A day in the life: Technical Writer — Correspondence

From a prompt in chapter 10 (“Correspondence”)  in Baehr and Cook’s book The Agile Communicator: Principles and Practices in Technical Communication (2015), I decided to take a closer look at all the emails I sent one day.

After work, I counted the number of emails and then did some cursory data and content analysis to see if anything interesting emerged.

31 emails
2,315 words
4 screenshots

Next, I coded the contents to count based on categories of emails. I came up with four categories. The table below displays the categories and their counts:

Informational Reply     13
Research/Instructional Reply     8
Technical Question     6
Information Management Reply     4

Category descriptions
The following are brief descriptions for how I established the categories and how I think they demonstrate the typical professional correspondence of a technical writer (i.e., a technical writer in my industry, with my job responsibilities, etc.).

  • Technical Question: This includes both SME and “Technical Review” meanings—that is, verifying that some information is accurate as well as allowed to publish. This would probably be different based on the technical writer’s status in the company and authority to publish with existing workflows.
  • Informational Reply: General email reply such as answering a question “did you update XYZ?”
  • Research/Instructional Reply: This is similar Informational Reply but there is a rhetorical difference – rhetorical in that it is framed as trying to gather more information (research), but is also points out information that the original poster missed.
  • Information Management Reply: People don’t know what we can or can’t do and these emails clarify our capabilities to educate internal stakeholders what value we bring (e.g., Knowledgebase, Info Management) to the organization.

Analysis of the categories
I’m not surprised by the number and kind of emails that I sent during one workday. My most frequent emails were answering questions or providing information regarding my technical writing purview within my department. As an advocate for my department (and for techcomm in general), I also tend to reply to emails where I think there is an opportunity to not only clarify an issue, but also to provide information back to the original sender. The third most emails involved typical SME questions where I needed additional information to author a topic, or verification of a technical aspect of the product. The last category, “Information Management Reply” were mostly clarifications to people about misconceptions about what we can and can’t do – for the latter, that usually involved clarifying that a particular request was indeed a task or responsibility that my department owned, unbeknownst to the rest of the organization.

Readability of my emails
I performed a cursory readability analysis using an automated tool. The combined content of my emails had an average grade level of about 8 (US), meaning that it should be easily understood by 13 to 14 year olds.

readability technical writer emails

Citation for the text

Baehr, C., and K. C. Cook. 2015. The Agile Communicator: Principles and Practices in Technical Communication. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company. https://books.google.com/books?id=XiLQsgEACAAJ.

If many technical writers could pool our emails together, do you think we would see similar categories emerge? Or are there too many professional variables involved? Would be an interesting project!

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Four Journal Articles that Best Represent the Field of Technical Communication

I was asked to choose a set of four texts that best represent the field of technical communication. Choosing only four (or ten, or 50) is of course extremely reductive, but it allowed me to really focus on the aspects of technical communication that I think are most foundational.

The four texts I chose offer the broadest overview of the discipline while still addressing the specific components that represent the field of technical communication. I identify four primary topics that both build on each other and overlap, to give a representative view of which topics I see as important for technical communicators, in general.

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Filed under Rhetoric, Technical Writing

My WordPress 2014 in review

Due to my being a full time technical writer and PhD student, I didn’t have as much time as previous years to write blog posts. Additionally, I have found that the LinkedIn Pulse posts are more convenient for shorter, industry-related articles, but that is another discussion.

WordPress.com prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some of your most popular posts were written before 2014. Your writing has staying power!

Click here to see the complete report.

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Warnings in Plain English—but if no one reads them, will they help?

This blog post is in reaction to the USENIX/Google research titled “Alice in Warningland: A Large-Scale Field Study of Browser Security Warning Effectiveness.”


The overarching questions I have are:

1) how and when should the notifications be displayed to users and
2) how should the notifications be written

For additional commentary on how Google Chrome is reacting to the findings from the research, see the WeLiveSecurity post Google Chrome security warnings – now in plain English.

It would be interesting to see the results of clickthrough rates with antivirus dialogs when combined with the browser dialogs. Users don’t purchase/use a web browser to have dialog warnings as a primary feature, but an argument can be made that by purchasing antivirus these users prefer an extra layer of security and additional warnings/notifications – this could inform whether this will impact if those users visit more malicious sites. As the study indicated as a limitation, we need to “consider user behaviors that are indicative of attention to warnings” (258). Continue reading

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Filed under Article Reviews, Data Breach Analysis, Technical Writing

Rhetorical & #TechComm Analysis of AT&T “CPNI” Opt-Out Email

As I have mentioned in previous posts (analysis of hacking responses and Kickstarter PR response), as more PR and marketing communications concern technical issues (either directly regarding a technology or technological information about a product or service) there is a need for writers who can write both technical and rhetorically — that is, knowing not just what to say but how and where.

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Filed under Data Breach Analysis, Rhetoric, Technical Writing, User experience

Rhetorical & #TechComm Analysis of Kickstarter “hacking” response

What happened?

“Important Kickstarter Security Notice”


What happened in summary?

  • Last week on Wednesday (this date is relevant) Kickstarter’s website was hacked and users’ personal data was stolen. Kickstarter released a PR statement regarding the security incident on Saturday (yes, 3 days later, on a holiday weekend) with recommended instructions that users should take.

Why am I writing about this?

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My digital workflow as a Master’s and PhD #Techcomm student

This post is a long time coming. I began compiling a list of the technologies I used and how I implemented them while in my Master’s of Technical Communications program last year.

First my thesis took all my time and I was unable to make many blog posts and then just as quick I was accepted into and began a PhD in Technical Communication & Rhetoric. I had planned to write a blog post about why I chose to pursue the PhD (and the end of the previous sentence is a perfect place to hyperlink to it). However, as the next semester begins for many (including me), I thought it would be more useful to post the digital workflow that helped me earn my Master’s with a 4.0, be accepted into a PhD program, and earn an A in my first PhD course.

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Filed under How-to, Social Media, Technical Writing