Business development technical writing Work life

Adding value through technical communications

Those within technical communications have long argued that product documentation provides significant value in terms of customer satisfaction and ongoing savings in customer support and service.

A new investigation, by leading US business researchers The Aberdeen Group, gives strong support to this view, and those who tend to view documentation simply as a cost centre are likely to be losing out to competitors.

Aberdeen’s analysis of data gathered from 165 participating companies demonstrates that the contribution of good product documentation and technical communications to enterprise profitability is far more significant than many realise and, when leveraged effectively, stands to contribute as much as a 42% increase in customer satisfaction and an associated 45% increase in product revenue.

Aberdeen’s research found that as a result of their simultaneous focus on operational efficiency and documentation quality, Best-in-Class companies were able to realize significant customer-facing value through technical communications, including:

  • 41% decrease in volume of inbound calls to customer support
  • 42% decrease in time to resolution with customer support
  • 41% increase in customer satisfaction score

Aberdeen’s data clearly indicates that Best-in-Class performers have found the means to leverage technical communications to influence customers’ experiences with a marked impact on business profitability, and that whilst all too often regarded as a cost centre, technical communications and documentation are actually key profit generators.

The report identifies key factors used by the ‘Best-in-Class’ companies to maximise the performance of technical communications, such as:

  • Commit to reusing content
  • Measure the operational performance of technical communications
  • Capture customer feedback
  • Increase the personalization of documentation, customizing documentation to specific customer orders and needs
  • Engage and educate customers with rich media – for example, interactivity to enable the customer to control progress through training or documentation

Factors which I suspect this blog will be returning to in the future.

‘Technical Communications as a Profit Center’, David Houlihan, The Aberdeen Group, September 2009, Boston, Ma.

Free access to the report is available via this link to Technical Communications as a Profit Center (until 27 November 2009).

Books Uncategorized


Heading south, and just time to note this, from  Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski, fresh in my bag. Opening the book, this wonderful quote from Seneca:

I am like one of those old books that ends up mouldering for lack of having been read. There’s nothing to do but spin out the thread of memory and, from time to time, wipe away the dust buiding up there.

two thousand years just melt away. Feeling lighter already.

Life Poetry Uncategorized


There’s an argument, and a good one, that we are becoming swamped by anniversaries. But we are still living with this defining moment of the first decade of the new millenium, and it looks like we’ll be living with it for a long while yet.
What’s left to say about it? I have chosen a poem, by Wislawa Szymborska which, although
although the event described varies in the particular, brilliantly succeeds in evoking the chilling aspect of

There’s an argument, and a persuasive one, that we are becoming swamped by anniversaries. But we are still living with the aftermath of this defining moment of the first decade of the new millenium, with no clear end in sight.

I’m writing this at the same time as, eight years ago, I had stopped work, transfixed by the pictures unfolding on the TV; that day when out of the same clear sky everything was suddenly different.

What’s left to say? What needs to be said. For which I have chosen a poem by Wislawa Szymborska. Although the action it describes is tellingly different in one key aspect, I know of no other piece of writing that more brilliantly captures the chilling randomness inherent in acts of terror, and cuts through to the humanity of its victims. Read The Terrorist, He’s Watching.

Books Language Poetry Uncategorized

50 up

We have just published the 50th issue of Tears in the Fence, magazine of poetry and prose.

Published 3 times a year, we have editorial bases in England, France, Australia and the USA and subscribers around the world. David Caddy is the Editor, with associates Sarah Hopkins and Tom Chivers; I am responsible for the design and production.

At 164 pages, the 50th issue is the largest yet and features poetry and fiction by, amongst many others, Elizabeth Cook, John Welch, John Kinsella, Peter Riley, Sarah Connor, Alexis Lykiard, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Todd Swift, Rupert M Loydell, Lucy Lepchani, Jeremy Reed, Juliet Cook, Adam Horovitz, Gerald Locklin, Lynne Wycherley, Donna Hilbert, Martin Stannard and Iain Sinclair.

There is also a ‘hand’ from Loose Packed by Lee Harwood and John Hall. Loose Packed is a set of 52 related fragments, with no fixed order for their reading. They are planned for publication as a pack of playing cards by Acts of Language,  and have been exhibited in 52 different 6 x 4 inch frames, in four differently coloured suits.

