AODC – a new grammar for online communication

This week I’m attending the Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference (AODC) on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Today Jonathan Halls spoke about the new media and multimedia, and how things are changing in the world of communication.

Jonathan is chairman of Talkshow Communication Ltd. His presentation style is charming and funny and he tells a good story. At this session, he talked about the changes in our way of life and communication style, which mean that we technical communicators need a new “grammar”. His definition of a grammar is “the principles or rules of an art, science or technique”.

There are no rules for this new grammar yet. It is up to us, the technical communicators, to write the new grammar. What’s more, instead of looking to write a set of rules, we should be looking for the right list of questions.

Some titbits

These are some interesting nuggets of information from Jonathan’s talk:

  • Kids don’t use capital letters any more.
  • Think about teenagers’ concentration spans and multi-tasking abilities — if we write the way we were taught to, they’re not taking it in.
  • On a web page, the average person reads 200 words then stops.
  • What do you think is the typical demographic of Second Life? One person in the audience responded quickly with “People who don’t have a first life”. 🙂 The interesting answer is: People aged 35 to 45, Northern European, who are high earners.
  • 25% of kids use “lol” and emoticons in their schoolwork.

Evolution of the story

Jonathan does tell a good story. While telling us a story of a caveman’s conversation with his wife, Jonathan also pointed out how story telling has moved from the interactive, multi-media and non-linear style a caveman would have used, through the recorded, narrative style made possible and enforced by writing and the printing-press, through film and radio, to the web. We’ve now come full circle, because the web allows us to combine the media and tell an interactive, non-linear story again.

Principles for the new grammar

Moving back to the new grammar we need, Jonathan listed five principles:

  • Multiple methods, or multimedia — we need to make sure we understand what works where.
  • Moving from a linear to a non-linear narrative — becoming more conversational and acknowledging the fact that the audience doesn’t necessarily want to read the whole document. Blogs, wikis, forums. This ties in neatly with the DITA workshop I attended and blogged about yesterday — technology enabling modular documentation.
  • Interactive participation — yielding control back to your reader; communication is becoming more personal.
  • Shared authorship — wikis; using amateur writers to add value; acknowledging that you as technical communicator can’t do it all alone.
  • Shift of your audience to a community — wikis and blogs again.

My conclusions

Jonathan‘s talk brought home the way our lifestyles and communication methods have changed over the last fifteen years. I personally am lucky that I’m working in an environment which already uses much of the technology he mentioned. Even so, the message is clear: Keep innovating, keep thinking of new ways of doing things, and don’t get trapped into a paradigm where our new methods are bounded by the traditional ways.


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 14 May 2008, in AODC, technical writing, wiki and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Sarah!

    Curious details, esp. the “titbits” part. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.


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