TCANZ, the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand, will host a webinar on 25th/26th of June, at which I’ll present a session called “Wiki-based documentation: What works and what hurts“. I’d love it if you could join us.
The webinar is a live, online presentation. We’ll see social and collaborative documentation in action, on the Atlassian documentation wiki.
What’s the aim of this webinar?
I’ll show you what’s great about technical communication on a wiki.
But you’ve probably heard a lot about that already, from me and other wiki technical writers. So I’d also like to talk about the aspects of wiki-based documentation that are more tricky, and share some hints about what our technical writing team is doing about those areas.
The TCANZ webinar page has more details about the content of the session.
Date, time and registration
If you’re in the Asia-Pacific region like me, you’ll be delighted to know that this webinar happens at a civilised time of day for us.
Date: Tuesday 26th June 2012 (which is Monday 25th June in some parts of the world)
Time: 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday 26th June in New Zealand
9:00 a.m. on Tuesday 26th June in Sydney
4 p.m. on Monday 26th June in California
7 p.m. on Monday 26th June in New York
You can use the WorldTimeServer to see the time in your own time zone.
Fee and registration: See the TCANZ webinar page.
I’m at the 2011 conference of the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC), New South Wales branch. It’s great to get together with other technical writers, greet old friends and meet new people. It’s also great to talk about the things that matter to us as technical communication professionals. Here are my notes from the morning of day 1.
President’s welcome, by Bede Sunter
Bede Sunter, president of the ASTC, opened the conference by with a concise description of the role of technical communicators: Supplying information of value. He briefly discussed the role of technical communicators and its relationship with the Plain Language movement. After welcoming everyone, he handed over to Pam Peters
Beyond words, by Pam Peters
The key note presentation was by Pam Peters, adjunct professor in linguistics at Macquarie University. Pam has contributed to a number of dictionaries and written style guides such as The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage. She introduced herself saying that she was here as a linguist who is increasingly interested in visual communication, and the visual dimensions of language as used for communication purposes.
Pam’s presentation discussed contrastive typography, its decorative uses, and most relevantly its functional uses as a resource for communication. One example was the use of visuals to clarify architectural terms. These visuals may be as simple as a picture. Or they may be diagrams for showing the relationships between different terms. She showed us a tree structure to represent the classification of windows by their shape. Shape is just one of the ways in which we can describe windows. This was part of the “term bank” that Pam and her team are developing. Another example was a concept map, similar to a mind map or a data relationship diagram, showing the relationships between facets of sustainable architecture.
Pam discussed the benefits of tabular information: It is both wide band (a lot of information) and gives the reader control. The reader can decide what to focus on. She illustrated this with a table that Tufte had created for a criminal trial, showing the types of crimes committed by witnesses in the trial. Evidently this table had a big effect on the outcome of the trial. Other graphs showed the causes of death over a given timeline. Again, the graphs were created by Tufte.
Pam closed by saying that the visual elements are parallel methods of communication to the words and numbers. If you can use these elements meaningfully and strategically, you can become a multimodal communicator. This is the way everyone wants to go.
Keeping your customer happy – it takes more than words, by Elizabeth Abbott
Elizabeth Abbott is director of TechWriter Placement and Services. She mentioned that she gets lots and lots of feedback about the way her company’s contractors interact with clients. She stressed that this is a very important part of our job, for people who have permanent roles as well as contractors. The focus of Elizabeth’s talk was on understanding non-verbal cues: Listening to the customers, giving and receiving feedback, and body language. A good question to ask yourself, when dealing with a customer, is: “What can I do to make this person successful?”
Elizabeth’s talk was very informative, and given by someone who obviously has a lot of experience in this field and has thought about it and formulated her guidelines with skill and care.
A bit of everything – multiple platforms with minimal editing, by David Whitbread
Author of The Design Manual, David Whitbread presented a session on “a bit of everything”. This is something that most of us are doing these days. A big concern is versioning. By that, David means which version of the information are we delivering. How can we come up with one definitive version, or one definitive document, and then feed it out to the various media? This was the subtext of David’s talk, including metadata tagging and visual media.
David started with the capture and curation of content. Curation is a new term, but it is really what authors have always done. He talked about using podcasts as a way of quickly capturing information from subject matter experts. Within ten minutes, he has a good chunk of content. The lawyers with whom he’s been using this technique are very happy with this process, because it’s much faster than text capture and it gives the lawyers control over the content. Transcripts then provide the textual element. A similar process is used to reuse the presentations given by the lawyers at conferences.
Navigation and labelling are essential for helping people fin dthe information they need. Headings must signpost the information. Semantic tagging is useful for gathering related information and pushing it out in a different way. For example, you could label all headings as heading1, heading2 etc. You could also label all quotations as such. This is the metadata that is useful for sending out summaries, or content targeted at specific audiences, and so on.
David says that design is going to get easier, because now we’re designing the pieces of the document. How they will finally appear is determined by a number of factors, including the users’ choices, the output medium, the browser, the device, and more. Technology plays a big part in how design will become simpler. See the example of The Guardian mobile app. The source files for the Guardian pages are scanned by the software, and it works out how to display the article for the app. The designers just go in and add the final touches. David recommends that we look at the reviews of The Guardian app, in CreativeReview and other locations. (Here is one that I found: http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2011/october/port-guardian-ipad-apps)
We want our messages to gracefully reflow to suit the technology of the user. The Guardian app is a great example of this.
David’s talk also skimmed over findability and accessibility, branding and marketing, websites and social media, and film and sound.
