Tag: <span>Area Group</span>

The festive season is upon us, cards have been posted, presents have been bought, and in a couple of hours I’ll head home, leaving work behind until early January.

2012 has been an interesting year.

We started the year with a challenge, one of making the information we produce ‘findable’. Cutting across more than 20,000 topics of information, it was always going to be a big project, particularly as we still needed to keep up with product development. As the year draws to a close the final pieces of this mammoth project are falling into place and should, fingers crossed, be launched in the first couple of weeks in January.

From my viewpoint, it’s been an excellent example of giving people the space to do great things. I’ve not interferred much with this project, gently pushed it when it was needed, made decisions when required but by and large left the team to get on with it. The results are looking good.

Of course plans were impacted when the company I work for was merged with KANA software. Thankfully it was, for us, a mostly seamless experience. The day to day activities of the team haven’t changed (yet), but there has certainly been a lot more for me to pick up as the requests for documentation resource started to come in from other parts of the organisation. We are still figuring out how best to provide a service but it’s already looking like we will need to hire to backfill some gaps in other geographies.

Elsewhere I finally managed to get the new ISTC website launched, and have since enhanced it in a few places, adding in new Area Group pages, and generally beefing up the functionality in the background. Plans are coming together for the next set of changes so keep an eye out for those.

So, plenty to keep me busy in 2013, and that’s without covering off the building of a new community website at work …

One highlight for me has been getting back into the blogging habit here and generally feeling a bit more excited about my profession, hopefully I will continue to get a lot of value from sharing my thoughts here in the future!

That said, I’m off on holiday now but will be back in the first week of January. If you celebrate it, have a very Merry Christmas, and all the best to you all for 2013, thanks for reading!!

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Job titles are one thing, but what do you actually do? Are you a ‘traditional’ Technical Author or a modern technical communications professional? Is there a difference?

I think there is, I think there is a distinction between the two although I’m not quite sure where that line is drawn and, as with most things in this multi-discipline profession of ours, the line is probably blurry and not all that straight.

For me the line separates what I consider the old and the new, the line between traditional technical writing and the modern day technical communicator, and I think the distinction is largely around the approaches each type of professional take when it comes to managing content.

I realise this may seem a little contentious, and possibly a little divisive (pun intended), so let me explain.

At the recent West of Scotland Area Group meeting, a few of us started discussing this. We all agreed that the traditional notion of what a technical writer (author) does has changed and that the change was driven mostly through technological advances.

For most modern companies, gone are the days of the author, editor, and illustrator producing printed documentation. The rise of the internet has changed the understanding of information and so our job roles (if not our titles) have morphed into what we do today, we write, we draw, we collate, filter, edit and publish information from a wide variety of sources, we care about the user experience of the product, and we push all of that information and knowledge out in many different formats, to different devices in radically shrunken timescales. We write topics, not pages, and publish to online portals, not printed and bound manuals.

From what I can tell, and I’ll admit that I’m not best placed to comment on any of this, I’ve only ever worked in software companies, but chatting to people at conferences and so on it does seem like the more traditional (old-fashioned?) approach of having a team – where the technical author writes the words, the illustrator draws the diagrams and artwork, before their work is combined and sent to an editor before being printed en masse – is slowly shrinking. For me it seems like that approach is typically based around some level of regulation (or litigation) meaning the scope of the content, choice of format, and even the list of final deliverables is impossible to negotiate.

Meanwhile, freed of such constraints, many of us find ourselves free to choose not to document a small change in an obscure and little used part of our product, and able change what we deliver and how we will deliver it.

Is it fair to be so black and white? Is there really a line, a divide, within our profession?

After all, my exposure to other technical communicators is largely through online sources (blogs, twitter, articles) and as those of us in the software industry have a vested interest in understanding these different mediums, it makes some sense that we are the ones making more noise than our counterparts who work in industries that demand paper-based outputs.

I think the disciplines required to work in a regulated industry are starting to differ more and more from those of us who can have input into the scope of what we do (and what we don’t do). There is a risk that future professionals won’t be able to cross that gap, they won’t understand (or want to understand) why they have to have numbered paragraphs, or why every single change must be traceable to the root requirement.

Over time, the more traditional roles, or rather the industries within which they operate, will start to come more towards a more modern view, in fact they already are. Airlines are allowing iPads onto flight decks, more connected systems of documentation and information capture forms are being seen in car production factories, and as further industries invest in modernising their infrastructures, so to must the technical writers.

