Technical Communication UK 2018

The Technical Communication UK (http://technicalcommunicationuk.com) 2018 conference was in Daventry, 25-27 September. Mike Unwalla gives this summary.

The presentation slides are on http://technicalcommunicationuk.com/?page_id=8577.

Lessons learned on an introvert's journey to leadership

Speaker: Ben Woelk (www.linkedin.com/in/benwoelk/), Introverted Leadership

Ben says that he is an introvert. He spoke about how introverts can become leaders.

Fear is an interesting condition. A technical communicator was afraid to give a presentation. But the next day, the technical communicator went skydiving. How can we overcome our fears?

Usually, an introvert has an inner focus and is interested in ideas.

Researchers gave babies stimuli such as loud noises and bright lights. Some babies ignored the stimuli. Other babies avoided the stimuli. The researchers found that the babies who avoided the stimuli became adults who were introverted.

Some things that help Ben are as follows:

Some methods are as follows:

Many of the things that Ben spoke about are the same for me. Public speaking and networking are not easy, but the more I do, the easier they become.

Using text, images, and video in technical communication

Speaker: Ferry Vermeulen, INSTRKTIV (https://instrktiv.com/en/)

The technical communicators at INSTRKTIV wrote more than 2000 manuals.

From an analysis of the manuals, INSTRKTIV developed 18 guidelines for choosing whether to use text, images, or video. You can read the guidelines on https://instrktiv.com/en/blog/usability/using-video-text-images/.

Ferry spoke about the guidelines in a case study about Leitz (www.leitz.com).

The Leitz manuals were produced by a design agency. The manuals did not comply with EU legislation and they did not contain video.

Leitz sold its products on Amazon, and the sales started to decrease. In 2015, Leitz products were not permitted to go into Portugal, because the documentation did not comply with the legal requirements. People in Leitz searched the internet, and found INSTRKTIV.

INSTRKTIV used the guidelines to develop a set of manuals:

The 18 guidelines are a good aid to deciding when to use text, images, and video. The case study shows that it is not always possible to do what you want. (Legal requirements make you supply some documents as printed text.)

It's called Technical Communication for a reason

Speaker: Rhyne Armstrong, Cisco Systems, Inc (www.cisco.com)

Rhyne started his presentation with a discussion about the meaning of the term 'technical communication'. Who are we?

Good technical communicators have these skills:

Rhyne spoke about the need become more technical. To learn a new technology, start slowly. Learn the basic concepts. Concepts do not change.

There are many ways to learn and many resources for learning. But, "until it is, learning is not your day job."

In a reply to a question, Rhyne said that the more that you understand a technology, the easier it is to simplify the documentation. If you do not understand, all you can do is make the documentation pretty. I do not agree. If you do not understand a technology, you can do more than make a document pretty. Some improvements that you can make are as follows:

Four functions in the structure of technical documentation (and why they matter)

Speaker: Daniele Procida, Divio (www.divio.com)

Many software development projects do not have good documentation.

Daniele said that documentation is made of four things:

This model saves much time for a technical writer, because each part of a document has only one function. The model is an idealization, and overlaps occur.

For a full discussion, refer to Daniele's article 'What nobody tells you about documentation'.

I asked Daniele about the similarities and differences between the Divio model and other models such as Information Mapping and DITA. He said that the method is very practical and easy to understand compared with DITA.

Creating great customer experiences through outstanding technical support and content

Speaker: Ciarán Dunne, Arm (www.arm.com)

Approximately 70% of the people in the world use Arm technology.

Arm Support Services is Ciarán's department. It has 65 technical writers.

Arm Support Services developed a technical communication strategy project, which was a change programme. Some questions that it answered were as follows:

The change programme increased the 'employee engagement', the customer satisfaction for technical content, and the quantity of content reuse. But, the change programme did not solve all problems. These problems remain:

A customer comes to Arm with a problem. The sequence to get an answer is as follows: website > phone, instant messaging, or e-mail > on-site training > consulting services.

Arm must think differently about how to help its customers.

To set the customer expectations is very important. If an organization does not set the expectations, the customer will set the expectations.

Arm's next step is to "focus on creating ongoing customer success."

From docs to bots; find your passion & get a career makeover

Speaker: Toni Byrd-Ressaire (www.linkedin.com/in/toniressaire/), Info4Design

How do you find your 'dream career'? Toni suggested that you think about the dreams that you had as a child. What did you want to do?

Toni changed careers many times. She was a journalist. She edited text and did layout and design. She published a magazine. She taught technical communication at a university.

Much information is stored in Content Management Systems. Toni became interested in how to supply information to machines. Toni became interested in these topics:

Toni's company, Info4Design develops chatbots. People in the audience used the chatbot on https://info4design.com/index.php/tcuk/. Data from the chatbot conversations was automatically put into a spreadsheet. The data was used to select some people to help in a demonstration.

The demonstration was a good example of how we cannot think about all possible events. Toni gave one person a model robot made from Lego. While Toni spoke, the person disassembled the robot. Before Toni continued the demonstration, she had to assemble the robot again.

A casual contributor's leaning aid for DITA structuring

Speaker: Shirley McDonnell, Technically Write IT (www.technicallywriteit.com)

The technical writers at Technically Write IT (TWi),work with the subject-matter experts (SME) to develop content. The SMEs are trained to use DITA, but, because they write content infrequently, they forget how to use DITA.

TWi wanted to solve this problem: how to help a busy person to do a short but complex task infrequently. The solution was a visual aid.

The visual aid uses a series of questions to give guidance. Usually, the questions have yes/no answers. Two examples follow:

Make sure that the content is granular. Does the topic discuss more than one task?

Classify. What does the content discuss?