Here’s a bit from ‘Take Stock Now…’ in the latest TITF:

Under a vast sky

This restless house

That road

(these tiny objects)

Things to cling on to

For more information and subscriptions, see (and join) Tears in the Fence on Facebook.

50th issue celebration

To celebrate the 50th issue there is a free event on Saturday 5th September, 3.00pm – 8.00pm at The Bell, Middlesex Street, London E1 7EX.

Confirmed readers include Elizabeth Cook, Brian Hinton, George Ttoouli, Sarah Hopkins, Todd Swift, Ian Brinton, Hannah Silva, Vahni Capildeo, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, James Wilkes, Tom Chivers, David Caddy.

This event is in association with Penned in the Margins.

Life Uncategorized

On walking

Well, that was different. Trying to combine as many tasks and
‘things to do’ into one visit to Bomo, and trying to remeber to
take all the things I needed, I left home without my walking stick.
I only discovered it when I parked the car, got out, and reached
for the stick. No stick. Walking felt weird, but I only had a short
way to go to the nearby cafe for a small (as it turned out)
networking meeting. I immediately launched into telling two people,
who I had never met, how weird it felt walking without my stick.
They looked at me… quizzically. Then found a way to change the
Next, it was on to my shoe man (even he doesn’t call himself a
cobbler; where have all the cobblers gone?) who is situated in what
can only be described as the scuzzier end of town, next to a sex
shop (he increased the number of Baptist and other religious
leaflets on his counter after the sex shop opened) and opposite a
car showroom which used to be full of exclusive, high end marques
but now stocks the kind of second hand motor that has clearly had
more than one previous lady owner, who was not that careful a
driver either. Sign of the times I guess.
Anyway, I digress. He is the best adaptor of shoes that I’ve ever
found. Despite the fact that he himself has no legs. (Yes. It’s
when I first found his shop we got chatting and I was telling him I
experienced a fair degree of pain after walking. He advised having
the leg off; “Best thing I ever did,” he maintained. And indeed he
is looking fairly sprightly at the moment. But, happily, I didn’t
take his advice. My problem – by that time – was not medical, but
simply down to the fact that my shoe was raised to the wrong level,
using the wrong material (which made the shoe very heavy). After
finding Sole and Heel Care, the problem was solved.
My pair of boots deposited for repair I returned to the centre of
town to try a bit more walking. Weird. That’s the only word for it.
But not without appeal, especially having two hands free to flick
through the books in Borders. Hey, you guys may be on to something.

Well, that was different. Trying to combine as many tasks and ‘things to do’ into one visit to Bomo, and trying to remember to take all the things I needed, I left home without my walking stick.

I only discovered it when I parked the car, got out, and reached for the stick. No stick. Walking felt strange; like something was missing, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what.  I only had a short way to go to the nearby cafe for what turned out to be a very select networking meeting, and straight away launched into telling two people, who I had never met before, how weird it felt walking without a stick. They looked at me… quizzically.

Next, it was on to my shoe man (even he doesn’t call himself a cobbler; where have all the cobblers gone?) who is situated in the more, er, downbeat end of town, next to a sex shop (he increased the number of Baptist and other religious leaflets on his counter after the sex shop opened) and opposite a car showroom which used to be full of exclusive, high end stuff but now stocks the kind of second hand motor that has clearly had more than one previous owner, and not a particularly careful one at that.

Anyway, he is the best adaptor of shoes that I’ve ever found. When I first found his shop* we got chatting and I was telling him I was experiencing a fair degree of pain. He advised having the leg off; “Best thing I ever did,” he maintained. And he didn’t stop at one; he had both off.

Happily, I didn’t take his advice. My problem – by that time – was not medical, but simply down to the fact that my shoe was raised to the wrong level, using the wrong material. After finding Sole and Heel Care, the problem was solved. Amazing the difference someone who knows what they’re doing can make.

My boots deposited for repair I returned to the centre of town to try a bit more walking. Weird. That’s the only word for it. But not without appeal, especially having two hands free to flick through the books in Borders. Hey, you guys may be on to something.

*Sole and Heel Care, 333a Holdenhurst Road, 01202 309430

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk…


It was 40 years ago today … I remember the excitement and the grainy black and white ‘ultrasound’ from another planet as Armstrong emerged from the lunar module. Buzz Aldrin took this photo (above) of his own footprint. And unlike a footprint in the dust and sand on Earth, with no wind to blow them away, the first human prints on the moon can last for a million years.