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The next ISTC West of Scotland area group meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 16th February 2012, 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.

If you plan to attend, please sign up for the event at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2743613221 to help us anticipate attendance numbers.

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

 

UPDATE: MadCap have provided a licence of MadPak, worth USD 1499, to be raffled amongst event attendees. For more information, see http://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/madpak/overview.aspx

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Thursday 13th October, from 7.30pm, in Waxy O’Connors pub.

The next ISTC technical communicators’ meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 13th October 2011, from 7.30 pm onwards. I will be presenting a report from the Technical Communication UK 2011 conference. 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.

Work

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The next ISTC technical communicators’ meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 13th October 2011, from 7.30 pm onwards.

As it’s happening just after the conference, I will be presenting a (short) report from the Technical Communication UK 2011 conference. 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.

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The attendance at last nights ISTC Area Group meeting in the West of Scotland was poor, and as it seems to fluctuate quite dramatically at times (we went from four people to ten and back again in the space of three meetings) I’m trying to figure out why.

Is it apathy? Laziness? Lack of awareness? Or perhaps people are unclear of the benefits of turning up?

If you are a member of the ISTC, and on the mailing list (or perhaps you are following the ISTC on Twitter?), then you will receive notifications of the area group meetings.

But what if you aren’t a member? How do we attract… scratch that, how do we FIND people who may want to attend? Where are all the technical communicators?

I wonder if more people get quicker benefit being part of online communities? If social media is part of the reason for the low attendance?

Last night was, despite the small number, useful. It always is in one way or another – I got some ideas to help me with my current recruitment drive – but perhaps, like all of these things, you have to turn up to get the benefit.

In the past some of us have contacted other “user groups” who may be interested from the likes of eLearning professionals and on the Adobe user forums. That accounts for the spike in attendance but I’m starting to wonder if there is just a general apathy about our profession (or about the professional world) at the moment.

I’m also very aware that the catchment area isn’t that large, but I know there are other technical authors, technical writers, technical communicators, and lots of other people in the local area who could benefit from attending. These people do exist, we just need to find a way to reach out to them and make sure they understand the benefits.

We have, in the past, considered running a specific session, with a guest speaker, so there is a definite agenda and perhaps that is more of what we need. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a Catch-22 scenario, we can’t (won’t) book speakers if hardly anyone is going to turn up!

It is a quandary for sure.

Why wouldn’t people want to go to the pub and have a chat with fellow professionals?

Work

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.

Work

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Chattering teeth

I’m writing this whilst it is still fairly fresh (and only addled by a couple, ok ok, three pints of Guinness)…

At the ISTC West of Scotland Area Group meeting last night talk turned to the fairly common topic of “no-one knows what we do”. There was some chat about the value we can bring but, frequently, documentation is still seen as a “tick in the box”, a necessary evil or, even worse, an apathetic acceptance even though no-one else in the company quite knows why we exist other than the fact that we do.

I had made a point earlier about selling ourselves, marketing our services and capabilities and once again it seems obvious that, and I acknowledge that I’m no better than anyone else in this respect, we must do a better job of raising our profiles as professionals within our organisation, and of the profession itself.

Talk of past redundancies confirms this, documentation can easily be seen as an expensive cost, something which, surely, could be cheaper to create or be created by cheaper individuals or perhaps be done away with altogether? After all, no-one reads the documentation and everyone can write, how hard could it be?

But how?

Alas we didn’t get to that during our discussions, but I have a few ideas. For starters, we need to:

  • Identify champions, people within our organisation who understand the value we add to the product, and ask them for help.
  • Confirm our main customers are getting what they need from us (what they really need, not just the tick-the-box documents they’ve always received).
  • Communicate with our areas of the company more regularly so they know what we do

Nothing startlingly original there but one thing we all agreed on last night was that it was very easy to get into ‘head down’ mode, when you come into the office and work hard at to produce documentation, help systems, training guides, whitepapers, instructional videos, and more.

We need to, as a profession and as individuals, try to break out of those habits.

Yes, it’s hard, very hard in some situations, but most companies should be receptive to ideas which help make things better. It may be that your first port of call is to your boss to discuss why it would be a good idea to spend more time talking to the customers of your documentation, or it may be that another department is struggling and would welcome some helpful tips and a bit of direction.

We are professionals, and have much more to offer an organisation than information products alone. It’s just that sometimes we need to remind people of that, including ourselves.

Have you successfully conquered this? Do you indulge in PR and Marketing of your services, or the services of the team you are in? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this one.

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