Author Archives: Larry Kunz

About Larry Kunz

I’m a technical communication professional with more than 35 years’ experience as a writer, manager, planner, and information designer. In my job at Extreme Networks in Raleigh, NC, I create content for customers and business partners. I'm also part of a team that's always looking for ways to make our content more valuable for our company and our customers. I teach a course in project management in the Technical Communication certificate program at Duke University. I’ve also developed and delivered courses in structured authoring to internal staff and corporate clients. I’ll be happy to speak at your next event, either in person or over the web, about Tech Comm or any related subject.

Our identity and our future as technical communicators

I like to say, at the beginning of every new year, welcome to the future.

2019, a brand new space with freshly waxed floors and newly painted walls, awaits our arrival. As we enter in, let’s look around for a moment. Let’s think about what we’ll make of the new year.

Our day in the sun

Start with the 2018 STC Summit, where keynote speaker Carla Johnson called technical communicators “the linchpin between people, information, and technology.”

pencil drawing a bridge between two cliffs

Bridging the gap (Source: eurodiaconia.org)

We’re uniquely positioned, Johnson said, to help our companies succeed by influencing the way they interact with customers and prospects. All because we bridge the gap between, on the one hand, products and technologies, and on the other hand, voice, branding, and messaging.

Pretty heady stuff! If Johnson is right, we technical communicators are about to have our day in the sun. Soon everyone in the organization will look up to us.

Back to earth

Yet, at the same time… Continue reading

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The biggest stories

What’s the biggest news story of your lifetime?

Neil Armstrong on the moon

Has it really been 50 years? (Photo Source: NASA)

For me, two stories have stood above the rest. While both of them took years to play out, they both, by coincidence, culminated in years that ended with 9:

  • On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. When the Apollo 11 crew returned safely to earth, it fulfilled a goal set by President John F. Kennedy eight years earlier.
  • On November 9, 1989, crowds of Germans danced on top of the Berlin Wall — the death rattle for Communist domination of Eastern Europe.

Two more stories

Recently, however, I’ve added two more stories to my list. I wonder if either one will see a turning point, or even a culmination, in this 9 year.

  • The earth’s climate is warming, and people are suffering the effects. Almost everyone in the scientific community agrees that the warming is caused by human activity, and that unless we quickly change [our energy consumption], the disastrous effects will be irreversible.
  • In Europe and the United States, right-wing nationalist leaders, preying on people’s fears and sowing division, are consolidating power and threatening to turn democracies into authoritarian states.
Fire in Paradise, California

Paradise, California – November 2018. Will climate change end up being the top news story of the 21st century? (Photo Source: NBC News)

I don’t know whether either story will end happily, as my first two stories did. But I know that happy endings are possible only if we, the people, demand openness and truth from those who hold economic and political power.

I think we all know the truth about climate change. But because so many powerful people pretend not to know, or simply don’t care, we risk doing grave damage to the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit.

Would-be authoritarian leaders, of course, consolidate power by distorting the truth: by gaslighting, and by suppressing facts they deem to be inconvenient. They get away with it when we, the people, don’t call them to account.

Truth: worth fighting for

For years, I’ve said and written that truth is absolute, that it’s a cornerstone of a free society, and that it’s worth fighting for.

But, to my dismay, I’ve seen that a lot of people simply don’t care about truth. I’m not talking now about the would-be dictators. I’m talking about ordinary citizens who simply shrug their shoulders, comfortable to live in ignorance.

Whether you believe in making New Year’s resolutions or not, I hope that in this 9 year you’ll resolve to speak up for truth and, if necessary, fight to defend it. I have.

Your guide to defending the truth

Time cover showing journalists around a tableYou’ve probably heard it by now: Time magazine bestowed its annual Person of the Year award on the Guardians in the war on truth. The award honors Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, the staff of the Capital Gazette, 5 of whom were gunned down in their office, and other journalists who light a lamp in the darkness.

But defending the truth isn’t just for journalists. You and I, the consumers of content, have a part to play too. As I’ve written, we keep the light shining by

This past Monday, Joy Mayer, director of a research project called Trusting News, posted her own list of ways to, as she puts it, repair trust in journalism.

Mayer does a good job of amplifying my points and adding fresh insights. Continue reading

Architecting value

A month ago, I got a new job title: Information Architect. I maintain my company’s content infrastructure, training and supporting a writing team that has, through mergers and acquisitions, tripled in size over the last 18 months. I also look to the future, defining strategic goals and figuring out how to achieve them.

In describing my new beat, I told the writing team that I have two priorities:

  • Help the team do their jobs as effectively as possible — by listening to them, by training them in both tools and concepts, and by fixing problems
  • Position our documentation products to provide value to the company and its customers

crane with architectural plansWhat does that look like in real life? Well, the first priority is pretty much what you’d expect. If I’m listening to the team, I know where they need training and guidance. And I try to be responsive when someone has a problem. (I also rely on a couple of colleagues who can also step in and troubleshoot when needed.)

The second priority, for me, is the crux of my job. But, paradoxically, it’s a lot harder to envision. Continue reading

Into our reader’s world

You’ve parachuted onto a random stretch of road. You could be anywhere in the world. How quickly can you figure out where you are?

That’s the idea behind GeoGuessr, a web game that’s occupied some — ahem, too much — of my time lately. You might find yourself on a muddy road outside an Eastern European village, a lonely highway in West Texas, or a scenic drive on the Isle of Skye. (For that one, I guessed New Zealand — exactly halfway around the world. Zero points!)

Technical writers are used to this. We parachute into our reader’s world, and we do whatever we can to orient ourselves. We try to understand their work environment, their background, and anything else that helps us communicate with them.

geoguessr_screenshot.png

A rocky coastline. A car driving on the right. Are you on Vancouver Island? Almost: you’re on the Olympic Peninsula, and that’s Vancouver Island in the distance. (Screen shot from GeoGuessr)

In GeoGuessr, you use whatever clues you can find. The game is based on Google Street view, so you can move back and forth, explore intersecting roads, and zoom in on your surroundings.

You’re looking for clues in topography, road signs (Do you recognize the language? Place names?), vegetation (Tropical? Subarctic?) — anything that would suggest or disqualify a particular location.

As technical writers, we look for clues to orient ourselves to the reader’s world. Continue reading

What’s your type? A guide for the modern professional

Once upon a time, if someone wanted to know you better, they asked for your sign. Libra. Sagittarius. Whatever.

Later, Myers-Briggs types had their day in the sun. You proudly told everyone you were an INTJ. Or an ESFP. (I told people I’m an ESPN: I watch a lot of sports.)

Today, you can use technical documentation types to let others know what makes you tick.

You don’t even have to be a technical writer to play.

You’re a policies and procedures manual if your ducks are always in a row. People might say you’re rigid. But there’s never a situation in which you don’t know exactly what to do.

You’re a chatbot if you accost everyone you meet with “Hi! Thanks for using the sidewalk today!” Your real name is Philomena, but you tell people it’s Amy.

You’re a sales brochure if you’re the flashiest, most flamboyant person at the party. If someone’s looking for depth, however, they’ll have to look elsewhere. Continue reading