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Tips for technical writing

Technical writing is evolving to meet the needs of a web-based world. From data models like DITA to the array of software that technical writers must master, it is easy for the tech writer to become bogged down in design and ignore the content.

Which is why it is good to remember the basics from time to time.

Here is a good list from TECH.CO that highlights these basics of technical writing.

Your editor especially appreciates the advice to keep things simple, collaborate with other writers, and focus on the content. more…


Entrepreneur's guide to writing a business plan.

Some tips include:

tailor different plans for different audiences, be realistic with projections, back up assertions with evidence. more…


The LA Times offers four tips for writing a novel.

The nut of it: have a plot, be mean to your characters, take a break, keep going. more…


November is National Novel Writing Month

To join in the fun, you just have to commit to writing 50,000 words of your novel during the next 30 days. Easy peasy, right?

Novelist MG Leonard (who wrote her first novel in 60 days) gives tips to get you started.

Write every day

Treat your writing as work

And just keep plugging along during your first pass. Don't screw around wasting time editing your first draft. more…


The most important rule in science writing

A science writer lays out his number one rule for science writing, whether that be for a blog, a science book, or a script for a TV show. In a nut, it's not about being right, it's about not being wrong. more…


Science cracks the Résumé Code

Or so says a forthcoming research paper from Business and Professional Communication Quarterly.

The nut of the research: crowd-source your résumé. At least amongst a few friends and colleagues. more…


"Why do Americans write like shit?"

A recent WaPo article argues that young Americans have simply never been taught how to write a sentence.

While Common Core propents argue the need for students to write fluently about a range of subjects, teachers bang their heads against the wall when seniors can't even write a sentence, let alone research or rhetorical papers.

As WaPo put it, "You have to learn to add before you can do calculus." more…


The meaningless battle over cursive writing continues. A Facebook post recently went viral over a 7-year-old blasted by her teacher for signing her name in cursive.

Pendants, useless professors, and Common Core knuckleheads, now have a new front to fight in the battle over cursive writing. Huzzah! more…


Writing helps veterans deal with trauma. A writing club at the Maine Veterans Center gives veterans a chance to deal with experiences they had no way of discussing before.

One member of the group said, “While not a miracle, it is close to it. I’ve gone from fragmented and shattered to healing,” more…


"Warlords of Documentation". Tech writers take notice: Stack Overflow to (finally) focus on documentation. And try to improve it. SO could help break the logjam on lousy documentation.

Money quote:"Just like Q&A in 2008, Documentation in 2015 is something every developer needs regularly, and something that by most appearances stopped improving in 1996." more…


Cormac McCarthy rumored to release a science novel. McCarthy's 11th novel is said to pay “much allusion to mathematics and insanity" and includes topics like “Feynman diagrams, Kurt Gödel, subatomic particles, collisions, weighted routes, equations, variations, and reality.” more…


Hate learning grammar rules? It's okay, your brain does too. Complex grammar taxes your brain and your brain fights back (pragmatically) by trying to simplify things. A recent study from the University of Zurich shows a steady simplification of grammar across all languages. more…


Intercom raises $35 M to fix customer communication experience they say is "totally fucking broken". With systems and departments toiling in isolation and a "disjointed, disconnected" experience for the customer. more…


Pissing off humorless, PC-loving intellectuals is easy (and fun). Kate Gale, member of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), deserves kudos for wading into things with her, article AWP is Us, a deft attack on the association's obsession with diversity. Seems not everyone at AWP got the joke. more…


Let's be brief. Want more citations of your next scientific paper? Then shorten the title claims a new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. more…


Thanks to 'big English', "No one can understand what's being said", says UK and Ghana-based communication consultant, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Instead, he's promoting a system he developed and named DESC: Distinctive, Effective, Simple, and Credible. more…


“In much of Europe in the 1950’s ... socialists ... were about the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.” The story of how the CIA secretly funded literary magazines for anti-totalitarian socialists. more…


"Area Man Plays Video Games, Eats Cheetos". Inevitable? Cannibis Journalism — aka writing about pot — is now an official part of the curriculum at the University of Denver. more…


Want to write? Then develop a habit of reading says the Head of Library and Information Sciences at the University of Madras. more…


Great cultural critic Clive James is still reading, writing and doing "unreasonably well" in his fight with leukaemia because of cancer drug. more…


Brooklyn-based, independent publisher Restless Books announce new literary prize for immigrant writing. more…


Letters

Why would someone smoke? It's fucking great?

Will Self, the melancholy British writer who loves shoving shivs in the midst of a Kulturkampf (an oft-used word of his—and now a favorite of your editor's), pens a love letter to his love of nicotine.

"Even aged 13, I was hip to the powerful ways smoking could alter my perception. Certainly nicotine was psychoactive—yet it transported me in paradoxical ways, tugging my feelings about in its choppy wake."

"The problem is…they just won’t stand for it, having either long-since packed smoking in themselves, never smoked at all, or are still shamefacedly puffing. For the committed smoker there’s only one thing worse than not being able to smoke, and that’s not being able to talk about it." more…


Few would argue the Vladimir Nabokov was a great writer.

But the legendary author knew better. He knew that without his wife, Vera, inertia was inescapable.

Without her he was "furiously bored", and admitted in a letter to her that “Without the air which comes from you I can neither think nor write”.

He once showed a couple of friends a letter to his wife. “They said they understood now who writes my books for me”, said Nabokov. more…


Chekhov the Comedian

"Disappointment, death, longing, passion and loneliness": the traits commonly associated with the masterful short stories of the Russian great.

