“We approached Craig Wright of Straygoat Writing Services to improve the availability and quality of documentation to support internal processes and customers alike. We had worked with him before and have been really pleased with his ability and professionalism. He helped us by producing reference and user documentation to support marketing, sales, production and installation for our new range of Coolflow and Smartset products.
I really liked his ability to work well with both 4energy employees and external contractors in a manner which complemented the engineering team and found the experience very positive. I would recommend Craig and Straygoat to any business that requires a professional and very capable technical author.”
Pat Tindale, Chief Executive Officer, 4energy Ltd.
“Craig Wright managed the entire documentation work stream at 4Energy from brochures, though to user manuals and installation guides. Craig combined professionalism with a conversational style in his writing that engaged the reader, often of subject matter that was both complicated and dry, but always managing to make it interesting and accessible.”
“Craig’s ability to converse with technical staff and illicit the finer points of the subject was excellent and combined with his attention to detail meant that nothing was left un-said or ambiguous in the text. He headed our documentation development team and was responsible for other people’s work, wrestling with managing our Confluence document management system and providing the sign-off for production of the final materials. All of which he achieved with great aplomb. Also, his background in SCADA was particularly useful in not only documenting what SMARTset does, but helping to steer its functionality to fit with industry trends.”
Steve O’Hara, Chief Information Officer, 4Energy Ltd.
From Manufacturing Process Documentation to Software Documentation
In 2012, I was hired by 4Energy as a technical author. Initially, my brief was to create documentation for the manufacturing process of their CoolFlow 2.0 free-air cooling product, but I ended up doing a whole lot more:
- Documented the manufacturing process for shop-floor staff in the UK and abroad (MS Word)
- Created the documentation workflow and document release procedures
- Produced installation training documentation for the COOLflow product in data cabins (MS Word)
- Wrote the installation manual for 4energy’s proprietary controller device (MS Word)
- Created a user guide for a cooling system installed in a data centre in Derby (MS Word)
- Produced wiki-style online help for SMARTset software (Confluence)
- Designed and wrote training presentations for SMARTset software (PowerPoint).
As you can see, I can turn my hand to a wide range of end-user documentation, including manuals, user guides, process instructions, and training material. I can also write marketing documentation to promote your products and services too.
Technical Writer for Software (SMARTset)
SMARTset is 4energy’s SCADA SaaS (Software as a Service) solution that is delivered to customers via the web (cloud service). I was hired to create wiki-style documentation using Atlassian Confluence. To begin with, I worked alone, but then, when the workload increased, another technical writer was brought in to help, and I acted as the lead.
It was clear from the start that the software was going to change a lot, as there were on-going changes to the UI and lots of new features being added on a regular basis. Bearing this in mind, I looked at ways of re-using content so that single changes to the software, such as a field name being altered, would also mean a single change to the documentation, rather than needed a project-wide find-and-replace. Confluence only has 1 macro for re-using content and it is very limited (can only use once per page), but I managed to find a multi-excerpt plug-in that allows a page to contain lots of re-used content. (Although it didn’t work as advertised, which resulted in a switch from Confluence Cloud to Confluence Server).
The approach I took to the content was to:
- Use ‘chatty’ language and tone. The subject matter can become quite technical and there is a fair amount of industry jargon that has to be used, so it was important to limit that as much as possible and to keep the content as accessible as possible.
- Incorporate a dash of copywriting, particularly in conceptual sections. It was important to make the content engaging, so I used marketing techniques to promote the benefits of features in introductory sections. This helps to give users the context of when and why they would use certain features, and also creates a positive impression of the product.
- Provide complete information, not just ‘how to’. It is important that customers understand the key principles of the software and understand the relationships between different items in the database – if they know this, they will be able to get up and running far more quickly. So the documentation explains not just ‘how to’, but also ‘when to’, ‘why’, ‘what happens if you do/don’t’, etc.
At times, it was challenging to get the structure of the content to remain user-friendly while also fitting in with the various modules of the product. But we got there in the end.
My work on the project included:
- Explaining the key database items in SMARTset and how they relate to real-world hardware and sites
- Creating ‘how to’ procedures for creating and editing database items
- Describing the various information ‘widgets’
- Producing documentation on the alarms and controls module, which included conceptual information, tutorials, and examples
- Creating training material in PowerPoint, to be used by trainers
- User testing (part and parcel of the job – if I find a bug or can suggest an improvement, it’s time to raise a JIRA ticket).
Is your product a SaaS? Do you need a technical author to work on your software documentation (SCADA or other)? Then please get in touch – I have a wealth of experience working as a software technical writer and can make sure your online help, wikis, and user guides hit the spot.
Technical Writer for Data Center and Cooling Hardware
Do you need a technical writer with experience of data centre or cooling products? Then I might be just the man for your job. Working for 4energy, I created Word-based user guides for:
- The manufacturing process for free-cooling products
- The installation process for free-cooling and hybrid cooling products
- End-user documentation for an entire cooling system solution installed in a telecommunications data centre in Derby
- Installation documentation for a cooling system controller
- End-user documentation for a cooling system controller.
For these projects, it was vital that the processes and instructions were 100% accurate, as in some cases there was the potential for electrocution and serious damage to very expensive equipment. As with my technical writing for software, I created each section of the guides as ‘stand-alone’ with cross-references to related sections. Although some of the sections would most likely be used from ‘front to back’, it soon became clear that users, particularly UK engineers, would dip in and out of the guides. They would be using the manuals as reminders to supplement their training and past experience, but in other countries, the manuals could be the main source of information. I also wanted to future-proof the content a little, as I expected that at some stage, the content would move to online documentation, and so a topic-based approach would work best.
Working with the product designers and engineers, I created documentation that was easy to understand, unambiguous, and structured in a logical way. As there were going to be users of different levels of education and technical ability, as well as users who only speak English as a second language, it was important that the language was simple, with short sentences. The hardware documentation also needed to provide conceptual information and context as well as task-based instructions – the emphasis was on helping users learn, not just follow steps parrot-fashion. The idea was that the more they understand the principles of the product, the more capable they would be at dealing with unforeseen problems, such as incorrect fixings being supplied or obstructions being in place on site.