Posts tagged ‘Networking’

Using social networking for documentation

I have recently been reading a fair bit about how social networks are being used for technical communication. It’s a hot topic, and although some companies’ tech writing teams are already joining in conversations with users on Facebook, LinkedIn and their own user forums, how they include this kind of content in their documentation is what they are currently trying to get their heads around.

You may have already heard the term “Web 2.0” thrown around. It is the term that has been associated with websites that allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media kind of dialogue. Or as Wikipedia so clearly puts it, “Web 2.0 is associated with web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web.” Right…

From personal experience, this type of communication and user-influenced documentation has been seen in the online gaming world for some time.

Customer service-wise when players need help, they go to the game’s official website forums to ask the question. Then, more often than not, it is the other players that answer the question before any of the official game developers get a chance to. This happens regardless of how good the how-to documentation is. I think the thought process is along the lines of “why spend time researching when I can just ask?”

Additionally, as time goes by, these forums begin to replace the how-to documentation. The sea of discussion threads will appear very messy at first, but there will be a search function to tidy it up. Using keywords, you can filter discussions to often find exactly what you are after. And not only that, you can read an entire conversation that has already taken place about the issue or feature. If the conversations are too dated, that is when you may have to refer to the almost redundant how-to documentation. Or alternatively, you could start a new discussion…

Here are some examples I have come across recently of this growing Web 2.0 trend:

Writing procedures in Facebook
Link: http://www.2morodocs.com/2011/04/content-strategy-posting-procedures-in-facebook/

2morodocs talks about this very interesting concept. Some of the main advantages I gleaned from this were:
• Format – the Facebook layout bodes well for procedure writing
• Updates/changes – if your product is evolving, you can ensure everyone knows how and why as soon as it does.
• Customer service – as well as being able to provide real-time support (procedures are easy to write), by providing hints and tips you can also provide people with information they need, before they even know they need it.
• Relevance – by including regular features, you keep your product fresh and in peoples’ minds.

Hosting documentation in a wiki
There are two types of wiki, open and closed. Open wikis allow anyone to submit content, most famously demonstrated by Wikipedia, while closed ones only allow employees or specified users to add content. An open wiki can present problems, which mainly stem from managing and hosting the “crowd-sourced” content. Wikipedia does this by keeping the entire website level (there is no hierarchy or website architecture), but hosting business documentation this way is another matter. This is why the majority of businesses using a wiki for documentation (or thinking about doing so) are using a closed version.

I did find an example of an open wiki however, which uses a wiki called Confluence (there are numerous wikis that have been developed – i.e. Wikipedia uses MediaWiki). The company, Atlassian, developed the wiki themselves and this example is the wiki for their software application CROWD: http://confluence.atlassian.com/display/CROWD/Crowd+Documentation

Including tips via Twitter
Websites can contain a text box that displays a continuously-updated list of tweets. It will recognise recent tweets containing a predefined word and display them. Anyone can write a tip and have it show on the page, which, when added to the homepage of a documentation website, gives it that freshly updated feel.
I found a good example of this while browsing Atlassian’s wikis. Their JIRA wiki has one: http://confluence.atlassian.com/display/JIRA/Tips+via+Twitter

Living documents – getting users involved
Sarah Maddox, a technical writer for Atlassian, gave a presentation recently at the WritersUA 2011 conference. Considering the work they are doing in this social networking field at Atlassian, I thought a link to the run down of what she said might be appropriate: http://ffeathers.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/writersua-2011-%E2%80%93-using-social-media-to-get-readers-involved/

“At Atlassian, we’ve been using social media in various ways, to make our documentation a living, interactive hub where people can find the answers to their questions, talk to us, talk to each other, and use the documentation as a tool to help each other.”

James

Advertisements

May 23, 2011 at 9:11 am 2 comments

Defining technical writing

“So what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“That’s cool, what do you write about?”
“Oh not like that, I’m a technical writer”
“Oh right, okay. So umm… what’s that?”

This is how the conversation usually starts. The next part varies depending on the most recent projects I’ve done. Sometimes I’m a website developer, other times I’m a trainer, but most of the time I’m just plain confusing. Technical writing just isn’t one of those jobs everyone has heard of. Not surprisingly either, considering I am one and don’t know how to really describe it.

So I did some research and it appears I’m not alone. In business terms, technical writers are traditionally bad at expressing their value. We’re even worse when it comes to defining the product we deliver. Businesses tend to hire us to create documentation because they see it as necessary evil, rather than an opportunity to add value. And ‘adding value’ is exactly what a good technical writer does.

But I can’t simply describe my job as ‘adding value’. That’s even more ambiguous than where I started.

What I mean is that when a user reads some documentation for the first time their experience has a flow on effect. A satisfied user will come back (loyalty). They will talk about it in a good way (promotion). And in work situations will be able to do their job faster (efficiency).

So, to put it simply and not sound too boring, next time I’m in the above conversation I think I’ll just say “I keep a business’s users happy by making things easy to read, easy to find and easy to understand”. If they’re not satisfied with that and ask how, I may have to give them the long-winded version…

Technical writing is about modifying language and structuring information specific to users’ needs. We technical writers are communicators, and we have the ability to work directly with users and subject matter experts not only to extract information, but to learn directly from their perspective. This approach allows us ask the right questions, pinpoint assumptions and above all, tailor the information in a way that will be easiest for users (especially new ones) to understand.

