Technical Writers @ Lisbon (April-2015, FCSH)

Looking back at what Technical Writers @ Lisbon has achieved in the last two years, we surprised ourselves with the interest and quality of the presentations at our formal events. However, only a handful of people attended each presentation, and few people attended all of them.

Professor Rute Costa accepted our challenge to reach new audiences, mostly by reusing old but good presentations, suitably updated. She invited us to talk to a mix of students at FCSH (the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the New University of Lisbon).

The multipurpose room 1 at the Research and Development building was practically filled to capacity, with over 40 people. The audience consisted of students of either Translation or Terminology Management, at different levels ranging from undergraduate to PhD candidate. Sadly, we failed to secure some photos.

As usual, the presenters were prepared to speak either in Portuguese or in English, depending on the needs of the audience. The decision to speak in Portuguese was made minutes before Rui started to talk.

The 5th Report The event started with Rute Costa welcoming everyone. Then, Joaquim Baptista briefly introduced the community Technical Writers @ Lisbon and explained how the attendees could intervene both by asking questions and by leaving comments in the public notes, which would be published in this report.

Rui Diogo Serra was the first speaker. As a product manager, he explained the complex processes used by Anubis Networks to develop and support its products, where different kinds of documentation play important roles.

Joaquim Baptista explained all the different tasks that a technical writer can do, actually a summary of the tasks he did during his work at Altitude Software. This vision forms the basis for his new consulting business.

Daniel Bofill explained the complexity of SISCOG products, especially their customization. He added details of the proposed project to systematize all documentation. The project was given the go ahead earlier in the same day.

We had several interesting questions after each presentation, although not the level of interaction previously seen in other formal events. Being the first presenter, Rui took most of the questions, enabling Joaquim and Daniel to tailor their presentations somewhat.

21 persons returned their public reports. The honesty of the comments is expected, and greatly appreciated. In fact, the main benefit for presenters is learning from the interaction. Again, the first presenter took most of the heat, while the last presenter got the most praise.

As promised, I created a 26-page report with the slides and the public comments from the audience. I also took the opportunity to answer some of the questions raised by the audience.

I would like to thank Rute Costa and all the attendees for their attention and their questions. We certainly felt welcome.

Comments by Joaquim Baptista

The public comments raised some interesting questions. I like the honesty of the public questions, and I will try to be equally honest in my public answers.

Don’t technical writers ever write in Portuguese?

Several comments criticize the slides in English, or the fact that presenters used some English terms. I was quite surprised. In fact, we decided to present in Portuguese in the last few minutes before the first presentation.

Lisbon has become a wonderfully multicultural city, and I have met many foreigners working or studying in Lisbon. Successful Portuguese companies typically import or export, and English is often the common language that enables such commerce. That has certainly been the case for Anubis Networks, Altitude Software, and SISCOG.

Even if your main skill is the Portuguese language, you still have to communicate with others. Your colleagues and partners are all over the world. Over the years, my own team at Altitude Software had people with very different backgrounds.

On the other hand, Sandra Fisher-Martins is trying to promote plain language in Portuguese through her company Português Claro. She deserves all our support.

How to train a technical writer?

I do not know any graduate or undergraduate course in Portugal on Technical Writing (or, more generally, Technical Communication). I know that Rosário Durão proposed a post-graduate certification program at FLUL that was approved. However, the course did not open.

FCSH has a masters course on Communicating Science. Several Universities have modules on Technical Communication, for example focused on writing reports.

At Altitude Software, I trained twenty persons over the years, using books, presentations, and coaching. The rhythm of learning depended on the opportunities for working in different projects. However, since new hires were learning both technical writing and Altitude Software products, it is hard to separate one learning curve from the other.

From my hiring experience graduates from Language and Literature generally lacked (years ago) the ability to articulate and write down complex ideas. However, I hired two persons with the right skills, coming from Translation and from English Literature (from an American University).

What is the relevance of terminology management?
Terminology management becomes more important when a company has several writers, especially when texts are translated. Technical editors will be in a position to care more about terminology, typically by taking care and enforcing a style guide.
Is a technical writer a (good) project manager?
A technical writer naturally develops a good understanding of several points of view, including the customer. That ability facilitates the communication required to lead a project to a good conclusion.
We would have to change our way of thinking…

I expect a University course to provide a solid background for a professional career. However, you should by no means expect the course to provide all necessary knowledge.

At the very least, the world is quickly evolving around us. It is very possible that your job five years from now has not been invented yet. So, learn to evolve over time. Learn to learn.

Also, try reading science fiction: you may be surprised on how useful it can be at making you consider different alternatives and viewpoints.

As an alternative, read anything by Tom Peters. He questions every assumption in his search for excellence, and offers amazing examples.

The invitation

Greetings to all technical writers, and to everyone interested in technical communication!

We will expand the goodness of this group to a new audience at FCSH, with a new format: a formal meeting that mostly reuses previous presentations.

Formal Meeting:

  • Wednesday, 22 April, between 18h00 and 21h00 (be sharp).
  • FCSH (Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas), building ID, floor 0, room “multiusos 1”.
  • Avenida de Berna, 26 — 1069-061 Lisboa.
Rui Diogo Serra, Anubis Networks
Rui presented his work at Anubis Networks on October-2013. Since then, Anubis Networks was bought by BitSight, an American company. Rui will update his presentation with fresh insights on working with his new American colleagues.
Daniel Bofill, SISCOG
Daniel presented his work at SISCOG on October-2013, and updated the presentation on May-2014. Daniel has been working on a business case to manage all SISCOG content centrally, and he will update his presentation accordingly.
Joaquim Baptista, consultant
Joaquim presented his work at Altitude Software on June-2013, and updated the presentation on May-2014. Joaquim has recently started an independent consulting business, and he will explain the skills that an experienced technical writer brings to the market.

The participation is free, but subject to room capacity.

Thanks to our sponsors for all the support: CLUNL (room), APCOMTEC (marketing), EuroSIGDOC. And special thanks to Prof. Rute Costa for welcoming this event.

— Joaquim Baptista, EuroSIGDOC vice-chair,

PS: Feel free to extend this invitation to friends and other interested parties. More interesting participants will improve the learning experience for everyone.

PPS: Note FameLab 2015, a friendly competition to communicate science topics to a global audience.

PPPS: Note that you enter the building directly from the street; you do not enter through the main gate of the campus. Security will be expecting us. If you are old enough, you may recall this entrance as being the “DRM” (Distrito de Recrutamento Militar de Lisboa). However, the building was renewed completely.

Old entrance to DRM


Technical Writers @ Lisbon: The 5th Report
Report of the meeting, including the slides of the presentations. 26 pages.