Technical Writing and Editing
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Topics in this section include --
 

 Technical Writing

 Storyboards

 

 Technical Editing

 Wireframes

 
Technical Writing
Definition -- The term "technical writing" covers everything from writing software user guides to developing technical manuals for technicians. Technical writers make reading technical documentation as painless but productive as possible. Online course development often requires writing about technology, for which technical writers are well trained.
Click for Technical Writing info       To read more about technical writing, click the button.
 
Occupational Handbook Definition for Technical Writers -- STC (Society of Technical Communicators) worked for decades to get the US government to recognize Technical Writing as a distinct occupation. In 2010, the occupation "Technical Writers" was added to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can check out STC here: http://www.stc.org/about-stc
 
Writer typing on laptopWriting for Online Courses -- Large course development teams might have their own technical writer on staff. But smaller course development departments usually don't and in these environments the instructional designer not only develops interactive courses, but is also responsible for the accuracy of the training text.

Many times technical writing is listed as a preferred skill for Instructional Designers and Course Developers. Technical Writers often create online help for software applications and online training. This makes sense because Help files include breaking down technical information into basic terms.

Naturally, some projects require more writing by than others. How the team works together, and how team members envision the course development, can affect the amount of writing expected. Many times Course Developers are shown a technical procedure and asked to build a course around it. Because this involves technical writing, it behooves the Course Developer to have strong language skills.
 

Tight Writing -- Wordy writing slows down the training process for several reasons. One, because it takes the student longer to read the poorly constructed material. Wordy or clumsy writing bores readers, causing their minds to wander. Even though the training has great graphics and slick animation, poor text construction causes poor retention and limited interest. Modern students want training to get to the point quickly. This way, students (particularly employees) can get finished and move onto other time-demanding tasks. Tight writing helps trainers give pertinent facts to students in a manner that's easy to follow.

One of the most common signs of wordy writing is the overuse of prepositional phrases, like "of the" and "in the"; rearrangement of wordy sentences eliminates many of these phrases, which increases student interest and comprehension. Check out this article about eliminating prepositions. Most style guides and writing books contain chapters about writing in the active tense and reducing unnecessary words and phrases.

 
Technical Writing Resources
MS Word 2007 Tutorial  http://www.baycongroup.com/wlesson0.htm
Technical Writing Resources  http://www.word2word.com/tech.html
More Technical Writing Resources  http://www.writerswrite.com/technical/techlink.htm
 
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Technical Editing
Technical Editing is a quality control job. A primary task for technical editors includes ensuring that technical training and technical documents are not only correct, but that they are suitable for their target audience. Technical editing includes rewriting text that may seem all right to the SME, CE, manager or developer, but could be confusing or misleading to students in the target audience.
 
Edited textThe Three Cs -- High-quality writing is clear, concise, and complete.
  • A clear document is characterized by direct, unambiguous language.
  • A concise document uses the minimum number of words to convey a point.
  • A complete document introduces all terms, concepts, and procedures required for understanding a technology and using it effectively.
Technical editors read the instruction content as though they know nothing of the subject. By putting themselves in the position of a new student, they can ascertain if the text meets the clear, concise and complete standards expected of the training.
 
Editing Instruction Documentation -- Editing course material written by an engineer, programmer, developer or Content Expert quite often falls to the Instructional Designer / Course Developer. Simple editing involves proofreading the content for typing and spelling errors. Thorough technical editing involves ensuring that the course material flows smoothly and excising empty phrases that add nothing of value to a sentence or paragraph.
 
High school and college grammar texts explain the rudiments of good writing and editing, as do writing Style Guides. Many large companies develop their own Style Guides, while other companies adopt an off-the-shelf style guide.
Click for Style Guides information     To read more about Style Guides, click the button.
 
CE and Editor Interaction -- Fixing blatant grammatical errors is generally appreciated by the original writer.  However, the suggestion for changing awkward phrases or verbose explanations often needs to be backed with solid explanation or specific style guide references to secure acceptance.
 
