I always welcome suggestions for Tips and am open to guest writers too.
Evolution of a Mac Tip
In 2001, when I started the general Mac Tips (for a few years before that I wrote tips for using Eudora on the Mac) I was providing training and support for Mac users in Wellington. I started the Tips when I realised I was often answering the same questions over and over.
These days I don’t offer support, but often hear about problems friends or family members are having, or see queries pass through mailing lists I belong to.
Each week I consider possible topics and pick one. Sometimes this can involve several days of pondering on ideas. A couple of times I’ve even managed to write a Tip only to find I’d already covered that topic months or years before.
Then the writing and research begins. Even for apparently simple Tips I need to go through the process before or during writing.
I make screenshots and sometimes movies. Occasionally I take photos. I always need to consider what content to include and what to leave out in any images. Sometimes I need to specially set things up to leave out information that’s irrelevant, distracting or potentially misleading. This is often the case where I’ve installed extra ‘stuff’ that most users won’t have.
Often I have to work through a process and then reset options so I can work through them again from the point of view of a new user. Sometimes I have to create a new personality or use fake details to protect privacy.
I think about what readers need to know before they can use my Tip. I decide whether the topic is complex enough or has sufficient depth to require coverage over several Tips.
I also think about whether the Tip is practical and may be of use to readers whose level of Mac expertise may be limited or not very advanced.
Then I write the Tip. I check names of menu items and button choices. I sort out the sequence. I write and rewrite, checking I have all the steps. I consider what I must include and what I may need to leave out. I investigate what happens if…
I read through what I’ve written looking for spelling errors and grammar problems. I tidy up the text, refining a word here, a sentence there, resequencing thoughts if I think it makes things clearer.
If I have screenshots or photos I need to process them. I may obscure details, crop out unwanted portions, resize and optimise. I upload them to the web gallery and add captions and titles.
Movies are trickier and more time consuming as I have to narrate the action, and add highlights to make it easy for viewers to follow what’s happening.
After writing the Tip in plain text I code it into HTML and add it to the Mac Tips Archive. That creates a permalink that I then add to the plain text version and as a note on the images included in that Tip.
On a good day a single Tip may take me a couple of hours. On an ‘average’ day it’s more like 3 or 4 hours. And sometimes, as recently where a Tip fell apart right at the end (#350), it may take me all day. For that particular Tip I ended up buying a new thumb drive purely so I could complete the Tip — my makeshift use of a compact flash card I had lying around just didn’t work out.
After publication I occasionally receive feedback on a Tip. Sporadically comments appear on items in the Archive, and occasionally people email me directly. I much prefer comments in the Archive where others can see them and join in the conversation.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s very satisfying, knowing that a little effort on my part can help others enjoy their Macs and be more productive.
Seven years! Wow!