Write the Docs 2018

Had an amazing experience at the 2018 WriteTheDocs conference in Portland, OR, last week. This was the first time I’ve been able to attend the conference, although I’ve followed it for years. While you can watch the formal talks from this, and previous, conferences on YouTube, it really is nothing like attending in person. What you don’t get to experience from the excellent YouTube videos, that is literally tangible in person during the conference, is the supportive sense of camaraderie, support, and acceptance from the participants.

The talks were a collection of first-person testimonials and experience reports by experienced and practicing (well, except for me, perhaps) technical writers and managers. The talks all had a practical focus and tangible, practical takeaways that the audience could take with them and put to work on the job.

Bottom line, if you are a technical writer and can go to only one conference a year, I recommend this one quite highly.

The downside to the conference is ther are too many places to be at once. In addition to the formal talks in the ballroom, a parallel “unconference” and job fair took place simultaneously in a smaller room below the ballroom. To complicate matters further, there were all the people I knew from the WriteTheDocs Slack to meet in person.

For some more comments and observations…

The Talks

User research and documentation testing were featured in the first two talks, which I thought started the conference off on the right foot. Both had to do with the collecting user data to inform and improve the documentation.
• https://youtu.be/_HCmFvxxKaQ
• https://youtu.be/aCNbVf9Id5Y

Career guidance was a topic that several talks featured. How to succeed in your career and how to prepare your portfolio to move forward in your career.
• https://youtu.be/3cXpf0Okmi8
• https://youtu.be/-lHKnF2EPd8

Several talks focused on documentation planning and managing your life on the job. Neal Kaplan gave some tips on triaging your to-do list and yours truly summarized the secret to successful documentation.
• https://youtu.be/2EzIe-3LBwQ
• https://youtu.be/ax_6cS3JHvY

Beth Aitman gave a great talk on how she helped encourage others to contribute documentation and the talented political cartoonist, Steve Steglin, provided us with a lot of options and alternatives to including screenshots in the documentation.
• https://youtu.be/eOC6rsizIvM
• https://youtu.be/a6iAmLul4Gg

I still have some more videos to review as couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. One distraction was an unconference on documentation metrics and what other documentarians were doing and what they wanted to do to collect feedback from readers.


While it is encouraging to see the interest in these topics, it is also frustrating to see how little the technology has advanced to formalize the collection and analysis of this data. The  efforts are still largely unstructured, ad-hoc, and unconventional. It would be nice to see more shared tools and methods for help-content authors so they don’t have to re-invent the analytics wheel on every project.
I’ve been working out and refining my Audience, Market, Product presentation since about 2009, in various forms. It’s still coming together and it was interesting to see what resonated from the talk by reading the tweets from the audience.

This was the first time I spoke to an audience that large, and it was the first time I had it live tweeted back to me, indirectly. Both experiences provide me with some great feedback to work back into the next revision of the talk.

The good news is that if you missed it in Portland, you can catch it in Cincinnati in August, or, if you are in Europe, Prague in Sept. and down under in Australia, this November. Visit WriteTheDocs for details. The bad news is my travel plans for the next couple of years means I’ll have to enjoy them via YouTube and Twitter.

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