communication for the real world


Design and typography basics — The presentation

Download [PDF] presentation file [1.8M]

If you want to, you can read the talk that I gave when I showed the slides.

The webinar was made possible through the support of the STC Europe SIG and the STC France chapter, and with the Help, as moderator of Stuart Culshaw.

Thanks to the organizers, to Stuart Culshaw, and to everyone who participated.

Special thanks to those who gave me their time and advice as I prepared the presentation. You know who you are.

February 1, 2012  

Design and typography basics — The talk

This is the talk I gave with the webinar I delivered on Tuesday 31 January 2012, Design and Typography for Technical Communication.

If you would like to have the accompanying slides, download them here.

typewriter key alphabet

A cacophony of choice

Unless we are making simulations or videos that depend on action and voiceover to get the point across, technical communicators communicate in text and in illustrations with text associated with them. These are words on a page or on a screen. It seems simple, yet we have so many choices to make. We are not limited to single-spaced or double-spaced text typed in rows. We are not limited to one wide column or two narrow columns. We are not limited to black and white. We are not limited to books. We are not limited to paper.

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February 2, 2012  

Measuring quality — The talk

This is the talk I gave with the webinar I delivered on Tuesday 22 March 2011, Measuring the Quality of your Documentation.

If you would like to have the accompanying slides and quality-measurement tool, download them here.

Factory man being efficient

Getting things done

Wherever you work, whether it’s in a calmly organized editorial group, alone facing down deadlines in a home office, or running from project to project like a blue-assed fly, you would like to know how you stack up, how you are doing.

But you don’t have time to stop and look around. You have deliverables. You need to have things move along so that you get things done. The result of getting things done, of course, is product. And product can be measured. [Read more →]

March 24, 2011  

Measuring quality: Presentation and tool for you to use

Here are the files from the webinar I delivered on Tuesday 22 March 2011, Measuring the Quality of your Documentation.

Download [PowerPoint 2007] presentation file [1.6M]

Download [Excel 2007] quality-tool file [19k]

If you want to, you can read the talk that I gave when I showed the slides.

The webinar was made possible through the support of the STC Europe SIG and the STC France chapter, and with the corporate sponsorship of UTC Fire & Security.

Thanks to the organizers, to our corporate sponsor, and to everyone who participated.

Special thanks to those who gave me advice as I prepared the tool: the brainy shakytweets, the incomparable dfarb, the scintillating finiteattention, and the endlessly knowledgeable ellispratt. If I have forgotten you, I have not forgotten you. You know who you are.

March 21, 2011  

Using quality to your advantage?

I am presenting a tool I developed to help you do just that in a webinar at 19:00 Central European Time on Tuesday 22 March 2011.

Measuring the Quality of your Documentation

Learn about your weak areas in technical communication, how to improve the quality of your technical communication, and how to create useful project metrics.

The webinar is [

March 21, 2011  

Going that extra mile with the two major Englishes

Spring bluebells in beech woodland, Dockey Woods, Buckinghamshire, England

It takes about 15 minutes to walk a mile. I’ve walked countless city streets, country lanes, and unmarked fields to go a mile. It’s 15 minutes, give or take. It’s not that far.

In the world of specialised writers—technical, scientific, corporate—few seem to be interested in improving their ability with the two major branches of English:

March 9, 2011  

Learning editorial TLC: editing Dutch-authored English

A Bernini angel standing on drifting clouds

On Friday 14 January 2011, a group of SENSE editors got together in one of the Park Plaza Hotel meeting rooms in Utrecht, something we rarely get to do because of our work schedules and because, as John Edmund Hynd said, “You would have to go a long way to find another workshop anything like this.” We were editing Dutch-authored English with Dr Joy Burrough-Boenisch. [Read more →]

January 31, 2011  

Tools that work

This article is adapted from a presentation (PDF, 772KB) delivered to the Society for Technical Communication TransAlpine chapter annual conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Friday, 18 April 2008. This presentation cannot be printed, distributed, or otherwise used without the written permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Textured wall, Ljublana, Slovenia

