Landmark legislation places an even higher value on accurate, complete technical documentation

Seventy-seven million dollars ($77 million)! That is the amount of money SAS AB is seeking in compensation from Bombardier, the Canadian-based aircraft maker, for omissions in Bombardier’s technical maintenance manual for their Q-400 turboprop plane.

Two of SAS AB’s Q-400 planes were involved in emergency crash landings in Denmark and Lithuania, both involving malfunctions in the plane’s landing gear. (No one was seriously injured in the accidents.) As a result, SAS AB grounded their entire fleet.

international-signpostSAS spokesman Hans Ollongren said, “The incidents were caused by flaws in components not included in the maintenance manual. This is why we feel the responsibility lies with Bombardier.” Ollongren said that SAS has lost about $62 million since the grounding of their fleet of Q-400s. “There are other costs involved, too, related to credibility and our flight safety record,” he continued. SAS wasn’t the only company affected; about 60 of the 160 turboprops in use by airlines worldwide were grounded.

SAS wants to resolve this matter privately between the two companies. Failing that, SAS has every right and intention of litigating against Bombardier. Can they litigate? For flaws in a maintenance manual? In the European Union (EU), in Canada, in some U.S. states, and increasingly around the world, SAS has tort law fully on their side.

Tort law creates liability issues for poor documentation. In 1998, the EU drew up legislation that recognizes technical documentation as part of a product. This is landmark legislation. Now, the documentation and product are inexorably tied together for liability purposes by this tort law. Corporations are legally responsible for customers not knowing how to use their products and for using them incorrectly.

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An e-reader changes ones perspective on the ageless act of reading.

I received a Kindle for Christmas — a gift from my oldest son. He thoughtfully bought me the 3G version, and took the time to explain why this more robust version would be more versatile for me.

library-patronIt’s a handy gadget, especially when I travel. It’s nice too. I’m slowly getting used to using it. Still, it is a big change from reading a book.

Just like our cell phones, the Kindle (and any other e-reader) has taken a common task and, in some respects, made it much more difficult. To be sure, its features are far more robust than that of a book. Still, there is a learning curve. To begin, I had to sift through a rather extensive user guide just to learn how to use it. There is a basic skill set and an aptitude I had to gain before I could use it for its intended purpose: reading.

I find browsing for books online with brief summaries and small avatars a bit constraining, versus flipping through a book’s pages and easily seeing other books on the same topic at a bookstore. There’s a tactile part that is completely missing. But oh, is it convenient. I don’t have to travel to a bookstore, I can locate more books, no out-of-stocks, and get them immediately. (No café for coffee drinks though. Oh well.)

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Immediately impress your clients and prospects with strategic three-dimensional marketing

“The nut” arrived in the mail, as is, without a box, for a deep visual impact. The postal carrier was so impressed, she had to stop in and hand it to me personally. Why? Because “the nut” is a coconut!—a three-dimensional fruit sent to gain my attention. And that it did.

the-nutHand-written quotes from numerous famous and influential people cover “the nut”. Karl Schweitzer, president and founder of MobiRez, a client, colleague, and friend, sent me “the nut” to honor our relationship and to make an impression. For him, it was the perfect marketing device.

Consider, for a moment, the effectiveness of your marketing if you sent your version of “the nut” to tightly targeted prospects. It most definitely would be remembered; people would stop to admire and inspect it. It could even become the buzz of the office. On thing is for sure—it would make an impact.

Imagine sending these three-dimensional mailings to your current clients, to thank them. Karl wanted to further solidify what was an already sound relationship. That he accomplished.

Three-dimensional marketing. At a marketing conference a few years ago, one pundit told us of the value of three-dimensional marketing. “We’re partial to sending blocks of wood,” he said. I asked my Art Director what she thought of that idea. She said simply, “out of context”. She continued. “A block of wood has nothing to do with what we do, there is no connection, no context. What would be more effective is a 3-D mailer with a direct connection to who we are and what our prospects gain from collaborating with us.”

