Write the Docs Vilnius 2019
Catherine Heath | June 6, 2019
I went to the first Write the Docs Vilnius, Lithuania. Attendees came together for a one-day conference of talks and a Writing Day. The conference took place in the University of Social Sciences, while I stayed in the breathtaking Old Town one hour's walk away.
The talks were extremely high quality. Topics included:
- Implementing a better review process for developer documentation
- Managing documentation for an open source community
- The problems and opportunities present in decentralized documentation for blockchain
- How to improve your product's microcopy for better user experience
- Writing technical content pitched at different audiences
- The problems of dealing with legacy documentation and how to stay sane
On Writing Day, my fellow freelance writer Deborah Barnard and I hosted a workshop for technical writers who are considering taking the plunge into freelancing. It was very successful, and we created an open source resource of materials.
Writing Day gives attendees the chance to contribute to different open source documentation projects. Other projects on offer included working on Rust documentation, as well as Write the Docs documentation.
There were many opportunities to network with fellow documentarians, as well as lots of activity in the Write the Docs Slack channel. Many people who attended the conference were first-time attendees at Write the Docs, and this was a good chance to get involved in a growing local community.
The lightning talks are 5 minutes long, and anyone at the conference can submit a proposal. Here are summaries of the lightning talks:
Returning to work
Returning to work after a long absence is like returning to a time machine. You've changed but your coworkers don't recognize that fact. The company culture has also changed while you were gone. You and your colleagues should get to know each other again.
This speaker was afraid to feel incompetent after her maternity leave. It's a strange feeling to be an inexperienced person and a novice again at the same company where you were once experienced.
Be flexible, patient, and open minded if you're going through this. Going to interviews at other companies when you return to work can help you evaluate yourself more objectively, and find out how other people view you.
The next speaker told a story about how important it is to be persistent. She used the example of an error on her TV license in Berlin, which meant that she and her partner would be paying double for their license.
The story involved going to the office to correct it, where they were reluctant to change the mistake. She recommends creating more of a situation for them to deal with than just solving the initial problem. If you feed the person who you want to help you the next physical step, this refocuses their attention away from their hidden motivations to the task at hand.
Get to know your readers
The next one was by a technical writer from St Petersburg, Russia, who talked about why you should get to know your readers. Many people haven't had direct contact with their users. If you don't understand your user, this leads to many problems – especially for customer support teams.
They included one question for their marketing team's CSAT survey, asking their customers how the team could improve their technical documentation. Customers came up with many suggestions, including video tutorials.
The speaker also recommended "conversation mining", which is going to product or community forums to study what they say about your product.
Docs for designers
Many designers work on their own. You're trained to be a solo creative and they struggle to collaborate. Universities still teach the process of creating something, and owning it exclusively by yourself. Design egos and the overall mentality of designers is an obstacle to getting things done.
The speaker recommended having docs for designers, and was interested in how products can be better communicated. We don't have any design tools currently that do pull requests. Designers have to exchange files with each other and talk directly.
Videos in documentation
Using videos in documentation is an important way to show users how to do something. Unfortunately, creating a video takes a lot of time, especially since small errors take a long time to correct.
The speaker recommended using GitHub to collaborate on documentation using messages and commits. Explain your task in written documentation first, and then link to the context to reproduce. Finally, record your documentation with screen recording software.
Help your technical writing team
The final speaker recommended using certain techniques to make life easier for your technical writing team. For example, you can ask one person to monitor product development-related tasks, and then communicate tasks to the rest of the team. Take it in shifts so no one ends up burning out.
One theme that emerged for me was the potential for technical communication to be at the intersection of many different disciplines. It's not just about communicating in a vacuum – it's about bringing together all user-focused disciplines including design, development, support, marketing, and more.
Write the Docs Vilnius was a valuable experience. Vilnius is such a gorgeous and characterful old city, and it was fantastic to explore what it has to offer. Vilnius is also a highly convenient location for many people travelling from eastern Europe and Russia.
We were proud to sponsor Write the Docs Vilnius 2019, and we're looking forward to attending another one in the future! Now, check out our write-up on Write the Docs Portland 2019.