One of the trickiest parts about writing tech articles is figuring out the best way to explain beginner-level tasks, for which we can’t assume the reader is familiar with proper terms and seemingly obvious steps. In trying to work around that problem, I’ve found that the best solution is often to approach the task from a completely different angle.
Take, for example, the task of browsing to a specific folder. I can give the folder’s location in the article, but in a piece targeted at a beginner, I can’t assume the reader knows what to do with it. Advanced users on the subject would inherently know to paste the location in the address bar of another open folder, but how to explain that? “What open folder? Where?” asks the reader. If I instead use the proper name Windows Explorer (or File Explorer, as Windows 8 prefers), I’m always afraid the reader’s going to end up in Internet Explorer, since most people never encounter the name “Explorer” elsewhere. So to avoid the whole problem, I’ve taken to using a totally different path, instructing readers: “Press ‘Windows-R’ to open the Run window, and paste … ” At first glance, it might seem like an odd method to use, but I’ve actually come to prefer the speed of that method in my own day-to-day use.
Another wrinkle in the process is that, if your computer is anything like mine, your system and browser setups are nothing like those of an average user. I primarily browse in Firefox and have dozens of extensions, including one that reverts the whole program to the pre-Australis interface (Classic Theme Restorer, if you’re interested). With so many tweaks, I’ve had to be careful when writing anything about Firefox. The best solution here — especially for screenshot articles — is to create a separate profile to use when testing any article.
Making a new profile is simple if you use Chrome: Just press Add Person in the settings, and use the profile selector on the title bar of the window to change between the two. Firefox requires a command line method: Windows-R your way into the Run window (See? Handy!) and run firefox.exe -no-remote -p to create or change between profiles. Desktop and taskbar shortcuts can also link to specific profiles. Add -no-remote -p “profilename” to the end of the Target line in a Firefox shortcut’s preferences, or -profile-directory=”directory” in a Chrome shortcut. You’ll need to dig around Chrome’s user data to find the directory name: Look in %localappdata%\Google\Chrome\User Data for a folder like “Default” or “Profile 2.”
Making a clean Internet Explorer profile — on the off-chance you actually need to — requires a totally separate Windows user account, though that’s not a bad thing to have around to help you remember what the system looks like untouched. If you’re lucky, you might just find a better way around some task once you step back from your usual method.
Aaron Parson has been writing about electronics, software and games since 2006, contributing to several technology websites and working with NewsHour Productions. Parson holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.