Word of the Year 2021 – VACCINE!

Jeanette Evans (co-editor of this newsletter) challenged me to write an article for the January newsletter about the ‘word of the year’.  A little research revealed that the one word used excessively this year was, ta da! = vaccine. 

I’m sure it was easy enough for anyone to guess.  However, how was I to write an article of interest that would serve and interest all you great technical writers out there about such a word?

My first approach was to research the history of vaccines. That was quite fascinating and revealed a new perspective on the development of technical writing over time.  Lots of initial documentation about vaccines was, as you would expect, filled with inconsistencies, speculation, conjecture and opinion, and typically was poorly organised.  And that proved enlightening, as you can see for yourself (11 mins and 14 sec):

 

From YouTube: The Untold Story of the First Vaccine by SciShow (11 mins 14 sec)

 

Too bad we didn’t have some skilled technical writers back then to document these early discoveries.  It would have saved heaps of time and so many lives!

After that, I came up with another idea to represent some of the goals technical writers strive for when they write, represented by the letters of the word vaccine.  I hope you find it a good read. 

V

Value and quality for money

Sometimes I wonder about the amount of time it takes to craft a technical document or any genre and how few people (who are not writers appreciate the thinking, strategizing and rewriting time it takes to ensure that the topic is covered well.  ‘Selling’ our achievements is easy to struggle with if you keep your head down and just write.  In the New Year, take time to promote the amazing value of your ‘products’ and achievements.

A

Accurate

Technical writers are NOT writers of fiction.  They are not ‘casual’ writers who write blog articles or romance short stories for the latest edition of Elle or Glamour.  Our work must be precise and totally accurate because lives and livelihoods depend on our words. 

What a great feeling to know that what you are accomplishing with the ‘simple’ tools of ‘just’ words — can change lives — and even the way a business or government acts in good times and in times of challenge and emergency.

C

Concise, common sense and creative

This first ‘C’ really got me thinking about how we use words in such a common-sense way.  That takes so much creativity and insight and most think technical writing is all angles.  Technical Writers might be the most creative of all writers of all because we know how to make the most mundane and unappealing bit of information glow off the paper, so it empowers and inspires the reader to take action safely.  Most of all, we do all of this in the fewest words imaginable!

C

Confidence building

This is probably my key promise when I am writing technical documents.  If those who read our documents find ‘friction-delaying’ phrases, awkward arrangement of words or a plethora (I always wanted to use that word somewhere!) of jargon or acronyms — confidence is out the window.  All the ‘Cs’ above are meaningless if the reader has to struggle around looking for a dictionary or fire up Google to understand what you wrote!

I

Ignorance

Much like creativity, our ignorance drives insight and innovation that is a natural gift (my opinion) as we unpack the mystery of any new topic from asteroids to zebras.  We have the ability to see a topic fresh and unjaded — a vision of the forest and the trees within it.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as unravelling how something actually works or how a process or work instruction must be structured if it is going to be effective for the newest person on the job.  You know the one…they draw the short straw and are left alone over the Christmas holidays to run the department — with no one else to call for help. 

This compassionate attention to detail takes careful thought (and time).  It also takes having a ‘feel’ and understanding of those who will read and use the documents – and in what context and conditions. 

N

Neutral

As you have already seen in reading this far in the article, I am NOT neutral about the wonders of technical writers and all they do.  Yet, they do have the ability to write in a detached, unbiased and factual way that remains neutral of opinion.  This grows to be an increasingly lost art that we retain and let’s keep it that way!

E

Easy to understand and action

We never write to obfuscate the unfolding of actions or information because we know and appreciate the importance of ensuring people can act from the clarity of our writing.  The documents we deliver are meant to eliminate ‘reading friction’, which is designed to save readers time, save organisations time and money … and sometimes even lives.

Best wishes for 2022

I hope you enjoyed last year and join me in hoping that as this New Year unfolds that it holds abundant opportunities for satisfying personal and professional achievements — and that 2022 results in a better word to write about!  

Cheers!  Darlene Richard