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Michelle Fredette & Chris Cowell - Eight hours to API literacy: a fast, fun on-ramp for writers

API the Docs Virtual Event Series 2020 Recap

This talk was presented at API The Docs Virtual 2020 event series on 24 June. We are glad to present the video recording, slide deck and talk summary below. Enjoy!

Visit our talk recaps ToC page for an overview of all presentations!

Michelle Fredette

Lead Product Language Writer at New Relic

Chris Cowell

Technical Trainer

Michelle & Chris's presentation


Michelle & Chris's slides

New Relic hired an external trainer to teach members of the Tech Docs and UX teams REST API documentation best practices.

Tthe team members already learnt about API reference writing through documenting them, and from classes aimed at engineers. Emphatic knowledge gaps appeared on a fundamental level.

Needs of techwriter- & UX team from training

  • Stronger footing in APIs
  • Run API calls and test them how they work
  • Need to uplevel skills in techwriter team fast
  • Confidence to write rich content (use cases, tasks), need deeper understanding of APIs
  • Toolchains and workflows matching needs of modern users


7 training principles

  1. Consider the audience: mixed background, typical techwriter level but not engineer --» explain technical topics more slowly, explicitly. Do not assume programming experience: Fine-tune to audience needs because training takes a lot of resources. Small class.

  2. Adjust agenda to student interest, address concepts.

  3. Ensure low-friction interactivity, but not command-performance: frequently scheduled breaks for questions.

  4. Liven up tech content: move out of technology often, with interesting and relevant examples.

  5. The 80/20 rule: teach the first 20%, and students can self-teach the rest if they meet it.

  6. Boundaries around content for beginners, to inspire and empower, to reduce impostor syndrome or paralysis from overwhelm.

  7. Multimodal learning: first learn. Then practice in frequent small labs. Then make students answer other students' questions, the act of explanation consolidates their own understanding.

How did the training affect their regular jobs a few months later

  • Higher confidence in discussions on:

    • what needed to be included in the API docs,
    • how their APIs work,
    • how their flavor of graphQL fits into the overall product landscape.
  • Being able to ask more directed, particular questions around the APIs they are documenting.

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