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Technical communicators help you every day; most times, you don’t even realize it.

Last night, just before dark, they arrived at my house in Essex, Vermont. Raymond and Leah. They delivered two cords of fire wood from their business property in Glover, a distance over back roads of about 70 miles. Now Glover truly qualifies as being in the middle of nowhere, however, I live on a dirt road that isn’t all that easy to find either.

When Leah and I made the arrangements for the firewood, I asked if she needed directions. After all, they had never been here before. But she demurred. “We have GPS,” she said. “Raymond relies on it, so I’m sure we won’t have any difficulties.”

tulipsAnd so, through the help of their GPS device, they arrived. Leah got out of the truck first, introduced herself, and shook my hand. She had a kind face, a quiet confidence about her, and was clearly in charge of the financial aspects of the business—she had a standard invoice form in her hand with the details of our transaction hand printed clearly. Raymond, a tall, slightly gangling man, ebullient by nature with a winning smile, came around the side of the truck and held out his hand. “This is Raymond,” Leah said. We shook hands. Firmly.

“So Raymond,” I asked, “Did you have any trouble finding my house?”

“Oh no,” he said with that Vermont drawl. “My GPS gets me anywhere.” He pulled the device out of his pocket and began showing me how he used it for directions from Glover to my house. The device was well labeled, with a clean interface and clear maps that directed him, without misadventure. Raymond was very proud of this GPS, and his ability to use it.

I thought, “Raymond. Thank a technical communicator.”

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Time and money. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Time and money. Time has a single purpose: saving it. Money, on the other hand, has a dual purpose: saving it and, of course, making it. Just about everything we do can be motivated by saving time and money, by making money (too bad you can’t make time, now that would change things, wouldn’t it?), or a combination of any of these three. In the end, though, it’s all about making money: saving time makes money; saving money makes money; and, well, the last is obvious.

summit-view-ndSome events make it simple to realize that you have achieved a positive gain on time and money. In these cases, the gain has been immediate, clearly recognized, and sometimes even documented for you. Go to a supermarket, buy something on sale, and there is your money savings recorded for you on your receipt. Easy. Take a shortcut on a journey; a simple glance at your watch tells you how much time you have saved. Easy. Post that unused item in the want ads; someone gives you cash for it. Easy.

Comprehending your time and money gain on communication, however, is not so obvious. This is true for a number of reasons. The actual loss of time and money might never have been documented or considered, so there is no basis for evaluation. The time from initiation to implementation for a communication project can be months, sometimes years, and unless time and money are carefully tracked, there can be an enormous disconnection between the before and after.

I like to think about measuring your time and money gain in communication as a journey. Whenever you take a trip—whether it’s a simple jaunt to the supermarket or an extended vacation—you always know where you are starting from and where you are going. It’s the same way with communication: you must know where you are starting from and where you are going.

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Okay, this is somewhat of a metaphorical post. Still, I expect that you can apply the concepts of this story to your own “mountains” that you need to climb and summit.

A few weeks ago, I backpacked with my friend Bill. What’s great about going into the wilderness for a few days with Bill (in this case, four days) is that we communicate so well, respect each others needs, and consider them throughout the trip. This kind of deep communication becomes especially pointed living in the woods when your kitchen and bedroom are in the pack on your back.

adk-mountainThis trip, our goal was to summit four of the forty-six 4,000-foot peaks in New York’s Adirondack park. (Actually, there are only 43 such peaks. Apparently, past climbers couldn’t measure very well, but history dictates compliance with their inaccurate measurements.) Four days, 32 miles, 12,000 feet of elevation gain, fifty-pound packs, all planned with a guide book last published seven years ago—an eon for the Adirondacks where landscape-altering storms are the norm.

While we had a general idea of the summiting trails, we also knew that routes and conditions would be different—in two cases, markedly different as it turned out—from descriptions written at least seven years ago, and probably eight. We knew this going in, and we knew that we would be trying to get the latest conditions, from whoever we crossed paths with, always an eye-opening and trusting endeavor.