We often take our language skills for granted (I really should stop generalising, but I’m sure I’m not alone here), which is a key element of being a technical writer. We don’t take long to figure out how to put something in words, editing time is minimal, content is clean and consistent, and more often than not we’re so used to typing that we do it at an alarming speed. I know this is starting to sound like a pitch, but I’m still on my ‘adding value’ tangent.

Do we have any other technical writers reading this? How do you describe what you do to friends? Do you actually call yourself a technical writer? Or are you a documentation developer, instructional designer, or something similar? And more importantly, have I completely overlooked the easiest way to answer the “what do you do” question?

James

May 11, 2011 at 8:36 am 7 comments

Content Strategists

Why does business writing have such a bad reputation? Not just the policy or procedural stuff either, even the new-age marketing blurbs are stale. The words you see on every second business website like “cost-effective end-to-end solutions” or “value-added services” tell you next to nothing, and what businesses need to remember is that for the trigger-happy internet consumer, the click of a mouse button is all it takes to leave.

To stand out as a business nowadays, especially on the internet, you must be different. And the best way to do that is to be yourself, or at least be as human as possible. Social networking has changed the way people “take in” what they read on the internet by almost allowing them to picture the people entering the content. Websites that are impersonal no longer engage the audience.

This is part of the reason we have seen the emergence of the “Content Strategist”. It’s not the easiest job role to define, but to put it simply it is the planning of content creation, delivery and its governance, which is no longer part of a web-designers role (if it ever was). The notion of content management has been around for a long time; creating, editing, approving, publishing and removing content. Content strategy however, as the name implies, takes a strategic view of this content and examines how the goals of the organisation are served by the content it produces.

The knowledge of how to manipulate search engines is crucial for a content strategist. On the very surface it’s as simple as knowing the words a potential customer would type into a search engine, and placing them on your website (or in a tagline), but it goes much further than that. You can make the most of Google advertisements on these searches, or have your website improve its search “rank” just by having links in the right places.

My initial reaction to finding out about Content Strategists was of relief. Someone had finally blended the technical writers with the marketing team, divisions that never seemed to previously coordinate with each other. Nowadays businesses are challenged to serve up content in increasingly innovative ways, and it is those whose focus has shifted from visually appealing graphics and words to how the content is actually delivered who are really prospering.

Part of the content delivery solution is the way that content is structured. For more information on this see the following links:

Information Mapping

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_mapping

–      http://www.infomap.com/

Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_Information_Typing_Architecture

–      http://dita.xml.org/

May 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm 3 comments

Are you linked in effectively?

LinkedIn is a powerful professional networking tool. Or it can be, if you know how to use it effectively. Meryl K Evans listed 14 useful tips in her blog. There are three that stand out for me:

1. Use the name your clients know you by.

2. Create an effective professional headline.This should be succinct and to the point, yet descriptive enough so that your readers are not left doing the guesswork.

3. Write a summary that highlights your most important business information. This can be a summary of the services or products you offer, a list of your skills, a summary of your biggest achievements, etc. In any case, keep paragraphs short and to the point.

Need help in writing an efficient LinkedIn profile? We’re happy to point you in the ‘write’ direction.  Simply post a comment with your question.

April 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm Leave a comment

Honing your editing skills

I went to a TCANZ workshop called “Honing your editing skills” at the end of last month and wanted to share some of the stuff I learnt.

The instructor

The instructor, Howard Warner, is an experienced editor and plain English enthusiast from Auckland. He is the founder and director of Plain English People.

Types of editing

I found that the most valuable thing I learnt was to define the “discrete stages” that make up the editing process which are:

  • Structural editing
  • Sentence level editing
  • Proofreading

Structural editing

Make sure the necessary sections are there, ordered correctly and weighted appropriately; and that text is divided up into manageable, readable chunks.

Sentence level editing

Check for “a light texture”, consistency, clarity, and accuracy. Ensure short sentences, active voice, common words, etc.

Proofreading

Ensure correct, consistent punctuation; correct spelling, capital letters, consistent terminology, consistent formatting.

Editing & Information Mapping

A properly Information-Mapped document won’t need structural editing. It also helps with some parts of copy editing and formatting, though I think these are still quite separate and still need to be done.

March 11, 2010 at 5:40 am Leave a comment

And what do you do?

Are you a writer?

You know the situation when someone asks you, “And what do you do?”. Well, when I describe to them what we’re doing they are always interested and sometimes surprised. But think about it. Language underpins everything we do, and with text messages, the internet and social media everyone these days is a writer.

What are your writing needs?

Our recent morning tea information session, ‘Documents That Work’, was well attended by a lot of people who were either self-employed, or belonged to small or very large organisations. What they had in common was an interest in writing, and the need to write a variety of documents. We heard about emails marketing a service, proposals, work instructions, Government policies, etc.

Want to be a better writer?

Everyone left with a good idea of what Information Mapping is, how it could help them, and useful writing tips. We all have to tell people what we do, and often write down how to do it. If we do this with clarity, then our emails, proposals, business cases, instructions, websites and intranets work. If we have to answer questions from our readers, then we could have done it better!

February 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment


Information Mapping Partner

Recent Posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16 other followers