Some CEs (developers, programmers, etc.) know their writing needs to be tightened and adjusted by Technical Writers/Editors. But some technical people think their descriptions of products and services reflect the way the material should be presented; therefore, they balk at the prospect of seeing their writing altered by an instructional designer.  I suggest that Technical Editors / Instructional Designers / Course Developers offer text change suggestions with humility and trepidation until they know the original content writer well enough to approach them more casually.
 
Tech Editing Resources
Online Dictionary & Thesaurus   http://www.thesaurus.com/
What is Tech Writing?   http://online-learning.com/blog/what-is-technical-writing/
Grammar Now   http://www.grammarnow.com/
 
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Storyboards

Definition -- A storyboard is an outline, or map, created for multimedia production. Most people are familiar with storyboards created for cartoons, TV shows, or movies. But Storyboards are often used in creating online training, where storyboards contain instructions and a description of the visual elements destined for inclusion in the course. Storyboards help the Course Developer insert the right idea and the right graphics in the right place at the right time.

 

StoryboardDevelopment -- Storyboards are developed during the design phase of the course development process. Storyboards are usually a team effort, containing input from
SMEs, CEs, BAs, and stakeholders. The storyboard then becomes the key for course development. The budget for online training is often determined by the length and complexity of the storyboard.

For online courses, storyboards should visually represent proposed screens. Complete storyboards contain these elements:
    ·   Identifier for the screen or visual image
    ·   A drawing or screenshot of the image where it will appear
    ·   Text of any words that appear on the screen or any voice-over audio files
    ·   Production instructions, such as "fade to the next scene" or "link to screen #12"

 
History -- Storyboards have historically been used as a graphic outline for films, television productions, cartoons and other visual media. Some creative writers use storyboards to visually identify the scenes and action of their stories. But these creative types are not the only ones who can benefit from using a storyboard. Since a storyboard is basically a map outlining the various components of the course or production, and how the components relate to one another, anyone creating any type of presentation can benefit from the storyboarding technique.
 
Online Help -- Storyboards work well for building online Help systems. Good storyboard development improves the efficiency of interaction between the users and the information being presented. Online Help built without a storyboard may contain good information, but it may be disorganized or even cryptic, which generally frustrates or confuses the user.
 
Storyboard Resources Online
Flowcharts & Storyboards  http://www.cortland.edu/flteach/mm-course/flowchart.html
eLearning Storyboards  http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/storyboards-for-elearning/
Creating Storyboards  http://www.public.iastate.edu/~nielandj/webarticle4.html
Digital Storytelling: Storyboard Creator  http://www.storyboardthat.com/
 
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Wireframes
Definition -- Wireframes graphically depict the interconnectedness of the pages in a website or in a Web-based or computer-based course. Wireframing helps webmasters and course developers construct sites and courses that perform exactly as intended. Wireframing takes its name from the skeletal wires that underlie construction.
 

Click-through Possibilities -- A wireframe is a skeletal rendering of every click-through possibility in a website or an online course. The wireframe's purpose is to maintain the flow of logical functions by identifying all of the entry and exit points that exist on every page.

Because the wireframe guides design, information architecture, navigation, usability and content consideration, the wireframe process begins with a dialogue among developers, content experts, designers and clients. Wireframing should be finished first, before a single line of code or instruction is written.

 

Wireframe graphicStructure -- Wireframes can be linear, hierarchical or mixed. In a linear structure, users can only click from one page to the next or to the previous page, like flipping pages of a book.

Wireframe graphicA hierarchical structure starts with a general topic that includes links to more specific topics. Each specific topic includes links to yet more specialized topics and so on. With this structure, users can move easily from the general to the specific and back.

A mixed structure includes both linear and hierarchical structures, where the overall structure is hierarchical and each level is linear.

Click for sample.     Click the button to view a sample Wireframe.
 
Wireframing vs. Storyboarding -- Some website and online course owners and developers are unaware of this powerful, cost-effective planning strategy. Although some people believe that wireframing is synonymous with storyboarding, it is not. Actually, wireframing could be considered the storyboard's parent technique. A wireframe can provide structure for a storyboard.
 
The distinction between a wireframe and a storyboard is critical. Wireframing defines the What of the creative process while storyboarding tackles the How.  In other words, "What is" preceeds "How to."  This distinction can be reduced to "What you want to accomplish and how you want to do it."
 
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