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Dallas, Texas. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) announced today that certification for the technical communication field has been approved. Within the next year, technical communicators will be able to attain certification in their profession.

Certification creates two enormous benefits for our profession and for practitioners. First, certification establishes a sold foundation for the legitimacy and economic contribution of technical communication. Second, certified practitioners clearly demonstrate their expertise as technical communicators, greatly enhancing their value in the marketplace.

mauna-kea-shrinePractitioners become certified in six core competency areas:

  • User analysis
  • Document design
  • Project management
  • Authoring (content creation)
  • Delivery
  • Quality assurance

As a result, employers and clients alike will now have a concrete idea of the expertise, contribution, and value that technical communicators bring to the marketplace. STC is developing a page on its Web site dedicated to promoting certification and explaining the value of certified technical communicators.

Continue reading A Monumental Day Dawns for Technical Communicators: Certification!

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Ideas in business are crucial for success. But if you cannot fully express and communicate your ideas, you might as well quit thinking!

Effective communication is crucial for success in business — that is, attaining results by meeting objectives with and through other people.

Communication is vital to any human encounter.

painted-vasesWhen you communicate well, you clarify concepts and ideas. You are able to understand and work with the recipients of your message. You will also be able to inform, instruct, and persuade them to do what you want them to do, to achieve your desired results. In fact, the most effective communicators not only influence and persuade their audience to act in a specific way, but also these communicators convince their audience to do so.

Business communication can be full of specialized language, or jargon, that generally can only be understood by experts. Others inside a company and outside of a company do not inherently understand this jargon, even when they hear it all the time or even attempt to use it. Have you ever repeated jargon in a manner so that others might perceive that you understand it when, in reality, you don’t, at least not fully? If so, you are in good company. Most people only understand part of the jargon they use, especially acronyms. Therefore, it is incumbent on you to state things as simply as possible and to provide explanations and descriptions whenever possible so that everyone, the experts, the so-called experts, and those on the fringes, truly can comprehend your message.

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The many rewards of membership cause me to renew every year—for myself and my clients

Think of your life-changing moments. Rewarding, aren’t they? I had one in the spring of 1995 when two local technical writers asked me to join them and others to start the Vermont chapter of the Society for Technical Communication—STC. Sounds worthwhile. Sure, I’ll join.

the-rough-draftsAnd with that simple decision, I embarked on an incredible journey that has enhanced both my personal and professional life far beyond any heights that I could have imagined. To that, I am indebted to STC and its members.

Renewing my membership. I gain so much as an STC member, learning and applying an abundance of skills over these past fifteen years. My career has been enhanced, and my clients have benefited. Membership has opened new venues for me, some that I couldn’t possibly have envisioned. I simply cannot imagine being a professional technical communicator and not belonging to the one organization that supports and promotes that profession—STC.

This is a simple decision for me. I simply rejoin.

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The final installment of the tenets that enable you to sharpen your communication

As previous entries have discussed, your communication must focus on the needs of your audience (not on you). Understanding your audience and making sure they receive and act on the information in the manner you intended is paramount to effective communication. Toward this end, we continue our discussion of the ten tenets of effective communication, focusing on the last four tenets:


  • Correct
  • Timely
  • Well designed
  • And it builds goodwill too

Correct. A correct document complies with the basic rules of writing: grammar, punctuation, mechanics, spelling, word order and usage, and sentence structure. Incorrect writing slows readers and confuses them.

Given too many of these kinds of errors, readers begin to question the validity and accuracy of your writing, and wonder if you were also this careless in researching, analyzing, and presenting your findings. Readers begin to doubt your professionalism, which in turn compromises your arguments, conclusions, and recommendations.

There are dozens of books on the basics of writing. Find one you like, keep it nearby, and refer to it often.

Continue reading The Ten Tenets of Effective Communication (Part 3 of 3)

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