I went to a conference and it was good!

As ever the Technical Communications Conference sparked thought, debate and no little amount of revelation. The sessions I managed to attend were all well presented, well considered and well received, and the chats over lunch, dinner and at the bar prove to me that I’m in a profession full of driven, smart and engaged people. My impression of the attendees this year suggests there is a definite change in the attitude of the audience as well, a little more upbeat and vocal, all of which bodes well for Technical Communications in 2012.

As ever, I took sporadic, and somewhat random notes, and I’m happy to share them with you all… YMMV as to whether you understand them or not.

Tuesday 20/09/11

Workshop: Using the Tech Author Slide Rule by Alice Jane Emanuel

Should we enter our documentation into industry competitions? Probably worth it purely from a feedback point of view.

Scoring spreadsheet used in the workshop will be useful in a number of ways as it will:
– show areas of specific improvement in the product documentation
– provide numerical data to show we are improving the quality of the information
– help everyone understand what is required to provide good quality information (particularly new starts in the team)
– reporting on the numbers will raise awareness of what we do (targetting an ‘area’ will alert people we consider this important)
– drive internal team discussions on how we improve quality (some of the scoring will be subjective, so will need discussion to get agreement), have whoever scored an area present back their thoughts

Wednesday 21/09/11

Opening Keynote: Patrick Hoffman (Google)

Icon Designer for Google Maps, Patrick discussed visual design, how the smallest details make a difference, the part context plays in cognitive understanding of graphics, as well as the impact of culture/location on that understanding.

Good icons present a single core message (remove the adjectives from the graphics?)

Content Strategy from the Trenches by CJ Walker & Karen Mardahl

Interesting presentation concept with CJ interviewing Karen, fireside chat style.

Content Filtering becomes a strategy, our ‘articles’ are just a filtered view on to the bulk of the content
Analytics data – what are we using it for?
Change team ethos to focus on value add, adding info to docs is how we add to the value of the product

Writing for reuse by David Farbey

Define your goals for re-use – what influences the process? Know where the goals may fail and plan around them.
Taxonomy – spreadsheet for areas of re-use (categories of information we expect to re-use)
Metadata needed – consistent naming a must
Information Types – we already have these, do they meet our needs? Do we need to review them?
The less you want to write, the more you have to plan

Forget about the book!

Concept topics – learning something (About the….)
Task topics – doing something (Configuring… )
Reference topics – knowing something (Lists/Facts/Tables)

Other topic types, what are they for?

Thursday 22/09/11

Pattern Recognition by Kai Weber and Chris Atherton

“To understand a pattern you need examples”

Code examples – must be consistent to let reader derive the pattern to understand the rules
Little used patterns degrade over time. People forget.

Difference between how learn

Experienced users: Top Down – Uses prior knowledge, concepts > elements, emphasises context, quick; sometimes wrong (knowing, generalising, contextualising, applying).
New Users: Bottom Up – No prior knowledge, elements > concepts, emphasises relations, slow; usually correct (experiencing, acquiring, matching, segmenting).

? What patterns should we have? What patterns do we have already?
TOC can be a pattern – consist info titles, build the pattern, e.g. “How to” always displays topics that look a certain way and contain certain information.

Opportunities for reuse between documentation and training by Linda Urban

Reuse definition – for docs – single sourcing, topic level, granular (para) re-use

Re-use is hard due to context:
Training is about learning, building skills
Documentation is about “I’m working”, help me, quick answers

Training is about approach and doesn’t (shouldn’t) cover everything

Documentation is an external repository of information
Training creates an internal repository of patterns/information

In practice, re-use sometimes means repurpose

Re-use sweetspots: integration points

Bigger picture: need to plan the information in tandem, docs should compliment the training and vice versa

And finally…

I have to mention the entertainment provide as part of the Gala Dinner. A genius of word play and smithery, Judge The Poet was brilliant and perfect for the conference audience! You can see some of his work here.

As well taking notes during the sessions I attended, I also took some time to showcase what will be come the new ISTC website (sneak peek here), and hosted the Rants session which a lot of, noisy, fun! Alice Jane Emanuel kindly took notes and I’ll be getting them published in next months InfoPlus newsletter.

Written By

Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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