A 'How do I…' becomes a task in the documentation. A task is shown as a set of steps. But, there are two primary types of task:

The visual aid looked very good, but TWi had not supplied the visual aid to the subject-matter experts, and thus TWi does not know if the visual aid will solve the problem.

What's the deal with structured content?

Speaker: Ellis Pratt, Cherryleaf (www.cherryleaf.com)

Structured writing is not a new idea.

In the 1960s, the Ground Systems Group at Hughes Aircraft Company developed the STOP method for the proposals that they wrote. The page layout was standardized. A usual page layout was a 2-page spread. The left side contained text. The right side contained .

In the 1960s, Robert Horn analysed business documents and found six primary types of information: principle, process, procedure, concept, structure, and fact. From this data, he developed Information Mapping.

STOP and Information Mapping have two primary features that are the same:

Writers are trained to use a method and editors are the quality controllers. The result is as follows:

One definition of structured writing is "content that conforms to structural and semantic rules to meet specific business requirements."

In the 1980s, people thought about these problems:

Don Day defines structured content as "Content… that conforms to structural and semantic rules that allow machine processing to meet specific business requirements.". There are rules, and a machine can process the content.

With desktop publishing, the format and the presentation of a document is embedded in the content. This can make the machine processing of the content difficult. But, markdown and HTML is not much better, because different documents can have different structures.

A specification such as S1000D is a solution because it specifies the structure of a document.

DITA is a different solution. It is based on STOP, Information Mapping, and DocBook. DITA was developed in 2009, but only 9% of the jobs for technical writers require DITA.

AsciiDoc is semantic markup that is an alternative to markdown. I looked at the AsciiDoc website (https://asciidoctor.org/docs/what-is-asciidoc/). You can write AsciiDoc in a text editor. The examples are much easier to read than their equivalents in XML. But, if you want to write a document that has hundreds of pages, how do you make sure that the document has a consistent structure if there is no structural validation of the text that you write in a text editor?

The basic problems that Hughes Aircraft Company had are the problems we have now. Ellis thinks that possibly we will use these methods in the future:

I asked Ellis about database queries. Librarians have used faceted searches for many years. What is the difference between a faceted search and a database query? Ellis said that for faceted searches, the metadata is added after a document is written. For database queries, the technical communicators add the metadata when they write a document.

Intelligent information – iiRDS – a new information exchange standard of Industry 4.0 and internet of things

Speaker: Jörg Plöger, SCHEMA (www.schema.de)

iiRDS is an abbreviation of 'intelligent information Request and Delivery Standard'. SCHEMA is part of the tekom working group 'Information 4.0', which developed iiRDS.

Standards are one method to keep a competitive advantage.

Digitization has an effect on all parts of our lives, but there are possible problems with privacy rules. A product must be not only technically possible, but socially acceptable.

Users want "the right information for the right person at the right place at the right time on the most suitable device."

In the past, people looked at books and PDF files. Now, we ask intelligent assistants such as Siri an Alexa.

Jörg gave this example of an intelligent assistant:

Question: How do I change the spark plugs on my car?

Answer: Your car uses diesel. It does not have spark plugs.

This type of context-related retrieval is dependent on metadata. How is it possible to mix information from many different CCMSs? iiRDS is a standard for the interchange of data between different CCMSs.

iiRDS is only for the transfer of data. There is no restriction on the content.

Developing user-centred content in an agile world

Speaker: Sarah Tomson, GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

A content developer is a person who takes a user need to create a solution.

There are two primary methods of project management:

The waterfall method is good for some problems. For example, you "don't want an agile approach to brain surgery."

In agile content development, a content developer finds a need, and then makes prototype solutions.

In one project, the prototypes passed the initial user acceptance tests, but when the software was made publicly available, many users did not use it correctly. The problem was caused by one word. The development team changed 'to amend or add' to 'to review or add'. After this change, the users had no problem with the software.

The words that we use are very important. A small change in language can make a large change in the usability of a product. Sarah gave an example in which the return rate of a form was decreased from 40% to less than 2%.

Sarah's presentation shows the importance of testing the text on the user interface. "Every word needs to earn its place."

Cybersecurity and documentation: security considerations

Speaker: Bridget Khursheed, KAL (www.kal.com)

Security is important and documentation can be a security risk. APIs specially are a target for hackers. Bridget knows a person who hacked Google to change a street name to the name of the family cat.

Before we can protect our documentation and our companies, we need to know what to protect and the dangers of not protecting the documentation.

Many cyber attacks start with social engineering. For example, you receive an e-mail message that you think comes from your manager.

Attackers can get information from websites such as Linked. The website www.iknowwhereyourcatlives.com is an experiment that shows how easy it is for people to get information that possibly, you do not want to give them.

Software can 'scrape' information from public sources. An example is Gitrob (https://github.com/michenriksen/gitrob), which is "a tool to help find potentially sensitive files pushed to public repositories on GitHub".

With Malware as a Service (MasS), you can rent software for a cyber attack.

To minimize the risks, document managers and technical communicators can do these:

Branding yourself as indispensable

Speaker: Marilyn Woelk (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marilynwoelk/), Wingz Creative and Technical Group

Wingz has approximately 24 employees. Marilyn has hired hundreds of employees since she started the company. She gave advice about why a technical communicator must have a brand.

The reasons to have a brand are as follows:

You always have a brand, which can be good or bad. If you do not brand yourself, other people will brand you. Thus, always make sure that your brand is what you want it to be.

To have a brand is not sufficient. Employers or customers must know about it.

Marilyn thinks that a brand is a combination of these properties:

If you have a good brand, you have a competitive advantage.

Marilyn included many exercises in her presentation. My favourite exercise was one in which people chose ten words or phrases to describe themselves. You can use these words to promote yourself and your business in the market.

First impressions are important. But, second impressions are also important. Your brand is measured at these times:

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