Jim Morton

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Technical Writing

In Skills, Technical Writing on March 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

You may be a good writer, but when it comes to writing technical manuals, much of what you’ve learned needs to be rethought. Technical manuals have their own sets of rules. These rules are well-known, and yet, too often I see manuals that ignore them. The most important thing to remember about manuals is that 99% of us don’t bother to open them until we have to. It is from this behavior that we get the acronym RTFM (Read the *bleep*ing manual). When people do turn to their manuals, they want all the information they need right there. For this reason there is no such thing as repetition in a technical manual. Treat every section as a complete entity. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve already explained something in Chapter 2, the reader isn’t looking for a narrative plot line. Like Sargent Joe Friday on Dragnet, they want “just the facts.”

Sometimes I am also called upon to illustrate manuals. The rules for this are the same as the rules for the text. There is no sin in repetition, If instructions in section 4 require several of the same images as section 2, there is no shame in reusing the images.

And by the way, here’s a tip for creating technical illustrations from photos. If you have to create several drawings of a piece of equipment, and you are working from photographs, put the camera on a tripod and lock it down. That way, the elements that don’t change from photo to photo only need to be drawn once.

Here is a link to a manual that I both wrote and illustrated: IW manual.


Trade Show Management

In Skills, Trade Shows on March 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm

In small-to-medium-sized companies, it is not uncommon for the marketing person to also handle trade show management. Even in a larger company, the Director of Marketing will work closely with the Trade Show Manager, making sure that the staff is on point when it comes to the company’s branding and any literature and promotional materials that are needed for the shows. In some ways, the smaller company approach is better because it makes the marketing person (or people) more aware of all the duties that are involved in this position (i.e., the logistics, hotel and plane reservations, staffing decisions, etc.). But in most cases, it is better to have a devoted Trade Show Manager. Although it may seem to anyone who has not had to do this job, that there are some months in which that person has little to do, in fact, handling trade shows for a company that attends more than two or three a year can be a full-time job. The biggest mistake that people make is in thinking that just because a trade show is six months away means that they don’t have to worry about it. In reality, six months away is darn close. If you don’t start worrying about the show before this, you may miss some substantial savings in “early bird” registration. For popular shows, such as the Comic Con in San Diego, the proper time to start registering for next year is the last day of the show. Although the early bird registration in this case lasts until the end of the year, if you put it off, you’ll find yourself without a booth space, not to mention a hotel room.

One of the best sources for information on all aspects of trade shows and trade show management, is Exhibitor Magazine. Here you’ll find ideas for sales tactics, interesting booth ideas, and—my personal favorite—a column devoted to how to fix things when disaster strikes.