Just months earlier:

Earthrise, the first picture of the earth, taken by the Apollo 8 crew from the far side of moon, December 24 1968

“Tiefer, tiefer, irgendwo in der Tiefe gibt es ein Licht”

(remember Hounds of Love (?) Hello Earth – “deeper, deeper, somewhere in the depth there is a light.”)

Possibly bizarrely, what comes to my mind as a feat of similar beauty and daring is Philippe Petit’s walk between the twin towers. This, a footprint in air, and as evanescent – but unforgettable as a perfect gesture, and in the extraordinary series of images of the event.

Moonlight slanting by Matsuo Basho
Moonlight slanting
Through the bamboo grove;
A cuckoo crying.

Life Philosophy


A C Grayling is amusing and sharp, as a writer and philosopher. His ‘This much I know’ in the Observer last Sunday was witty and thought-provoking. Here are a couple of the best:

A human lifespan is less than a thousand months long. You need to make some time to think how to live it.

I recently retraced on foot a famous journey that William Hazlitt made from Shropshire to Somerset to visit Wordsworth and Coleridge. I spent two weeks slogging through nettle beds before I realised the bastard had taken the coach.

Life is all about relationships. By all means sit cross-legged on top of a mountain occasionally. But don’t do it for very long.

OK, three. Read more here.


Cod psychology

You will feel more strongly about the dangers of over-fishing after you have seen Greta Scacchi, naked, with a cod.

You see. It’s true! Now join the campaign at the end of the line.

PS Enjoyed the headline at the Adelaide News – ‘Greta nudes up to save fish’

PPS Is Rankin a great portrait photographer? Be convinced at rankin portraits

blogging Life

The revolution will not be televised

But is bursting with the power of a thousand suns across the internet

The Ayatollah Khomenei returned to Iran in February 1979 on a chartered Air France 747 –  the seventies equivalent of the sealed train in which Lenin travelled from Zurich to the Finland Station (St Petersburg) in April 1917.

And while Tehran erupts, Ahmadinejad visits… Moscow.

Books Life

Proust and Joyce meet, 18th May 1922

The two greatest novelists of the 20th century met only once. At a supper party at the Hotel Majestic in Paris on May 18th 1922 given by the rich Englishman Sydney Schiff and his wife Violet.

The party, at which Stravinsky and  Picasso were also guests, was held to celebrate the first night of Stavinsky’s Renard with choreography by Nijinska.

Unfortunately things did not work out quite as might have been hoped.

Joyce arrived late, drunk and inappropriately dressed. “Joyce complained of his eyes, Proust of his stomach. Did M. Joyce like truffles? He did. Had he met the Duchesse de X? He had not. ‘I regret that I do not know M. Joyce’s work,’ remarked Proust. ‘I have never read M. Proust,’ Joyce [lied] …  ‘If only we’d been allowed to meet and have a talk somewhere,’ remarked Joyce sadly afterwards.”

In July/August, Sydney Schiff tried to organise for Proust to sit for a portrait drawing by Picasso. Sadly, nothing came of the project. Proust died later that year on 18 November 1922, aged 51.


Marcel Proust











Sources: John Richardson’s biography of Picasso and George Painter’s biography of Proust

Life Music

Helen Yorke recital, May 30th in Dorchester

I have mentioned Helen Yorke’s recitals a while ago in this blog and am pleased to say she has another, larger event coming up, this time at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester on May 30th.

Here she will be accompanied by Tom Randle, tenor. They will play music by Bernstein (excerpts from West Side Story), Duke Ellington, Quilter, as well as solo piano – pieces by Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

Helen  is a truly exceptional pianist. She has given piano recitals worldwide and worked with American singer Renee Fleming for over a decade. She presently teaches at Trinity College, London and at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Tom Randle made his debut as Tamino for ENO, and since then has enjoyed critical success with many of the world’s leading opera houses and orchestras.