Are expectations of your work constantly changing, or ill-defined? Do your projects suffer from scope creep with no sense of the original agreement, and no understanding of the time needed to meet delivery schedules? Are you juggling multiple projects, multiple timelines, and trying to muddle through scoop creep? [Read more →]

April 24, 2008  

A basic study of the specialised writing and editing industry in the Netherlands

Dutch tulips

To find out more about the specialised writing and editing industry in the Netherlands, and about the effect that the European Union is having on the industry, I conducted a basic study in which I approached three Netherlands-located specialised writing and editing societies: EASE, SENSE, and STIC. EASE is the European Association of Scientific Editors, with about 7.5% of its members in the Netherlands (its presidency, however, is in the Netherlands). SENSE is the Society of English Native-Speaking Editors, with strong editing and translating components to its membership. STIC is the Studiekring voor Technische Informatie en Communicatie, the Dutch technical information and communication society. SENSE and STIC are based in the Netherlands and contain a majority of Netherlands-located members. In each case, I contacted the society leadership and asked to interview a member of the leadership. [Read more →]

April 4, 2008  

The Amsterdam LIG examines Isotypes in Utrecht

On a recent Saturday, the Amsterdam LIG went to an exhibit at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht that was part of a series of events celebrating the second biennial for social design ( The exhibit was in two parts. One part was Lovely Language: Words divide, images unite, about the Isotype pictogram series created early in the 20th century by the Austrian educator and philosopher Otto Neurath in cooperation with the German graphic artist Gerd Arntz. The second part was A Safe Place: Pictograms for disaster areas, a series of image-signs to help populations in disastrous situations. Of course, technical communicators do this kind of work all the time; try to make concepts transparently and instantly recognizable. We often use simple pictures to make things clear. Across the exhibit we were struck by the sense of the grammar and syntax of pictograms, and the need for localisation. A picture says a thousand words, but those words might be different to a person in a culture removed from our own.

February 7, 2008  

The Amsterdam LIG in Gelderland

On a recent Sunday, members of the Amsterdam LIG drove down to Ede, in the charming Dutch province of Gelderland. There we tucked in to a long lunch with a group of editors, writers, and translators. The talk was lively and ranged over the health of the Dutch authoring industry, linguistics, grammar, and the special challenges presented when producing work in a non-native-speaking environment where many of our Dutch colleagues are confident that their knowledge of English grammar and phrasing is better than ours. It was decided that the industry seems lately to be thriving, and that some of the best ways of looking at English from a fresh angle come when a non-native speaker insists on a point of grammar or phrase that we might not agree with. It is a valuable skill to be able to defend your authoring choices based on research rather than hearsay, and to prove the professional worth of the professional author, technical or otherwise. After lunch we took a long walk in the Veluwe forest despite the usual persistent rain. All in all, it was a wonderful opportunity for the Amsterdam LIG to expand contacts and talk shop, even though we all got a bit soggy.

November 29, 2007  

News from the Amsterdam LIG – Get Lit!


News from the Amsterdam LIG – get lit!

Several of us here in the Noord-Holland region of The Netherlands got together 15-20 May 2007 at the Amsterdam Literary Festival. We met writers working in various fields and talked about the art and business of writing. Now in its third year, the festival has become an annual event by and for writers in northern Europe. Several major language groups and cultural points-of-view were represented this year with events in American English, British English, Indian English, Dutch, Flemish (which is Belgian Dutch) and German. It was refreshing to meet with and discuss writing with people on the front lines of other parts of the writing industry: journalists, playwrights, novelists, broadcasters, conceptual literary artists working in multimedia, and poets. We were exhilarated by the cross-industry contact. Zesty!

May 21, 2007  

A leak leads to a job change

blue sky with clouds

Most of the time, my fellow technical writers want to hear about the shift from the chains of permanent full-time work to the freedom of contracting. I agree that contracting is freer. You are free to do all the marketing required to keep yourself (and your subcontractors) in billable hours. You are free to travel to different clients constantly, racking up kilometers on your car (or bus and train tickets) which you are then free to administer in your bookkeeping and accounting which you are also free to calculate and remit in time to make your quarterly tax payments. You are free to manage your own pension scheme, health insurance, and business insurance. [Read more →]

November 30, 2006  

The Amsterdam LIG looks artfully towards the Trans-EU competition

This year’s trans-European technical publications competition is currently underway without a single Dutch entry. Come on, Holland!

The competition awards event is in Paris at the beginning of February. It is scheduled to coincide gracefully with the France chapter’s annual conference. We’ll be there!

The Amsterdam LIG is a very pleasant network of writers, editors, and graphic designers. We meet ad hoc, usually monthly. Our last meeting was to attend Museum Night on 4 November 2006 in Amsterdam. Forty museums opened their doors until 2 am with special events, a carnival atmosphere on the streets, and art lovers of all ages thronging. Blessed with good weather and a bright full moon, we bicycled to several venues and soaked up a lot of autumnal atmosphere. I don’t think we talked much about technical communication. But we benefited from it everywhere we went with excellent instructions, research pamphlets, and sign posts.

November 29, 2006  

Amsterdam Local Interest Group

looking up at beech tree

The Amsterdam local interest group (AmLIG) is an ad hoc group of writers and editors who meet occasionally in Amsterdam. Want us to come to your event? Want to meet up with us and talk shop? Use an appropriate subject line in the contact form.

November 1, 2006  

News from the Amsterdam LIG

Without any real planning or forethought, writers in the Amsterdam area have been massing regularly to talk shop, compare strategies, have a borrel (a wicked shot of Dutch courage called Jenever), and occasionally attend meetings of other writers’, editors’, and translators’ groups in the area. We’ve hooked up with members from SENSE (the Society for English- Native-Speaking Editors), EASE (the European Association of Science Editors), NUJ NL (the National Union of Journalists, Netherlands Branch), and STIC (Dutch STC look-alike, the Studiekring voor Technische Informatie en Communicatie).

Among other things, we’ve discussed the Region 2 Conference (London, October 2006) and Forum 2007 (Amsterdam, June 2007). There is a lot of positive buzz and professional excitement building for these two events. We believe that these events will set a level of professional expectation and a tone that will resonate for the next several years. We plan to be there for one or both of them; to add our voices to the ongoing conversation, and to be informed.

Meeting colleagues and professional neighbours outside the office is always invigorating. Gathering as keen STC members on an ad hoc basis (even as we have been doing, without any real agenda) is a way to stay current and to keep the underlying discourse lively during a normal working week. Writers of all stripes come to our Amsterdam LIG in Amsterdam. If you are in the area, we welcome you.

Websites of interest

June 26, 2006  

You Can Get There from Here

road with trees

Although they are about the same distance apart geographically, Madrid is not to Munich what Manhattan is to Miami. In Europe, short distances can mean big differences in expectation and understanding as well as in language and culture! [Read more →]

March 24, 2006  

Technical communication contracting in Europe

autumn leaves
After a particularly vicious downturn from mid-2001 through the end of 2002, the market in Europe seems to be improving. Diverse regions and industries are holding steady or even showing a bit of upswing. Alice Jane Emanuel, Director of Comma Theory, a communications company in Amsterdam, spoke to recruiters to find tips for contractors to improve their business right now. [Read more →]

November 16, 2005  

The Awards Event in Amsterdam, 5 February 2005

yellow tulips

Another Competition Done and Dusted

The 2004 edition of the Trans-European Technical Communications Competition completed smoothly once again last December under the capable guidance of this year’s Competition Manager, Jennifer O Neill. The results were collated, the entrants advised. All that remained was the awards supper held in a European city as an opportunity to meet in a social setting, reward ourselves for work well done, and distribute awards. [Read more →]

February 21, 2005