Workshops to webinars – the future of training for technical communicators? By Steve Moss
Steve Moss is president of the Technical Communicators Association, New Zealand (TCANZ). His session covered the strengths and weaknesses of webinars and workshops as training tools. The notes that Steve gave us in the conference workbook are very comprehensive indeed, and will be very useful for anyone intending to run such a training session. TCANZ has run over 60 workshops and webinars over the last few years. The presentation contained the tips and techniques that Steve and his team have learned about the process of organising and running workshops and webinars, with a focus on webinars. They have run five webinars since 2010, including sessions with presenters in the UK, US and New Zealand.
This was a very informative talk, covering all you need to know about planning and holding a webinar or workshop.
Off to lunch
It’s lunch time. More news from ASTC (NSW) 2011 in my next post.
This week I attended the TCANZ Conference 2010 in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve already written some posts about most of the sessions I attended. This post is a wrapup, with links to those posts and some general information about the conference.
First of all, a very big thank you and warm congratulations to the conference organisers. This was my first time at a TCANZ conference, and I loved the people, the information-rich sessions and the venue. It struck me again and again how much care the organisers took of the speakers and of the delegates. As a speaker myself, it was wonderful to be invited so charmingly and to be welcomed into New Zealand so heartily. Thank you Emily, Margery, Steve, Roy, Luke, Emma, MaryAnne, Sarah and everyone else involved in creating such a great event. And thank you to Emma too for the scintillating, tantalising introductions to each speaker!
There were about 60 delegates at the conference, and 14 sessions spread over 2 days. Nine of the sessions were presentations by invited speakers, on the topic of intranet solutions. There were also the introductory session, three product presentations and the speaker forum.
I’ve written posts about most of the sessions I attended. There were a few where I just sat back and listened rather than taking notes. Here are links to my summary posts:
- Conference introduction and welcome, by Lynda Harris
- Metadata: Key to a successful intranet, by Ann Rockley
- Building a great intranet, by Rachael Fogarty
- Presentation of Adobe Corporation products, by Ankur Jain
- Simple design choices for maximum usability, by Patrick Hofmann
- Author-it Corporation presentation, by Matt Armstrong
- Tools for collaboration, management, and delivery of information, by Rowdy Bristol
- Intranet publishing with Drupal, by Chris Daish and Matthew Hunt
- Confluence wiki as an intranet, by Sarah Maddox (this was my presentation)
- Video killed the redundant writer, by Grant Mackenzie
New friends, chit-chat and learning
It’s all about meeting people. Along the way, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.
Here are some pictures of the conference dinner on Thursday night. The food was excellent and the company was outstanding!
(Click the images to see a larger picture.)
The speaker forum
The very last session was the speaker forum. It was a fun, raucous, thought-provoking and above all terrifying end to the conference.
MaryAnne picked 6 speakers as her victims. I was lucky enough to be one of them. She then took some scraps of paper, wrote the beginnings of some sentences on them, and put them into a cup. Each of us had to draw a scrap of paper from the cup, read the words on the paper and continue speaking. Instantly, with no preparation, and for about five minutes!
The phrase I drew was:
If technical communicators ruled the world, I would take on…
Imagine how you’d continue speaking on that topic, in front of an audience of 60!
Actually, we all acquitted ourselves fairly well. The audience chipped in, lively debates arose, and chickens somehow featured prominently. Well done, MaryAnne, it was fun and a great way to close the conference.
Heh, I’ve learned at last how to pronounce “TCANZ”. It’s “T-Canz”, not “T-C-A-N-Z”. Seriously though, this is a conference well worth attending.
This week I attended the TCANZ Conference 2010 in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve already written a few posts about the other presentations at the conference. Now it’s the turn of my own session, called “Let’s take a wiki for a spin”. It was all about Confluence wiki as an intranet platform.
I gave a hands-on demo of Confluence wiki, focusing on the features that are great for its use as an intranet. Sprinkled here and there are some tips on how we use Confluence as our own intranet at Atlassian, and some ideas on how to get employees enthusiastic about using the intranet and how to ensure they feel a sense of ownership of the intranet.
Downloading the presentation
If you like, you can download a copy of the slides in PDF form. They may be useful, even though the presentation was a hands-on demo. I’ve put a lot of information and references into the speaker’s notes too.
- Download the slides in PDF form (1,791 KB): Let’s take a wiki for a spin (slides only)
- Download the slides with notes in PDF form (7,304 KB): Let’s take a wiki for a spin (slides with notes)
A summary of what’s in it
The presentation covers these areas of using Confluence wiki as an intranet:
- Introduction to Confluence wiki.
- Creating a space. In the session, we created the technical communication space, where members of the tech comms team can share their procedures, news and other information. We customised the space home page and looked at various ways of structuring the content of the space.
- Customising the dashboard. We looked at the default dashboard and tried out two ways of customising it. We talked about the advantages of letting all employees change the welcome message on the dashboard and contribute in other ways to the content, keeping it fresh and interesting.
- Publishing a blog post. We wrote a blog post and used the gallery macro to produce a pretty display of pictures. We discussed the idea of making new starters write a blog post on their very first day, and how well that works to get them using the intranet and to introduce them to the company.
- Helping other teams with their spaces. We looked at some of the more technical aspects of content creation, and how technical communicators can help the organisation get the most out of its intranet wiki.
- Staying on top of the news. How can you keep up with what’s happening in the organisation and yet avoid being swamped by the news? We looked at RSS feeds: What they are, how to build them and how to read them. Then we examined the email notifications that the wiki can send, and how you can tailor it to send just what you want to know: Watching a space, watching a page, following people and setting your notification options.
- Taking your own wiki for a spin. It’s surprisingly easy to download and install a wiki and run it on your laptop or desktop PC, just as I was doing for the presentation. The slides contain some pointers to getting hold of Confluence. Other wikis are fairly easy to try out too.