Tickets are  £12 each, with interval refreshments provided. Reserve your ticket, call 01305 264038 or email Helen directly

Life Music

Keith Richards

There is a fabulous photo of Keith Richards in today’s Guardian, which has the most beautiful colours and which gives a real sense of the journey, written in his time-worn, uncompromising features, from young blues enthusiast to old bluesman. The picture of a rock ‘n’ roller who tracked the history of the music to its source:

[photograph: PR] 

Read the article here. Though not exactly full of new information, it does highlight one of the most important cultural/historical features of the Stones’ early visits to the US, in their music and in their insistence on having the early bluesmen on their TV shows as guests, that of bringing to the attention of Americans – particularly of White America – their own, ignored musical heritage.

I think we just thought it was our job to pay back, to give them what they’ve given us. They’ve given us the music and the friendship, and let’s stand up, be men, and give them a blues, and it went to No 1. Mr Howlin’ Wolf, he didn’t mind at all. It was maybe a moment of bravado, in retrospect, but it worked. We have been blessed by the music that we listened to, and let’s see if we can actually spin it back around and make American white kids listen to Little Red Rooster. You had it all the time, pal, you know. You just didn’t listen.

We’re all listening now: where is the article placed? In the culture section. Roll over Beethoven!

Books Life

Love in the Dark Country

I was just checking something for a new project and came across this wonderful poem on Clive James’s website.

It’s by Kapka Kassabova, a poet I have never read before, but this poem is so beautiful I am immediately writing this because you absolutely, positively must read it. WITHOUT DELAY.

Born in Bulgaria in 1973 and domiciled in Auckland, Kapka Kassabova (I read) is now based in Edinburgh, when not roaming the world. Her main collection of poetry is Someone Else’s Life, published in Britain by Bloodaxe and in New Zealand by the Auckland University Press. 

Now … read the poem!

Books Design

On beauty

In his review of Roger Scruton’s new book, On Beauty, Sebastian Smee (in the Observer last weekend) begins with a wonderful quote from Updike (see earlier post) that, for most men, a naked woman is the most beautiful thing they will ever see. He continues:

He (Updike) didn’t say it was so for all men, nor did he venture an opinion on whether the reverse held for women. But the proposition, so bluntly delivered – as if centuries of hair-splitting philosophy and frenetic sublimation could be swept aside with one cheerfully ingenuous sentence – has always struck me as hard to refute.

just testing …


He ends with another excellent quote, this time from art critic Peter Schjeldahl (no, me neither, but clearly worth seeking out if the rest of his writing is this good):

Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is. Beauty presents a stone wall to the thinking mind. But to the incarnate mind – deferential to the buzzing and gurgling body – beauty is as fluid, clear, and shining as an Indian summer afternoon.

Why am I taliking about this now? Because I am one of the (dwindling, to the mounting fears of the newspaper industry) people who paid £2 to read the article, by actually buying the paper, as opposed to reading it online for free (here!) – as Robert McCrum points out on page 24 of the same edition (22.03). And I finally found where I had put the Review section, and am only now reading it, on this sunny spring lunchtime, with a glass of wine. Well, not with an actual glass of wine, sadly. That bit’s virtual.

Whilst to my mind there are few objects more beautiful or satisfying than a well-designed (and well-written) book, I’m looking forward to the London Book Fair and the opportunity to see what digital readers are like. The cross-referencing possibilities are exciting, as well as the possibility of always having just the book you want with you, but the thought of empty bookshelves and no more leafing through pages is, well, disconcerting to say the least.

Moreover, without the urgency and finality of a print deadline, will books ever get finished? With the relative contingency and malleability of digital, will all works become, to a greater or lesser extent, ongoing …? Unfinished, until – the final deadline that none of us can dodge. 

But back in the here and now, I’m getting really excited that the moment of truth is closing in on one of my current book design projects. This is the cover design, which contains one small detail that will change before the print version. 

Now, where’s that glass of wine.

Books Life

“Live all you can;

it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?”

from The Ambassadors by Henry James

I am not a great Henry James fan, and had not come across this quote until a request for help for an essay subject from Kate got me googling.

As it happens, the book I was just reading, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, simply by listing a random array of possibilities, brilliantly captures all that can be wonderful as a parent, and what can be missed. And that it’s often the seemingly small, inconsequential things in life that really count in the end.

Their father had never taken them to the open-air pool on Jesus Green, played rousing games of Snap or Donkey, never tossed them in the air or caught them or pushed them on a swing, had never taken them punting on the river or walking on the Fens or on educational trips to the Fitzwilliam.

