Tag Archives: technical writing

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!



Filed under 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

Master of Arts, English Thesis: Ethics in #TechComm Graduate Programs

The purpose of this post is to provide some of the content for my thesis that I completed July 2013. The full text of my thesis is available through ProQuest (UMI):


The programs that were included in my study are the following: Auburn University; James Madison’s MA and MS programs; Mercer; Minnesota State University, Mankato; Montana Tech of the University of Montana; New Jersey Institute of Technology; North Dakato State University; University of Wisconsis-Stout; West Virginia University.

Thesis Abstract:

In this research, I performed a content analysis of the required courses in technical and professional communication (TPC) graduate course syllabi to investigate the prevalence of ethics-related materials included in course instruction. The content analysis for my research included collecting the syllabi of required courses from a sample of TPC graduate programs, and coding for the occurrence of journal articles and textbook chapters that included the word “ethics” in the title, summary, or keywords. My findings show that on average Continue reading

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Filed under Presentations, Technical Writing

Article Review: “The Textualizing Functions of Writing for Organizational Change”

Anderson, Donald L. 2004. “The Textualizing Functions of Writing for Organizational Change.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 18 (2) (April 1): 141–164.

Logic, organization, and argumentation strategies
Are the claims logical interpretations of the data?
Significance to the field of technical communication

This research paper combines a literature review with an ethnographic study to examine “how change is accomplished through language” (Anderson 2004, 142).

Anderson introduces his two research questions at the end of the introduction and literature review and immediately preceding the methodology section. The rest of the paper is the presentation of the study results along with concurrent analysis.

The Anderson’s conclusion (and theoretical perspective) is that an idea, or series of ideas—whether it’s from meetings, voicemails, IMs, etc.—can’t effect change unless they are “textualized”, written down or otherwise transformed into an “object”; this object is the agent that allows change to occur.

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Filed under Article Reviews, Rhetoric, Technical Writing

Reflections on Finishing a Technical Communication Graduate Program

As I reach the end of my time at Minnesota State University, Mankato, I can look back and say that I made the right choice to pursue the Master of Arts, Technical Communication (MATC) degree.

Before my penultimate semester in the program, I pondered whether the graduate technical communication program I chose was the correct option for me. Once again, I want to take some time to reflect on the choices I made, the experiences I’ve gained, and what I’ve learned along the way as I finish my thesis and complete the program.

*** To read the full article, see the Spring 2013 issue of Techniques, pages 1-5, 7.

Summary of contents:

  • Applying theory to practice — the “practice” versus “theory” debate
  • Master of Arts degree is synonomous with “adaptable”
  • How to benefit from networking as a technical communication graduate student and technical writer
  • How an online graduate degree prepares you training, working, and teaching
  • Technical Communication is a Multidisciplinary Field
  • Minnesota State University, Mankato, fulfilled my goals for a master’s degree in technical communication


Filed under Technical Writing

STC Live Webinar 2012: Using YouTube Videos to Enhance “Traditional” Documentation

This webinar was originally given as a presentation at the STC Summit, 2012.

For the audio/video of our original presentation the STC Summit 2012, visit the Summit@aClick site (first 5 minutes free, login required:

Using Videos to Enhance “Traditional” Documentation.

Below are the description and slides for the updated presentation Ben and I gave as an STC Live Web Seminar, 11 December 2012.

Presentation description:

The way users consume information is becoming increasingly visual. Technical communicators can address this need and increase user satisfaction by creating video tutorials.  Ben and Fer present some best practices for choosing topics, creating, sharing, promoting, and measuring the success of video tutorials in YouTube.

Topic description:

Rich media, including video, infographics, screencasts, screen recordings, and flash animation, is an effective tool to supplement and enhance online support documentation. Users are increasingly using sites such as YouTube to share video-tutorials for tasks such as replacing a print cartridge in a printer, to basic software tutorials.

If your organization is considering using video tutorials, this session will provide real-world examples and ideas from two different companies that are using video tutorials with success.

This presentation will discuss what content to produce, how to best deliver it, and why it is more effective for increasing customer satisfaction for some users than text-only support documentation. Additionally, technical communicators can incorporate rich media into their social media strategy to leverage content across several channels thereby reaching the most users possible.

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Filed under Presentations, STC, Technical Writing, Video

Using Google Trends in Technical Communication

Google Insights is now officially Google Trends. According to Google, the combined capabilities are Insights into what the world is searching for.

As a technical writer, I have used Google Insights from time to time when choosing between a variation in spellings or choice of term. Not every term choice can be accounted for in a company style guide, Continue reading

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Filed under How-to, Rhetoric, Social Media, Technical Writing