Write the Docs Prague - It's not just about writing skills

I am a complete newbie in the Write the Docs community (unfortunately, there is not too much going on in the meetup group in Hamburg). So, I was really excited to join the Write the Docs conference this year. A conference where Technical Writers, and even some developers from all over the world gather, and exchange ideas and opinions. They all have the same mindset: They love Docs and like to improve them. Be it release notes, UI texts, API documentation, or even more. Too much for one blog post. So, I will focus on my favorite aspects.

Don’t say simply

The very first talk of the conference was my personal number 1. Jim Fisher started with an example I can totally relate to as a former Microsoft user who switched to a Mac: The requirement to “simply” drag new applications into the applications folder. But who defines this short word? “Simply”. Different users have different ways to reach their goals, and thus, have different ideas of “simple” actions. If you use “simply” in your UI texts, this is very subjective and might make users angry and ashamed. So, next time you might also take the whole concept behind the action into account and rethink if an action is really “simple” for everyone. And dear developers, this is also true for you! Jim found over 92 million results when searching for “simply” on GitHub.

My personal takeaways

The organizers made a great choice when selecting the talks. They have been divers, and covered many different areas and ideas. But it would be too long to dive deeper into all of them. So here are my main take aways:

  • Rowan Cota came up with one of my favorite statements that encouraged me to never stop improving our documentation: “When people who care get together they can do anything (A group that can order a pizza is a group that can improve docs!)”.
  • I did write statements above. So here is the other one that stayed in my mind: “If you love it, you should document it”. Again, cheers to Rowan Cota for this one. She came up with it as a slogan for a company DocDay, which is a brilliant idea for bigger TechWriting teams. Just think about it as a Hackathon for TechWriters.
  • Docs might be a necessary part of the Definition of Done. This way, technical depts could be prevented. To all the developers that might have agonal respiration while reading this: Don’t worry, Louise Fahey also talked about the downsides of this concept and came up with different ideas to resolve technical debts.
  • Thanks to Anne Edwards (Learning to love release notes) and her brilliant examples of different release notes, I now know, that I should have a deeper look into this kind of documentation and might even come up with a small styleguide.

The lightning talks

Lightning talks are awesome. You have the chance to think about different topics, without spending too much time on them in case they are not relevant for you. Topics that still swirl through my mind are the following:

  • Crosswords might be a great activity to bring departments together.
  • Translators who ask questions are (most of the time) really willing to create great translations. If they never come up with questions, they might just not care enough.
  • Forking a repo can be part of awesome lyrics. No joke…check it out:

The Unconference

During the whole conference, there was an unconference going on. This way, you could bring up all the topics you’d like to discuss, even though they are not covered by the conference talks. So, for example, there was a whole morning with at least one API-related topic, which was great for all the people who can only participate in the Write the Docs conference but not in the API the docs conference in November.

One other session was named “All the jobs”. Here, people discussed their “hybrid” roles. Which means, they are not “just” TechWriters, but also Localization Managers, UI Writers, and so on. If you check my “About the author” description below, you might guess why this session got me interested straight away. So, how to balance your time and responsibilities when juggling several tasks that are all equally important but not comparable? Do you need to come up with separate email accounts and JIRA users? Are you able to create your own KPIs? The answer is, as you might guess: It depends 😉 But we all agreed that planning is an important part of such a hybrid role. Either in your team, or if you are alone with yourself. Simply (this one is for Jim Fisher) block your calendar regulary and check if you are still on schedule.

My overall impression

The Write the Docs community is great. Everyone is very open-minded and willing to communicate. All of them really understood the PacMan rule which made it easy to get to know each other. The venue had the perfect size for this conference (even though it was sometimes hard to understand each other during the unconference sessions due to a lack of space between the different topic tables). And last but not least: It really made me think differently about certain topics, or at least showed me other perspectives. And isn’t that the goal of such an event?

About the author

Christina Gebken is a Localization Manager and TechWriter. She loves working agile, and writing new help articles for our software.