Case Histories is a strange combination of the jolly and the terrible that somehow works. With a light touch and decptively simple, short sentences Atkinson illuminates both the terrors and joys of life, brilliantly interweaving the viewpoints of narrator and character, often within a single paragraph. And the message (to use a crude phrase), perhaps the same message of all art (?) – 

Live all you can, it’s a mistake not to.

Business development Life

On being different

A couple of exceptional programmes on radio four last week, the first being David Walliams on Desert Island Discs. This is a fantastic format – who hasn’t fantasised about being the guest? Whilst over the years it has gone through phases of being fairly anodyne, now, with Kirsty Young, it makes compelling listening. It’s amazing how she gets her guests to open up.

Each week is practically a masterclass in establishing empathy and conducting an interview. Never more so than with her justly celebrated interview with David Walliams last week, who gave us an extraordinary insight into his life – what it is, being him. I was about to give a link to listen again, but find you can’t listen again. So don’t miss Richard Madeley next week.

But one programme you can listen again to, and I urge you to do so, is the Woman’s Hour interview with Catherine W Hill, which I heard completely by chance driving to a meeting.

A truly remarkable person who survived Auschwitz and went on to become, as Radio 4 puts it,  the ‘doyenne of Canadian style’ championing designers such as  Versace and Armani in her influential boutique ‘Chez Catherine.’

Asked what made her successful, she replied

‘You have to have the right product, you have to fall in love with it, you have to enjoy it and you have to give something … the most important thing a person can have is empathy, and curiosity … When I opened the store I never thought about how much money I might make, I thought about what can I achieve? How can I be different?

I am looking forward to reading her book, which is in draft at the moment, titled, brilliantly,  ‘Dressing The Wound.’

As it happens, being different was also one of the topics in media life coach Joanne Mallon’s newsletter last week:

When you are in business for yourself, it stands to reason that you will be passionate about what you do. Otherwise you’d go and do something much easier like get a real job, right?

Sometimes it can be a short sharp thunk in the head to realise that not everyone shares your passion. And when it comes to media interviews, really no one cares about what you do. They care about the results. They’re interested in your story – where does that passion come from? What differentiates you from everyone else in the same business as you? Why did you choose that particular niche instead of another one?

Hone in on what it is that makes you different, and you are on your way to discovering what makes you news.

Happily here, now, in the west we are in a place where difference can (generally) be celebrated. What’s different is what makes us news – but in a good way.

Catherine Hill trod a fine line when she gave in to the impulse to tear a strip from the bottom of her camp uniform and wear it as a scarf. It made her stand out: a risky business in Aushwitz, that brought her to the attention of the prison guards. As it happened, the action probably saved her life, but it could so easily have been different.

Which (almost) connects with today’s news story that MI5 kept the enigmatic and brilliant photographer Lee Miller under surveillance for 15 years, and a good excuse (if one were needed) to feature one of my favourite photographs – of Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Munich 1945:

Read article by Antony Penrose, her son, in the timesonline here

The photo can be seen in larger format at

blogging Life Work life

On being remarkable

Well I told you this blog is bang up to the minute. Following various links (now a tangled web of forgotten steps floating in cyberspace) I came upon – ‘found’ wouldn’t be the right word; I wasn’t looking for it – a blog post from Seth Godin on ‘Why bother having a resume?

Topical in the current climate, but actually written back in March 2008, so almost a year ago. How some things endure. Even today. Actually, his words have become ever more relevant.

A resume, he argues, de facto defines you as unremarkable. It positions you as ‘just more fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be fine for average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?’

If you need a resume, you don’t have a reputation that precedes you; or extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows and respects; or … ‘a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up.’

Ah, so I’ll be OK after all!

In her comment on Seth’s post (yes, me and Seth go way back; or should that be Seth and I?) eSoup takes up the challenge and raises the bar just that bit higher, translating his comments into a list of things to do:

1) Create a blog that is so captivating, so ingenious, so clever, so compelling and so insightful that your potential clients feel a thrill of anticipation at the thought of meeting the person behind the blog.

Dear Reader, feel the thrill and do it anyway. Do get in touch; I know you want to.

PS I’ve just read Seth’s post for today, February 24th, where he celebrates his 3,000th blog post. That is a mighty achievement, especially given the frequency of posting and consistent quality. Seth Godin, this new blogger salutes you.