Chapter 2 of the adventures of Trilby Trench

Have things improved, or is Trilby Trench still in a pickle? Read A Word If You Please, chapter 2 to find out!

A Word If You Please is the first book in an online fiction series about Trilby Trench, tech writer and action hero. Don’t worry if you missed chapter 1 – you can still read it and get to know Trilby Trench. See the about page on her site. You can also subscribe to updates on the site, to make sure you don’t miss out again. 🙂

Announcing Trilby Trench, tech writer and adventurer

Let me introduce you to Trilby Trench, technical writer.

In her own words:

I’m Trilby Trench.
As in the hat, the coat.

The role of a technical writer is more exciting than you’d think. Sometimes things get physical. Trilby has always been lucky in a fight. Or perhaps it’s skill rather than luck. As every technical writer knows, you need to do something yourself before you can write the manual. Trilby has written a variety of manuals.

The first account of the Trilby Trench adventures is out! Try A Word If You Please.

If you like, you can subscribe to the Trilby Trench site, to receive an email when the next chapter is available. I’d love to know what you think about Trilby Trench and her friends. Share your thoughts by commenting on the Trilby Trench blog or here on this blog.  I’ll be adding chapters regularly, and working on the site’s appearance.

STC Summit 2017 wrapup

This week I attended STC Summit 2017, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. I’ve written summaries of the sessions I attended. This post is a wrapup of the conference as a whole, with links to my session summaries.

A huge thanks to the STC Summit committee, who’ve put together a fantastic conference this year. It’s been a few years since I was last able to attend a Summit (the last time was in 2014) and it was an absolute pleasure to be here again. I’ve met many friends, made new acquaintances, and learned what people are doing in tech comm.

There were approximately 600 attendees at STC Summit this year. The venue was the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, MD, close to Washington, DC. The conference theme was:

Gain the Edge to Get Results

Session summaries

There were approximately 85 sessions, with 5 to 8 sessions running concurrently in each time slot, over the course of 2 and a half days.

I wrote notes on most of the sessions I attended:

Other blogs

Kevin Cuddihy has posted session summaries on the STC Notebook. For example, here’s the post for Tuesday morning, which includes a writeup of my session. Thanks Kevin!

Here’s a good summary of the STC Summit from STC San Diego.

Social event: dine around

On Monday evening we gathered in groups and went to a few of the restaurants in the area. I chose Rosa Mexicana, where the food was good, the decor lovely, and the company outstanding.

The venue and surrounds

For a touch of local colour, take a look at my bookmark’s latest blog post about Georgetown, Washington, DC.

Here’s a view from inside the atrium of the Gaylord National Resort:

A view from the gardens:

The Potomac River at sunset, just a block away from the hotel:

It’s a wrap!

I’ve loved meeting everyone and attending all those interesting, entertaining sessions. Thanks so much to all the organisers, speakers, and attendees!

Publishing in the Cloud with HTML5 at stc17

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2017, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. These are my notes from one of the sessions at the conference. All credit goes to the presenter, and any mistakes are mine.

David Coules from eGloo Technologies presented a session called “Disrupt Your Ownself: Streamlined Publishing through the Cloud with HTML5”. He described a light publication stream for self-publishing complex technical documents.

Current problems

Even in 2017, we have a number of problems in delivering content. Examples include long-standing print-based workflow, bespoke website development, complex technology, and no easy go-to solution. There are delays in reaching target audiences, loss of control of the versions of content that your audience is using, and authors spending too much time on layout rather than on content.

Technology enablers

David talked about a set of technologies, including HTML5 and CSS3, which turned the web browser into a solid platform for app development. These apps are available on every device that supports a web platform. Such a system can be a single point of delivery for the content developer, while to the user it seems as if the content is available on all platforms.

Web browsers, such as Google Chrome, also offer a number of tools for developers to examine and update their web apps. There are also a number of tools built on top of the browser.

Progressive web apps are apps that run in any web browser, are responsive to fit in any form factor, are available offline when necessary, and feel like an app because they separate content from functionality.

Continuous integration and continuous delivery allow for rapid development and delivery of features.

Developers build apps with the intention of providing integration with other apps, via APIs.

The Cloud provides global scalability, high availability, and integrated connectivity.

Creating content

Assuming your content is published on the web, how do you author the content? David mentioned that you can author content in existing formats, such as DITA or other structured authoring environments, or even Word with templates, and you can build a process for end-to-end automation.