Before that, though, unknown enough to operate under the radar of Russia's obligatory censors, Chekhov wrote for small, weekly comic magazines. And with a confident style, taking to task the prolixity of Jules Verne and the Gothic-heaviness of Victor Hugo. more…


Comments: "The bottom of the Internet"

Website comments are slurs, gossip, sometimes enlightening, sometimes shit thrown by monkeys.

Are they an addiction?

"Two Harvard University neuroscientists concluded that 'disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding' because it triggers regions of the brain that are associated with the mesolimbic dopamine reward system." more…


“The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not.”

The inimitable Kurt Vonnegut and his 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word. more…


What can you learn from writing 800,000 words in two years? (besides "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy")

Much according to Jason Zook who began the daunting project even though he admits that "I wasn’t a 'writer'".

Some lessons learned: apps are important, consistency builds confidence, writing changes your life. more…


Gerald Clarke's interview with P. G. Wodehouse. The Art of Fiction No. 60

G.C: "If you were asked to give advice to somebody who wanted to write humorous fiction, what would you tell him?"

P.G.W: "I’d give him practical advice, and that is always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a great slab of prose at the start." more…


Excellent 11-part series about how to write better sentences. More detailed than your average style how-to, this series covers topics including key word placement, rhythm, and noun-based vs. verb-based styles. more…


To doc or not to doc, that is the question. At least it's a recurring question in a developer's life. Here we have a vote for documenting and some ideas about templates and 'doc sprints' that make a lot of sense. more…


Kingsley Amis worried about remaining an ordinary working-man and saving his work from "art’s associations with foppishness and pretentiousness and self-aggrandizement". more…


John Cleese offers practical advice for young comedy writers: steal. "...because comedy is extraordinarily difficult. It's much, much harder than drama... pinch other people's ideas and then try to write them yourself, and that'll get you started." more…


Need help fleshing out characters? Here's a handy cheatsheet for writing body language. Offers up tips like "impatient: nod quickly, look at clock". more…


Elmore Leonard's primarily rule for writing was "if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it". He didn't have much use for adverbs or flowery descriptions either. Here is Leonard and other writers listing their ten rules for writing fiction. more…


Is technical writing dying?

Companies are past hiring teams of writers to pound out reams of unread user docs, but tech writers can stay relevant by transferring their skills to other areas of software development. more…


Writers hating their jobs? It happens. Many pleasures to be gained as well though. Seven writers speak to the bitter and the sweet of writing as a career. more…


Julia Bell provides some solid nuts and bolts suggestions for struggles with creative writing. more…


Dream of being a screenwriter? Want any control over your career? Then write a novel instead says this veteran Hollywood screenwriter. more…


Random Notes

Keystone pipeline killed by cheap oil and politics

FiveThirtyEight lays out why pipeline is dead. Basically it wouldn't be much use.

President Obama said:
"There’s not much in it for us. “The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy,” Obama said. “Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security”. more…


At least 4% of death row inmates are innocent according to a 2014 study by the National Academy of Sciences.

The State of Oklahoma will kill a man, Richard Glossip, on September 30th, perhaps making him a member of that forlorn club. Sentenced to die based only on the testimony of a convicted murderer (who received a plea deal in exchange for the testimony), Glossip's case is well summed-up by the New York Times editorial board:

"This case pretty well sums up the state of the death penalty in America. Supporters like to say it is reserved for the "worst of the worst," but that is demonstrably untrue. It is more accurate to say that capital punishment is arbitrary, racist and meted out to those without the resources to defend themselves." more…


Excerpt from a 1968 Playboy interview with Stanley Kubrick:

"If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should he bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?" more…


Sulaymaniyah Museum purchased a fragment of Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh from smugglers after the Iraqi War.

The tablet fragment was likely (illegally) unearthed from southern area of Babel (Babylon). Final price negotiated for the tablet fragment: $800. more…


Where all the aliens at?

Forbes looks at areas in our solar system most likely to harbor alien life. Europa, a satellite of Jupiter is the top choice because of it has water. A lot of water; more than Earth does.

Another (surprising) candidate is Venus. Yes, it's surface is hot enough to melt lead, but 60-miles up in the atmosphere, conditions are remarkably Earth-like (similar temperatures and air pressure). Phone home. more…


The bell tolls for Flash. Finally. While many cheer the recent move by Google to pause Flash advertisements in its Chrome Browser, Wired wonders out loud if it's such a good thing for an Internet built on advertising. more…


On Kickstarter, analog games are beating digital games. Folks have given over $196 M to makers of traditional board and card games. Video games developers have received $179 M total. God loves grognards. more…


Assumptions abound of social media as echo-chambers resounding with the mob's group-think. Research from Psychological Science though finds many conversations developing across ideological divides and evidence of a democratic spirit that we may too readily dismiss. more…


Wired releases its list of seminal pop-culture. Some is suspect, but it does include The Wire, Arrested Development (show not band), and Chappelle's Show. more…


reddit banned in Russia over magic mushroom thread. The Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, can ban any website without a court ruling and got cheesed off this time over a thread titled “Minimum and reliable method of growing psilocybe”. more…


Privately funded company Tri Alpha Energy claims to have taken a significant step towards controlling nuclear fusion, controlling a 10 million degrees Celsius ball of hot gas for 5 milliseconds. In competition with huge research efforts by both France and the US, Tri Alpha Energy and similar smaller companies are researching machines and fuels that are cheaper and quicker to develop. more…


GitHub published a graph showing the rise of open-source programming languages. Java in particular has moved from behind geeks' closed doors to, well, everywhere. more…


Ongoing reddit poll about who is the "maestro of dialogue". No surprise Dutch Leonard is in the lead. With several mentions for Cormac McCarthy.