Month: May 2011

Time flies…

Hard to believe that’s six months of the year gone already.

But it has and that means that Glastonbury is only three weeks away! I really need to buy me some wellies.

Other than that, life is good. I’m on the verge of, finally, buying a bike through the Cycle to Work scheme, which I’m just waiting on being launched at my workplace, and I’m managing to get to the gym a couple of times a week with the odd game of badminton thrown in for fun.

Still not really reading all that much, and my new camera has been severely underused, but that’s mostly because my new role as webmaster for the ISTC is taking up a fair bit of my downtime. Still to find the balance with that but it’s fun, particularly as I’m going to be rebuilding the entire website very soon.

Starting to think about the next holiday too, money will constrain me a bit, so likely to be a long weekend city break type thing, but where? Those things can be costly, so another option is a cheap and cheerful package somewhere hot and sunny. A week in the sun, reading, drinking and generally lounging around… yeah I could cope with that.

What else do you do?

If ever I needed proof that I am not a bastard I need only look at what I tend to do in my spare time. For not only do I look and crack the same crap jokes as my Dad, I also seem to have the same need to be busy that he has.

Admittedly, looking through the archives of this blog, that’s something that is fairly well documented here but a recent development has finally cemented this quiet thought in my mind.

After agreeing to take over the running of the ISTC website (including a rebuild and redesign which are underway), I’ve recently agreed to serve on the Council of said organisation. That means reports, budgets, minutes, meetings and the like. Thankfully it’s not a huge commitment of time and it doesn’t really change my main focus but, knowing me, I’ll need to be on the lookout to make sure I don’t take on any further tasks.

I still have a couple of other things to finish off too, and hoping to get a clear run at them this week to get them out of the way.

There is one other thing I must do though.

Remove Football Manager 2011 from my iPad. I’ve already lost about two entire days to it.

Focus man, focus!

Points of confusion

What are you thinking when you review documentation?

We recently had a short discussion about how peer review, what we thought it was and how it should work. For us, having another member of the documentation team look over your work is useful for several reasons. Whilst we have distinct technical and editorial review stages, having another technical writer look over your work helps highlight things concerning structure, ordering and the killer of all killers, confusion.

Seth Godin nicely captured the reason why this is an important stage of information production:

If you’re building for digital, for a place where you can’t possibly be present to guide or to answer questions, I think it’s vital you have someone who can review your work … Not to make suggestions to make it better (what do they know?) but to share their confusions.

The thing is, it’s easy when you’ve been working on something for several weeks to get too close to the material and start making presumptions. These, inevitably, lead to confusion for the reader. It’s never an intentional thing, and everyone does it (and if they think they don’t, I’d suggest they may not be aware that they do!) but it’s something that we can easily catch.

The way we work, with each technical writer working on a distinct part of the product, it’s reasonable to assume that we can review a document without too much presumed knowledge. It’s not the same as handing the document to someone with no knowledge at all but we can usual spot those areas that may cause confusion.

Typically, these are the things that seem obvious when someone points them out, which a new customer will spot immediately because it leaves them perplexed. Unfortunately those are the moments when confidence in the content drops and, for many people, it only takes one or two instances of these for the documentation to be cast aside, never to be used again.

Catching points of confusion is a crucial part of any review process, it doesn’t really matter whether you have a specific process for it but it is something you should try and make sure you are addressing.

ISTC West of Scotland Area Group meeting

The next ISTC West of Scotland area group meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 9th June 2011, from 7.30 pm onwards. Come along to talk about latest news and trends in communication, or just to meet other communication professionals.

The event is free and open to anyone interested in technical communication, such as technical authors, information architects, internal communication professionals, report writers, marketing writers, web content writers and graphic designers.

Venue: Waxy O’Connors pub, 44 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 1DH. Please make your way to McTurk’s Room on the middle level.

Please forward this message on to your colleagues or anyone else who may be interested. For more information, contact westscotland_areagroup@istc.org.uk.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Closing the Loop in Content Strategy

A guest post by Noz Urbina, Mekon Senior Consultant and Congility 2011* Conference Chairperson

* Keep reading for discounted and even free entry opportunity.

The Hole in Holistic
There’s an industry buzz about Content Strategy. But, in it, there’s a tendency to define Content Strategy as near synonymous with internet marketing strategy, or worse, clever web copy writing.

There’s regularly an assumption that we’re talking about B2C mass-market writing where we’re trying to drive web conversions, ‘excite’ customers, and drive click-throughs.

Although web marketing projects need content strategy, I don’t think that adequately defines the discipline. All dentists are doctors, but not all doctors are dentists.

Content Strategy is in its adolescence, and the discipline is asking: Who are we? Why are we?

Read More

Just came down from…

Like many people, I recently “spent” 3 days holiday allowance to get an 11 day holiday (wonderful combination of bank holidays and the royal wedding).

So, what did I do on this mini-holiday?

Spent a couple of days surrounded by amazing scenery on the Isle of Skye for starters. We took a small (four car max) ferry across to the island, dined in a wonderful fresh fish restaurant on Portree harbour, fed some Highland cows, stood at the top of a big cliff, lost count of the number of times we both exhaled a “WOW” at the stunning views, took a boat trip out to see the seals, and experienced the settling of the gloaming as we drove back down through Glencoe. It was an eery half-light as night crept in, driving along at the foot of the mountains, soundtracked by The Villagers, I Saw The Dead. Spooky.

Also had some time catching up with old friends (that’s friends I’ve known for a long time, not old people, although Scunner is getting on a bit these days…), sitting in a beer garden on glorious sunshine. They are the type of friends that, no matter how long it’s been, you fall back into the same patterns with. The jokes and ribbing, the memories all combining to make it a great day, topped off by curry (which finished me off, I’m blaming the lime pickle).

And just yesterday I had a day in Stirling wandering around the university campus, feeding some very confident ducks that took the bread from the palm of your hand a day before a drive to Callander then a wee diversion to Balmaha (for some fab hot chocolate for me, bloody mary for Kirsty).

Aside from that, I spent far too much time playing with my new iPad, including a day of fighting off the lurgy, and not enough time setting up a test server for a website I’m currently building… oopsy.

And, with all that passed, it’s back to work.

Time to plan the next batch of fun!