You’re not suffering from writer’s block; you’re suffering from indecision

That dreadful moment (hour? day?) when the words won’t come. We think of writer’s block as something that is stopping a well formed image from settling into the right words. But in reality, a writer’s block happens when our mental image is a little hazy and abstract. We can’t put it into words because words …

Separate the user’s needs from the solution

In a conversation about your user’s needs, it’s natural to start throwing out solutions almost immediately. Someone brings up an aspect of the user’s needs, and someone knows how to answer that aspect. But suddenly, that one aspect is all you’re talking about. You’ve just blinkered your view of the user to whatever can be …

Writing from the ground up

Writing begins with awareness of the single word, then moves up. What can a word mean, and what does it actually mean in its current context? Does the sentence make its point as clearly as possible? Does the paragraph come together as a single point? Is it in the right place Does the whole document tell …

Quick writing tip: What’s the default, and why?

As a technical writer, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is “what are the default values of the choices a user can make, and why”. For example, if an option is disabled by default, what does that tell you about the average user and their workflow? Are you trying to protect …

Quick Writing Tip: Don’t Add Images Until the Text is Done

Here’s a quick writing tip for user manuals: don’t add your images to the manual until you’re done writing your text. This has two advantages. The first is that when you add images one at a time over the long course of writing a manual, it’s easy to overdo it. When you add them all …

No Spec? No Problem: Testing When Nothing’s Written Down

Written in collaboration with Efrat Wurzel Got a new product to test, and the most documentation anyone can provide is an e-mail saying “wouldn’t it be cool if we got drunk and then wrote some code”? Don’t worry – testing without a spec is not quite the disaster you were expecting. Using some exploratory testing …

Understanding Last Week’s Notes

All testers know the feeling: coming in on a Monday, looking at your notes from last week, and understanding nothing. If not for the handwriting, you’d think they were someone else’s notes. How do you write notes that you’ll understand on a Monday, without wasting too much time? Here are some tips, in no particular …

How to Get From Zero to User Manual

One of the challenges of project work is that you have to get into things quickly and without much help – in many places, people will have neither the time nor the inclination to teach you. Remember that if you want to write about how something works, you have to understand the why of it …