A big thank-you to the very talented gardeners at my business, Shenouda Associates Inc., where we write all kinds of business and technical publications, including infographics like this.
Writing is like growing a garden. As we nurture the seedlings of ideas, the results we deliver are the product of a careful, methodical writing process that starts with understanding our readers’ needs and planning how to meet them.
At the start, we take a close look at the environment. We analyze the existing materials and start to picture the finished product. As the scope of work comes into focus, we map out how to move from the existing materials to the finished product. We consider how best to organize and format the deliverables. We assemble tools and break ground by creating a framework with outlines and templates. We sink our hands into the dirt, gather input from subject matter experts, and do our homework to understand the subject matter.
We place content into the right location and shape it into paragraphs, lists, tables, and other text elements. By leaving out whatever is not needed, we streamline ideas, showcasing the most important content and nurturing it to maturity.
We make sure that our creation matches our plans and feels like a balanced, unified whole. We check that the work is accurate and complete, minimizing distraction from jarring details.
As we walk through our garden, we confirm that it is easy to navigate. At harvest time, we publish our work, providing readers a bounty of new food for thought. Mature, published documents continue to grow and change with the seasons. We review and revise. We weed out what is no longer needed. We provide ongoing maintenance.
With the proper care, we allow our garden to grow.
Of course, we can do the same to support your writing needs.
For more information, visit Shenouda Associates Inc.
Tag Archives: publications
The reluctant writer
A long-time member of the Shenouda Associates Inc. team, Donna Muldoon shares her entry into the technical writing business. Reluctant or not, her writing skills are strong and solid, and her editing skills are impeccable. — Judy Shenouda
I am a reluctant writer.
From my first aptitude test in junior high to my last career counseling tests as an adult, I was told that I should be a writer. Even Mrs. C, my high school English teacher with the feared red pen, commented that I should be a journalist. But I always disliked writing. It was painful, a dreaded chore, whether it was a simple thank you note or a speech to be presented. Sometimes the words came easily, but other times, they wouldn’t come out of my pen no matter how soon that assignment was due.
But here I am—after 22 years as a technical writer—still reluctant to do any real writing. I’m defining real writing here as creative writing—the opposite of technical writing. For me, creative writing requires thought, imagination, attention-grabbing sentences, interesting characters, and maybe some human emotion. None of that is in my wheelhouse.
So, when a career counselor suggested that I consider technical writing, I needed more explanation as to what that entailed. The counselor set up a meeting with someone in the field, with the warning that this was not a job interview. With a business writing sample in hand and absolute certainty that no amount of information would convince me that writing was for me, I went to the meeting. The expert in the field turned out to be Judy Shenouda! Over the course of two hours, Judy explained the concepts of technical writing and showed me some examples. The sight of 200-page finished publications did not fill me with waves of excitement, anticipation, or confidence! But Judy made me an offer that very few people ever receive: I could try out working on a technical writing assignment for a month to see if I liked it. If Judy was willing to take a risk, there was nothing for me to lose.
The first 10 years, the next 10 years, and still counting
I tried out that job for 10 years, becoming the sole writer for one complex product that encompassed over 50 manuals, totaling more than 2,000 pages. In addition to becoming familiar with the product, I learned how to write using a controlled language, how to publish on FrameMaker, and how to build periodic CDs for the distribution of the manuals.
Skip ahead to now. Read More
A Year of Work, A Day of Rest
In the U.S. and Canada, Labor Day is a national holiday that’s celebrated on the first Monday in September. Though it was originally a way for laborers, workers, and unions to show their solidarity, it now typically signals the end of summer, the start of a new school year, and a day off to shop and take advantage of Labor Day sales. For me, this Labor Day is the perfect time to reflect on the work that Shenouda Associates Inc. has provided for the past 30 years, crafting technical, marketing, and business publications for our clients. Long-time Shenouda employee, Julia Ward, shares the wonders she worked in two recent projects.
Finding the right balance of detail
Challenge: A team at our client’s site that had been developing a complex medical device now needed to create an operator’s manual, which would be simple enough for first-time users and complete enough for those who were much more advanced. With input from all the team members, written in different styles, the source file included 200 dense, single-spaced pages. The team looked for guidance about how to make all this good information less intimidating and more approachable for our client’s customers.
Solution: The file grew even larger when Shenouda converted it to a user-friendly template with more headings and whitespace; then it started to shrink as we refined the text. Where possible, we simplified paragraphs into step-by-step procedures, tables, or graphics that could easily be skimmed. A Shenouda writer traveled cross-country to the client site to validate the steps in detail and to capture software screens and photos, both of which were later edited using Adobe Photoshop software. The more we learned, the more we were able to advocate for novice users and ask questions about gaps in the content, which resulted in Shenouda writing dozens of new pages.
Result: Although it ended up having about the same page count as the first draft, the final manual was more usable. Advanced users could skip the basics, and novices now had all the steps required to handle various situations that might arise in their work. Sometimes, as with this manual, a project requires both addition and subtraction to equal the right balance of detail.
Starting at the beginning
Challenge: While on the phone with less-than-happy customers whose products required repair, help desk agents quickly had to find the correct process to follow. Where did the customer live? Was the product new? What was its model? The help desk agents asked many questions from memory and then looked for the most appropriate Word file on their hard drive. Many steps in these long procedures overlapped. When managers changed the steps in one file, they couldn’t always remember to review and update all the related steps elsewhere.
Solution: Shenouda started where the help desk agents would: at the beginning. While converting the files to HTML and posting them on an Intranet site, we created a new Web page article (procedure) that would be the starting point for every call. From there, steps branched off to other linked articles, depending on the customer’s answers to questions.
Result: By editing to minimize inconsistency and repetition, we were able to make suggestions that streamlined the actual process steps, not just the way they were documented. Agents ended up with half as many processes, which were interlinked and organized in a more logical way. Managers had less work to do when maintaining content. Best of all, customers could have their concerns addressed more quickly, with consistency and confidence, resulting in a positive customer experience—good for the customer and great for our client.
We can help
Do you have a need for technical, marketing, or business publications that support your products, processes, and services? Tell us about it. We’re here to help!