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.

Perfect instructions

They were every technical writer’s holy grail: the perfect instructions.

In October 2018, Ernest Fribjer, a technical writer at Techcomm-R-Us in Dayton, Ohio, received an assignment to write instructions for updating CRM records in SalesForce. A few weeks later, without warning, a series of screams emanated from Fribjer’s cubicle.

“Woo-hoo! I did it! I did it!” Then, gales of maniacal laughter, followed by a thud.

task_topic_crime

Original image source: oxygenxml.com

Other Techcomm-R-Us writers raced to the scene. They found Fribjer slumped over his desk, a blissful smile on his face.

As one colleague started CPR, the other glanced at the computer monitor alongside. “Eeee!” she screamed. “It’s perfect! Perfect!” Pirouetting into the narrow corridor, she stumbled and sprawled onto the floor.

The Dayton medical examiner later found that both writers had died from unalloyed happiness. The perfect instructions had claimed their first victims. Continue reading

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Recommended: Dreyer’s English

dreyers_english_cover(Subtitle: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style)

If you wanted to rewrite Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style — and who hasn’t wanted to do that? — what would it look like?

Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief at Random House, tried his hand, and the result is a New York Times bestseller. If you write for work or for fun, you’ll love it.

Dreyer’s English is partly a style guide — there are handy, easy-to-reference chapters on, among other things, punctuation, foreign words, and proper nouns — and partly a platform for Dreyer’s witty and well-crafted prose. It’s a 21st century S&W, but with less pomposity and more snark.

Dreyer dispenses much of his wit in footnotes, which leads me to my only criticism of the book. Continue reading

They didn’t start the fire

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

You probably recognize the opening lines from Billy Joel’s 1989 song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Images of news, sports, and pop culture from Joel’s lifetime flash by in a steady montage. Joel was saying that his generation — my generation — didn’t mess things up because, well, things were already a mess when we got here.

We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning.

climate_protest_london

Climate protest: London (New York Times)

But in the 30 years since then, our generation has done nothing to put the fire out. If anything, we’ve thrown on more logs than any generation before us.

I thought about that on Friday when young people around the world filled the streets, demanding action on climate change. Your inaction is destroying the planet, they said, and today’s young people will bear the cost. Continue reading

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

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