In a 2015 TWi post, Neil Donovan explored the music that writers at TWi listen to when we work. While music and white noise remain popular soundtracks to our focused work, the audio landscape in 2020 has changed dramatically. With such a rich and varied podcast landscape out there to explore, an attempt to describe the listening habits of the TWi staff would cover a range of subjects from MMA to MMORPGs, and everything in between. But what are some of the better technical writing podcasts that we’ve come across in recent years? In no particular order:
- Writers of Silicon Valley
- The Content Strategy Podcast
- The Cherryleaf Podcast
- The Content Strategy Experts
- Write the Docs Podcast
- I’d Rather Be Writing
…while an honourable mention must go to Wireframe.
Writers of Silicon Valley
Writers of Silicon Valley is a podcast “about UX writers, content strategists and anyone who uses their words to make beautiful…experiences”. Presenter Patrick Stafford has built an entire ecosystem around the concept, including links to sites, resources, courses, and other facilities for writers and aspiring writers.
A major selling point is Stafford’s access to the eponymous Silicon Valley writers. These professionals, educators, and innovators make for useful and instructive listening. Laudably, he doesn’t gloss over the industry’s problems, such as the difficulty of convincing people that good writing is a necessary aspect of product development.
Writers of Silicon Valley follows an interview format, which brings lots of different perspectives. Episode 5 concerns UX writing for the fashion industry. Guest Dr Annie Adams – an expert with a PhD in nuclear weapons, of all things – discusses how writing can open doors and tells us how she’s used writing to pursue varied interests. Other guests include chatbot experts, writers for Uber, payroll experts Square, and assorted industry heavyweights.
Even though the subject matter of technical and UX writing can be a little dense (one of the podcasts is even titled “Good UX Writing Should Be Boring”), the presentation is generally casual and conversational. It’s full of useful information and a wide array of perspectives. Writers of Silicon Valley is a good way to get a feel for the sheer range of backgrounds from which people find themselves drawn to technical and UX writing.
The Content Strategy Podcast
Our next selection, The Content Strategy Podcast, is wider in scope, with an impressive back catalogue. Presenter Kristina Halvorson is a natural, and her easy-going style makes it easy to follow along. She’s very laid-back and likeable, and her enthusiasm for creating high-quality content shines through.
Halvorson assembles an impressive smorgasbord of writers who approach their art from different perspectives, such as academics from Harvard, business owners, publishers, content strategist thought leaders, data scientists, linguists, SEO wunderkinds, and more.
Highlights include former mutual bugbears turned enthusiastic collaborators Chris Corak and Rebekah Baggs, who took a unified approach to ‘human-centred’ SEO and UX strategy after butting heads with one another professionally; Ahava Leibtag, who has an infectious passion for and is a constant advocate of plain language in arenas traditionally full of jargon, such as medicine and law; and Lou Rosenfeld, a library scientist (a rare breed) and hugely experienced information architect who’s been an industry stalwart for decades as an expert on the past, present, and future of technical writing, content strategy, and UX writing.
Of note is the podcast’s website, which contains, unusually, full transcripts of every interview, along with the more usual resources such as bios, suggestions for further reading or listening, and reference notes for each episode.
The Cherryleaf Podcast
Established in 2017, The Cherryleaf Podcast is hosted by Ellis Pratt, who is a stalwart of the UK technical writing scene. As Pratt explains, this podcast was originally intended to share content from conferences, such as presentations and chats with delegates. However, over time it’s evolved to cover conference reports, interviews, and both short- and longer-form monologues from the host.
The interviewee list is an impressive who’s who of technical communication. A recent highlight is a conversation with Yvonne Cleary from the University of Limerick’s department of Technical Communication and Instructional Design.
The Cherryleaf Podcast has a very consistent back catalogue, with a lot of useful content for experienced technical writers in particular. Pratt has an incredible depth of knowledge, and the conference reviews and reports provide a great insight for anyone who couldn’t attend the events in person. Even if you only have a passing interest in technical writing, you’ll find a lot of interesting content, in a format that’s easy to consume. Episodes usually range in length from 15 to 45 minutes.
The Content Strategy Experts
Scriptorium’s The Content Strategy Experts podcast gives us short, accessible audio, optimised for a lunchtime break, a quick stroll, or those little ‘autopilot’ 15-minute tasks which can be an ideal time for distracting yourself.
One of our favourite episodes is Episode 58, which discusses the thorny issue of unifying the disparate content of two (or more) companies after a merger or a corporate takeover.
Unlike most other podcasts in this list, The Content Strategy Experts isn’t an interview-based format, and doesn’t have a regular presenter. It favours a double-header approach, with two experts in conversation each week. The contributors come from a large panel, and you’ll hear a lot of familiar voices popping up repeatedly if you listen regularly. This approach works very well to present a broad range of perspectives and presentation styles.
Write the Docs Podcast
Part podcast, part webcast, part YouTube series, Write the Docs is a useful resource which covers a wide range of topics and makes good use of disseminated learning and presentation. Its main host, Jared Morgan, is an experienced, product-oriented tech writer with a galaxy of great connections, and is an evangelist for online presence in all its forms.
Write the Docs is one of the most wide-ranging tech writing podcasts available, and covers far more than its primary focus of software documentation. Topics up for discussion include Git repositories, static site generators, chatbots, team leadership, and more. Contributors include AI experts, computer scientists, programmers, writers, software engineers, and lecturers, who’re knowledgeable and generally entertaining and easy to listen to. Each episode features a new contributor.
The Write the Docs website is also well worth a look. Each of the contributors has a section with links to their bios, their publications, websites, other podcasts, and specialities. You can spend hours burrowing your way through their varied interests.
I’d Rather Be Writing
A firm favourite here in TWi, I’d Rather Be Writing has an enormous back catalogue covering an impressive spread of topics. Perennial host Tom Johnson, a writer with Amazon, has had his finger on the pulse for nearly two decades, and his knowledge and nose for trends make this a remarkable record. Johnson’s soft-spoken, laid-back style complements the material perfectly, and hour-long commutes and ten-minute lulls are catered for equally.
I’d Rather Be Writing’s pedigree stretches all the way back to 2006. In those early days, it became a valuable record of the changeover from print to digital media, with interviewees whose careers began at the end of the 20th century and who lived through the shift to our current paradigm. Their perspectives are invaluable for anyone who wants to know more about the context in which we work as we head into the third decade of the 2000s.
Johnson explores ways to ensure that you and your clients can get the best from one another. The episode “How to motivate users to provide feedback: Show that you’re listening to their input” is a great ten-minute refresher course in keeping your clients alongside you as you work for them. A Write The Docs crossover on structured writing is also well worth a listen.
The podcast’s back catalogue provides invaluable snapshots of the changing digital landscape, including some fascinating early thoughts on subjects that we tend to think of as more relevant to the end of the twenty-teens.
We couldn’t write this post without a mention of Wireframe. Hosted by Adobe’s principal designer Khoi Vinh, it’s not a podcast about writing per se, but covers plenty of territory that technical writers will find familiar. Wireframe addresses topics like the ethics of good design, covering questions like “What do we want an augmented reality world to look like?” and “What’s the difference between accessibility and designing inclusively?”.
Its episodes are generally easily digestible 20-minute affairs, rarely stretching even to the half-hour mark, but Vinh and his industry-leading guests use their time exceptionally well. If you’re interested in the potential future of technical writing and content design, in all its many forms, you’ll find plenty of food for thought here.
…did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.