7 things I’ve come to peace with as a content creator

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I’ve spent my career as a content creator, starting as a technical writer, then as a freelancer, and currently in marketing. Time has given me a thick skin, lessons learned, and the ability to separate my passion for writing from the realities of corporate America.

Here are some things I’ve come to peace with during my career as a content creator:

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In defense of kindness in the editorial review cycle

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

I took an interest in editorial reviews early in my career. That interest drove me to become a technical reviewer in the computer book industry for several years. I’m not sure they even have that role anymore. At the least publishers may not pay for that review anymore. Sitting through curt and incomplete document reviews made me take those extra steps because there had to be a better way. 

Fast forward to today, I’m a stickler for kindness in the editorial review cycle:

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Avoiding Mission Impossible technical writing projects

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I’ve had the great fortune in my career to work on some very tough projects — in what I like to call documentation unfriendly environments — and won some and lost others but learned so much about technology and how to work independently as a technical writer.

Before I accepted my current position, I had the opportunity to speak to an organization which has what I quickly came to ascertain what could be a “Mission Impossible” documentation project where there would be more chances for things to go wrong than there was to go right.

After speaking to the recruiter who set up the meeting for me, I began to think how had I won the mission impossible projects versus being “the previous technical writer.” Keys to success include:

Strong technical team

A strong technical team — not to write the documents mind you — but like it or not the IT industry is peppered by a lot of smart people and a lot more people who think they are smarter than they are. If you have genuinely knowledgeable and capable people in the critical technical roles, then half your battle for extracting technical information is won in my experience. If the wrong people are in critical roles, the holes and gaps that sometimes happen in technical documentation can expose the shortcomings.

Proper technical writer/developer relationships

Relationship with the technical team where you as the technical writer isn’t an unnecessary drag on personnel or other resources. Technical writers who need their hand held or can’t work independently are only going to be set up to fail when it comes to a mission impossible project.

Product management and developer collaboration

Strong product management and technical team cooperation and communications. If Product Requirements Documents (PRDs) or stories are just being thrown over the transit without much dialog between product management and the senior members of the technical team, then the hijinks can ensue.

Access to test environments

Access to test systems and the bug tracking system because reverse engineering of technical documentation does often occur especially if the document efforts begin well into the development lifecycle.
Reality vs. vaporware can also come into play on such document projects. If for some reason, you are continually denied access to the system, don’t take it personally, but be on guard that the product may in whole or part not exist except for visions in an executive’s mind.

What are your keys to success on “mission impossible” documentation projects?


My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

Building the better technical editing and QA cycle

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It’s rare when I don’t hear complaints about the technical editing and reviewing of documents and the QA cycle in general. It’s unfortunate because building a document QA process that’s supportable and replicable

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when building a technical editing and QA cycle for your documents:

Establish standards and styles

Technical editing is about standards — you need to put some document writing standards and styles in place if even informally. Writing a style guide can be a major commitment.

Set expectations for document reviews

I always recommend that organizations set expectations for technical editing and reviews. With today’s harried schedules, my recommendation is an iterative review cycle. Just give your reviewers expectations for the document at the end of each review pass.

Manage and use document templates

Microsoft Word documents can be both a boon and a drag on productivity. I recommend that you and your team both manage and use document templates for all your documentation. Managing templates includes documenting the styles writers should use; being responsive to any template issues, and promoting proper template usage.

Use document versioning and workflow

Use Microsoft SharePoint or some other online collaboration platform for document versioning and workflow adds security and transparency over the process that sending email back and forth cannot touch. You can always roll back documents to a previous version.

Have the editors use the technology

Anybody you task to edit your technical documentation needs to use the technology. Nothing can go further to discredit the technical editing of a document than changing the meaning of technical content and the out and out introduction of technical inaccuracies. While this may not always be feasible, being hands-on with technology is one thing I strongly recommend for all technical publications people because it helps them be more self-sufficient among other things.

Instill the importance of technical accuracy

Somewhere along the line, the myth that technical writers and editors don’t need to be technical somehow began to perpetuate itself. This tale is just not practical and wrong on so many levels especially in today’s down economy where all project team members have to carry their weight and then some.

Attention to technical accuracy throughout all phases of the technical editing and quality assurance process means no last-minute rush of having to edit where the editor has changed the technical meaning.

Develop a constructive dialog between editors and writers

Technical communications is a team effort whether it is publishing a user guide, technical article, and about any technical content. Neither the writer or editor is the last bastion of quality (or at least they shouldn’t be), so it is prudent to foster a constructive dialog during a technical editing and QA cycle.

Questions back and forth between the editor and the writer are a good thing. You want them to resolve issues upfront that leads to changes in technical accuracy in the document.

Manage and take ownership of the process. Locking a technical document up in an endless review cycle doesn’t do the document or the team any good. Build a transparent process that is easy for all participants to follow does wonders for putting out a quality document.


My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.