how to play cricket?”

Sounds so stupid, rite..? Yes, it is.

It is inevitable that a Technical Writer ought to possess good writing skills – free from typos, error-free grammatical sentences and so on.

Can you list any tool that gives a blank output/help page..?

No, you can’t.  It is the Technical writer who needs to document/write procedures and instructions to generate an output.

             2.   Eureka

As a Technical Writer, you need to know and understand how things work. How a software application runs? Nobody will come and train you. You need to find, go around with a can-do attitude, try your hand, make a trial and error attempt, and test it.

As a Technical Writer – you are the first consumer/client of that application, play around and document your experience.  Gain the required knowledge on technical writing tools available in the market and choose the right tool which suits for your client’s preferred deliverable.  

Gaining knowledge on a specific tool is not as complex like a cryogenic engine technology. Always, there is a thirty days trial available, and of course a manual or an online help is there. Install and play around in it.  Still feel like landed in a no-man area..? Google is there. 🙂

           3.   Say hello!

Ok, now you can write, able to use a tool of your client’s choice and able to create manuals and help. Is that enough?

Still you need to horn-up a very important skill, yes, I am talking about people interaction skills.

Every day you may need to:

  1. Work with developers
  2. Discuss about a technical issue with Quality Assurance engineers
  3. Clarify one important point with a subject matter expert
  4. Give a demo on advance features of the product to your team members

So interacting with people is an essential skill for you. You may have to buy their time, interview, gel with them (even though if you get irritated with their crack jokes).

There may be many other inevitable skills essential for a technical writer. But I consider these three as very crucial. Any other thoughts or points that I missed are most welcome as comments here.

Hit the Nail on its Head

October 12, 2009

 In our daily life, we often want to convey some message to someone. But we communicate in a different way and it’s taken in a different way. So our purpose doesn’t meet at the end. Let me illustrate this with an anecdote.

In my office, there is a community team which helps to literate rural children, builds houses for the needy people and so on. Recently there was a flood in AP and Karnataka. So our community team sent an e-mail to everybody requesting to drop one rupee for every cup of coffee/tea we take.

Quite simple and straight rite…? I also thought like that. But what happened was the core of this post.  Read on.

Above mentioned e-mail was sent on Friday – end of a week, hardly people care about such announcements. As announced, a glossy plastic box was kept near the coffee/tea vending machine. Here is the message fixed over the box:

Drop-in for the community service

Now, let us see this message in Technical Writer point of view.

  1. Drop-in – what? Or where? Or when?
  2. Community service – what kind of service?

Quite ambiguous rite..? Now, let us rephrase the same message to be meaningful.

“Please drop minimum 1 Re coin for every cup of coffee/Tea you take. This money goes to Flood relief fund”.

  1. What/How much?  – Minimum 1 Rupee. Many kind hearts may drop more. why should we restrict them..?
  2. Some coffee/tea fans may sip more than a cup. So they may be willing to pay for the second time.
  3. Where it goes?  – This money goes to flood relief fund.

Now it is very unambiguous. Rite..?

Very few people convey their needs clearly. Many of us are still beating around the bush.

Converting Images in SnagIt

October 9, 2009

I  have used SnagIt for more than 3 years and it is a reliable image capturing tool. Also, you can save the captured image into a number of other image formats like jpeg, gif, tif etc.

Recently I came to know that just by a right-click action, we can save an image into other formats. Here we go:

1) Right click on an image and select SnagIt > Convert Image.


2) Click the  next button.

Note: You can add more images by clicking the Add button.

Follow the steps and finally you will be able to save the image in your required format. Before converting the image, SnagIt gives an option to enhance the image. Sounds good..?

I thought we can convert multiple images only by using IrfanView. Now I found out that SnagIt also does this job decently.

Editing and Technical Writing

October 7, 2009

Naturally a Technical Writer need to be a decent Editor.  No, I am not talking about some famous Newspaper Editor-in-chief.  Every TW need to do to a self-review for his own stuff and sometimes he may get a chance to review (so called peer review) other works.  You believe my words, people will be able to find more errors, typos, grammer etc on other’s works than on self. 🙂

Next thing, how we take things during a review process. Some may take things personally whereas a professional TW won’t. Actually it’s a good opportunity to self examine and a chance to learn from our mistakes. These kind of editing or peer reviewing activities are more common on team environment whereas Individual contributors rarely gets a chance. 

I am wondering, in this current recession hit scenario, rarely companies recruit Technical Editors. Very few companies are very much bothered about their documentation standards. Most of the companies expect a TW need to wear almost all hats:

  1. Graphical Designer
  2. UI designer
  3. Product Tester
  4. Technical Editor
  5. Product Trainer
  6. Content Writer for company website (yes, they need to)
  7. An immediate helper for the marketing division

The list continues…. 🙂

Converting PowerPoint Presention into Video

October 6, 2009

Today I came across an interesting query:

How to convert a PowerPoint presentation into Video? While googling, I got to know a lot of freewares able to accomplish this task easily. So thought of saving those links in my diary I mean as a post. 🙂

Here we go:


ActivePresenter can export your presentation in video formats (AVI, WMV, MPEG4), Flash Video (FLV),  Microsoft Word (requires MS Word 2000 or higher), Microsoft PowerPoint (requires MS PowerPoint 2000 or higher), Adobe PDF, HTML Slideshow, or an AJAX-based interactive presentation.

Useful info, isn’t..?

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