You can package your content and deliver it to your web app in the Cloud. This takes a few seconds. And because your web app is viewable on all devices/platforms, that’s your job done.

An eReader can provide an API, which developers can use to embed the content in their own apps.

David walked through some case studies. One company took only 4 hours to come up to speed with the new publishing process.

Illustrating the use of APIs, David mentioned a case where the company integrated the published content inside a CRM system (SalesForce). Staff could instantly access the published information when on a call to a customer.

A scenario for the future

What about the IoT (Internet of Things)? David mentioned an idea where the technical documentation could pull in information from an IoT machine, about the problem that the machine is experiencing. That information could activate a particular section of the documentation, such as a troubleshooting guide.

Next steps

Hold a conversation about what’s possible. Depending on your environment, this sort of technology may be a long way off or immediately available. Raise awareness at first. Work towards publishing in this way, taking a step towards the potential for innovation that the modern web offers. Think about augmented reality, for example.

Thanks David for a cool intro to modern web technology.

Catering for novices and expert users at stc17

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2017, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. These are my notes from one of the sessions at the conference. All credit goes to the presenter, and any mistakes are mine.

Laurian Vega presented a session titled “Novices AND Experts, Not Novices OR Expert Users”. I’m very interested in this topic, as it’s a problem that most creators of documentation face: the people coming to your docs may be new to the topic, or seasoned users looking for help with one specific task/concept. How do you optimise the docs UX (user experience) for both types of audience? Laurian’s talk focused on user interfaces. I figure a doc set has its own user interface, and as tech writers we’re responsible for the information architecture of the doc set too.

Laurian is a UX engineer. Her team writes all the words for the user interface (UI) and documentation for around 30 products.

Experts and novice users

Should we have two difference pieces of software to support the two types of users? No, says Lauren.

She showed us Adobe Photoshop as an example of a tool made for experts: graphic designers. But a number of people who are not graphic designers need to use it, and it’s flabbergasting.

People move from being novices to experts. They do this for various reasons, including necessity and initial simplicity of the task. There’s a spectrum of people, from novice to expert. By designing for the extremes, we also cater for the people in the middle.

Novices do well if the UI is simple, and there’s a single, clear call to action. They benefit from tutorials.

Experts know the task they want to complete, and they know how to do it. (Remember, we’re talking about UI here, not the docs.)

Laurian showed the Google search page as a good example of a design that caters for both novices and experts. Note the large expanse of white space, which focuses the user on the main task. The search box is right in the middle, so the eye is drawn to it. There are only two buttons, and you don’t even need to use them. For the expert users, there are extra controls at top and bottom, which you can find if you’re looking for them.

Expert users tend to have extensive domain knowledge. They may not necessarily have knowledge of modern UI design, because they’ve been doing the same task for so long. Expert users tend to take less time to complete a task, and often perform multiple tasks.

If a user doesn’t like your UI, they’re less likely to do well with it. They also don’t tend to spend much time attempting to learn it.

How to design for both experts and novices

Create separate personas to represent novices and experts, and use those personas to step through each task. Aim for 5-7 personas. Laurian walked through some sample personas for novice and expert, using the example of a UI for an online shoe shop. The novice in this case had high domain knowledge, but was a new visitor to the site. The expert had low domain knowledge, but had browsed the shoe shore’s site often.

Make sure you have a persona for the people who hate your UI!

Take a look at usability.gov for useful resources.

Design patterns

Do’s and don’ts in design:

  • Don’t make separate user interfaces. Design the right tool from the beginning.
  • Don’t ask your users if they’re experts. You won’t get a useful answer. Look at your analytics instead.
  • Don’t use different tones for the two types of users.
  • Don’t test with only one segment of your users.
  • Do provide default options, as they help novices as well as experts, particularly for complex features.
  • Provide both a quick and an advanced search.
  • Provide help text and clear feedback. Avoid big blaring red text. Be helpful without being angry.
  • Allow users to skip or dismiss the help features.
  • If you have a lot of jargon in the UI, which assumes domain knowledge, link to a place where that jargon is explained.
  • Provide advanced options as part of the interaction flow. Use progressive disclosure.
  • Add labels to indicate advanced features. Consider hiding the advanced features until the user has gained enough experience to handle them, but make sure users can see those features if they want to.
  • Take care with custom icons. Icons can offer a quick way for users to find what they need, but remember that novices don’t know the icons. Provide tooltips.

Thanks Laurian for your useful insights into designing for a variety of user experience levels and behaviours.

%d bloggers like this: