• June 24, 2019

W&A Bi-Monthly Newsletter, June 2019: Sure, I can help with that

  • By: Bonnie Bryan Denham

    I often talk about what Technical Writers do, but not much about what one does NOT do. This is because I believe that a Technical Writer should be ready and willing to help their team in any way they can; and, why not make use of all your Technical Writer’s numerous competencies and skill sets?
    This got me thinking about some of the more interesting tasks I’ve been asked to assist with over the years, and I decided to poll some of the W&A team as well in writing this article:

    What is one of the more interesting, out of the ordinary tasks you’ve assisted with as a Technical Writer?

    James: “I was once asked to document some training courses that ranged from Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) training to overhead crane and hoist operator training. I knew that the best way for me to understand the process, and thus create internal training materials from the content, was to get my hands dirty and take the courses right alongside the mechanics. This led to some interesting fringe benefits, like becoming a certified, card-carrying Lokring™ installer.

    Gabe: “Resumes. I’ve been asked to help with a lot of resumes.”

    Chelsea: “Though I started supporting my current client years ago as a Technical Writer, I am now doing the work of a systems engineer by inputting technical content (requirements) into a central database that will be viewable / sortable by the entire organization upon completion. While my systems engineering work is being done behind the scenes, it’s all part of a larger effort to digitize requirements and transition to a zero documents organization. Pretty cool.”

    John: “I’ve edited more SPE papers than I can count. I’ve also edited college application letters.”
    Personally, one memory in particular stands out regarding a more interesting request. It came from a thermal engineer at the Johnson Space Center while I was still just an intern there.

    I called around asking different manufacturers for information about their batteries – capacity, voltage, temperature range, ability to be connected to other energy sources (wind, etc.), size… I was to analyze the collected information and compare it to the set of requirements I had been given; the battery would need to be suitable for incorporation into the wing of a small space vehicle. I was laughed at while speaking to what was probably the eighth manufacturer I had called that morning as he informed me that, based on my requirements, the battery would be as big as a two-story house. As I thanked him and hung up, I suddenly realized that the joke was on me. NASA humor…

    As you can imagine, a lot of opportunity for growth is present in the role of a Technical Writer; we assist with such a wide array of tasks and end up wearing a lot of hats. It’s hard to find a title that encompasses everything we do. We learn so many new things and sometimes even go as far as transitioning from the role of a Technical Writer to other roles. I believe such transitions, along with all the outside-the-norm requests for support, indicate a great deal of trust and respect from our clients regarding our capabilities. Be it making copies or working on a deepwater well program, you can count on us to say, “Sure, I can help with that.”

    What a Day Reducing Office NPT Looks Like

    By: Bonnie Bryan Denham

    These days my day starts at 9am, because at 8am I’m still dueling it out with my 3-year old over what she will wear to pre-school, and a 3-year old is impervious to attempts to reduce Non-Productive Time (NPT).

    At 9am, I arrive to the client’s office, dock my laptop, and open up Outlook to check for new email.  Right about that time the new team member that’s just transferred back from Australia pops in to my office.  Except it’s actually a cubicle.  But it’s a big cubicle.  He asks how to book a conference room in an Outlook meeting invite and checks my screen, scanning my Outlook ribbon for anything that stands out as different from his. I explain that the room-booking tool is a plug-in that he needs to download, and I recommend that he also download the Outlook plug-ins for MS OneNote and WebEx, an online meeting tool.

    Back to reviewing new emails, I notice that there’s a new one in the “External” folder that everyone in the company was mandated to create, along with the Outlook rule that sends every email coming in from sources external to the company into this External folder so that possible phishing attempts are more easily identified.

    Next, I open up MS Teams and look for new chatter from any of the several international projects I support.  Soon, one team will be ready for me to edit and format a group of documents going out for review by the leadership, ensuring that I incorporate all “global changes” they agreed to going back to the start of the project, such as adding a space before and after a slash mark “/”, ensuring that they used “Conceptual Site Model” instead of “Site Conceptual Model,” among many others.

    Then, I open up MS OneNote, select the notebook I share with my supervisor, and click the “Find Tags” button to pull together a list of to-do’s assigned to me from various knowledge management efforts. I check Workplace® by Facebook to see if there are any new people requesting access to one of our four Communities of Practice (CoPs). I look up their titles to make sure they have a business need to join, approve their requests, add them to an email distribution list, and add them to a members list on the CoPs’ SharePoint sites.

    Now I pick up where I left off yesterday processing and analyzing a year’s worth of data that was collected around the CoP sites – who visited and which pages they visited, whether they were a member of the CoP or not, which business units and countries they were from, what content they downloaded, among other technical data. My supervisor wants to measure the effectiveness of the CoPs in their mission to connect people and content. He says, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  “Big data” is the “new big thing.” Currently, my dataset is in MS Excel. It began as a data-dump all run together on a single tab. Yikes. Thankfully, with macros and formulas inside of formulas, I can split out the data very quickly.  Microsoft’s Power BI (BI stands for Business Intelligence) app in Office 365 makes analyzing it a breeze.  In a month, the CoPs will be migrated to SharePoint Online where we will be able to audit data like this much easier, and without Excel.

    Speaking of data migration, I remember that the OneNote notebook I share with my supervisor is still sitting on a shared drive. It’s time to take the leap into full cloud computing by migrating this last item. My supervisor has been hesitant to try it sooner.

    I migrate the files to our SharePoint Online site and update the sync location in OneNote.  Flawless.  My supervisor says, for probably the hundredth time, that he owes me pizza. I’ve never received a piece of pizza yet.  I happily look over the three notebooks I have open in OneNote – the shared one that is now coming in from SharePoint Online, a second that is linked to my OneDrive online, and the third that comes in through an external Office365 cloud that I use for my J. Wilson & Associates notes.  It feels good to be linked and synced, especially when I can get all this information on the go using the OneNote app on my smartphone.

    Around 11am my manager swings by and asks if I have time to cleanup a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). “Of course,” I reply. The answer will never be “no.”  The cleanup involves putting the content into the company template, editing for the usual suspects, and ensuring clarity of message, consistency, and organization.  I ask when he needs it back.  “Can you have it done by early next week sometime?”  (It’s only Monday.) This response always pulls at my heartstrings and makes me wonder about his bad experiences from Technical Writers past. “I’ll get it back to you later today,” I reply.  The facial expression of a weight being lifted is all the thanks I need, despite promises of pizza.

    After lunch, I meet with someone I refer to as the “SharePoint guru.”  He’s got all the permissions. I work with him to add a form to a SharePoint page I created for one of the projects I support.  When someone fills out the form, different workflows will be triggered based on the submitter’s selections. We automate fields to save the submitter time, such as the user’s name and the date of the submittal. Notification emails with hyperlinks will get sent to the appropriate reviewer, with a confirmation email sent to the submitter.  Efficiency, and especially automation, make me happy.  After some testing, the form is ready for use.

    When I get back to my desk, I have a new email waiting. A manager in one of the California offices has asked me to upload a bunch of that team’s files to SharePoint Online.  I drop the files into the corresponding project and use “Quick Edit” to quickly and easily add metadata to all the files at the same time.  With Quick Edit, applying metadata (or, document properties) is as easy as dragging the contents of a cell down in Excel to apply to others in a column or row.  I let the manager know that I’m done.  “How do you do that so fast?” he asks. “Practice,” I reply.  Using technology and knowing the intricate, time-saving processes in programs contribute to how this is really done.

    Around 1pm I start editing and formatting the SOP. I send it back to the author around 3pm, and pick back up where I left off processing, analyzing, and summarizing (translating to meaningful information) analytics from our CoP sites.  An hour later I get a knock on my cube and look up to see a team member from down the hall.  He asks to show me something on his computer that he’s trying to do with an asset inventory in Excel.  He shows me, and I quickly determine that he wants a data validation (this is a fancy term for a drop-down list). I show him the steps, and then tell him to just shoot the file over to me and I’ll get the sheet fixed up for him. On my way back to my desk, I hear another shout for help coming from my manager’s office. In this case it’s an actual office, but with glass doors. “Technical Writer to the rescue!” I exclaim upon arrival.

    A lot of Office NPT is reduced simply by being present to assist with software process questions and to facilitate and smooth the use of time-saving technologies. This keeps teams on track and allows them to stay focused on the important stuff. While they work on improving operating efficiency in the field, I improve their operating efficiency in the office.

    Tips & Tricks

    SharePoint Online Site Analytics

    You go to a lot of work creating SharePoint sites and libraries, uploading and tagging files, and managing permissions, but is your site being accessed? Are people viewing the content you loaded? Follow the steps in this Tip / Trick to find out.

    Tip: Analytics aid in determining things like the value of your site, which content is consumed the most, and which content is not consumed at all. Having such data at your fingertips allows you to learn more about your user’s needs and focus your efforts.

    SharePoint Online (SPO) site usage data provides information on:

    • Number of unique viewers over time
    • Number of site visits over time
    • Which files have the most unique viewers
    • Which files are viewed most
    • When files were modified, by whom, and where those files are located

    Be aware that you may not have permissions required to view this data. You may need to check with your IT rep. to see if access can be granted, and to make sure that analytics are enabled on your site.


    1. Go to the SPO webpage where you want to view the site’s usage data.

    2. Click the settings sprocket in the upper right-hand corner of the page (see Figure 1).

    Fig. 1


    3. If present in the list, click “Site usage.” If that option does not appear, click “Site contents” (see Figure 1), and then click on the “Site usage” button toward the top of the screen (see Figure 2).

    Fig. 2

    4. Manipulate the data shown based on your needs by clicking on either “Unique viewers” or “Site visits” and then clicking on “Last 7 days,” “Last 30 days,” or “Last 90 days.”

    5. Next, scroll down to see “Most unique viewers,” “Most viewed” files, and which files were modified, when, and by whom.

    • Click on the “Information” icon (a lowercase “i” with a circle around it) to the right of “Unique viewers” and “Site visits” for more detailed information about the data represented in those counts.

    Notes: If you are not seeing any of these options when you click on the settings sprocket, you may not have permissions required to view this data. You may need to check with your IT rep. to see if access can be granted, and to make sure that analytics are enabled on the site.

    Get more Tips & Tricks in the online archive on our website as they are added with each new newsletter.