Don’t Trust Your CMS

In the digital era, publishing is easier than ever. But so is making mistakes.

Source: Don’t Trust Your CMS

Liz Fraley of Single-Sourcing Solutions brought this to my attention through social media, and now I’m sharing with you.

As a person who has spent, oh, at least a decade (if not more) in either a CMS or an LMS (same thing, except it has a testing component in it and other database stuff attached to it), this is an interesting read.  I’ve dealt with more haphazard, Frankenstein-like CMSs than I have with out-of-the box CMS products, and none of them are perfect and allow you to publish things exactly the way you want. Part of this is due to how the CMS is set up, and how the CSS files are set up. Based on those things, no amount of markup is going to change those overriding parameters.

One CMS, I’ve determined, that is generally vilified by the technical communication community is SharePoint. I’ve had to use it for at least two or three jobs in the past decade. And every time it was awful.  Why? Microsoft, in all its infinite wisdom, has not created something that delivers what it says, or is intuitive in any way.  Or, it could just be how the developers who set up each instance of SharePoint that I had to deal with did a poor job.  For example, I’m using SharePoint for a current job right now.  Theoretically, a user can copy something in Word, and paste it into SharePoint, and retain its formatting. It’s only partially true. If you need to tweak the formatting once it’s pasted, it gets ugly quickly.  Now, to be dangerous, you can edit the HTML to clean up the code, but that is terrible and time consuming because between Word and SharePoint, a lot of unnecessary tags are added that aren’t needed.  In the current version that I have to use for my job, a simple bullet point is never a bullet–it’s always an arrow instead.  Not great when you have to create long lists of things.  The big joke to me with another version was that it doesn’t like to format tables nicely. I would often copy the table into Dreamweaver, strip the extraneous code, or recode without anything crazy going on, and then copy the clean code back into SharePoint, and it would look beautiful. Now, I’m not a developer or programmer, but I know enough HTML to be dangerous and have been using some version of Dreamweaver for 20 years, so I know what I’m looking at. People thought I was some sort of coding genius to clean up their table for a SharePoint page, but it was really very elementary stuff. And forget about the back end–I can’t find where anything is, because it’s not intuitive in the set up at all.

The point is, this is where content strategist need to speak up to ensure that the tools they are using at a given company actually provides what the company needs. Content strategists and experienced content managers understand information structure, taxonomy and all that good stuff than a regular IT guy, because they are the ones in the trenches.  Because so many CMS programs are bad, content strategists have to be creative with work-arounds. A common one, for example, is that if a video can’t be embedded on a page, you create an image that looks like a video with the player going, so the user will click it, and it will open up a separate window or browser tab to actually play the video.  It shouldn’t have to be so hard! Some CMS systems get it right, or get it closer to being more intuitive. When I used AEM, it was very simple. Even WordPress or Drupal is more intuitive than some of the big enterprise/industrial CMSs out there.

What are your experiences? Do you agree with the author of the article? Include your comments below.


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Rhetorical Power—Does it exist?

Scarlett Johanssen raising her arm in a speech in protest

Sometimes we need to be able to speak up, rather than write. Scarlett Johanssen obviously knows how to do it. How come I’m not sure if I have the right skills?

One of the most important skills a technical communicator possesses is a true command of language, and the use of words in particular. We know that we excel at the written word, but how are we with speaking?

Sometimes our spoken word is just speaking our written words. That’s okay. But when we have to speak clearly, concisely, and cogently off-the-cuff–in the moment–how do we do? I’m sure that like most of the population, it’s a mix of those who are gifted verbally, those who are not, and the rest of the group falling in-between those two groups. As I thought about it, I decided tech comm’ers need to be in that gifted group, or work to be in that group. My problem is that as much as I try to have excellent oratorical skills, I’m not sure that I do.

I had some events recently, two incidents in particular that happened this past weekend, which caused me to doubt my rhetorical abilities. Last week, I was leading the STC-PMC conference, CONDUIT, and rather than prepare special notes, I decided to wing my introduction, and my introductions for the keynote speakers (I know both of them), and talked with a lot of people, and I was feeling pretty confident of how I was able to speak and set the tone of the conference.

A couple nights ago, one of the aforementioned incidents confirmed that confidence. I was at a dinner last night for the alumnae presenters and speakers for a conference I was attending over the weekend. One of the keynote speakers for the day was someone I’ve known since high school when she was a freshman and I was a junior (she was in my sister’s class). She is now famous as a celebrity skin care specialist. Anyhow, someone asked her if she was ready to speak, and she said, “Oh Gawd, no!”, and explained that she could do sound bites for television, video blogs, and magazines, but speeches were not her strength. She then posed the question, “Can anyone speak off the cuff like that?” Everyone at the table, who all attended the same school I did where rhetorical skills were a must to get through, all said no–except me. “Of course I can,” I replied. I was truly surprised that these women who had been trained to be “warrior women” couldn’t do that. It’s not that I felt superior, but I thought, geez, how did you not continue to develop that skill over the last 20 to 30 years as executives and professionals? I’m not even an executive and I could do that. Was that the power of tech comm and that command of language I talked about? Perhaps.

But what had happened earlier in the same evening has put things in doubt. I won’t go too deep into the specifics, but I had a verbal altercation which involved me speaking up against misbehaving children that I think I handled okay, but being a cognitive dimwit, I think I could’ve done better.  I could hear other really well-spoken, quick-witted technical communicators that I know in my imagination later who I know would have come up with better responses that would have shut these people down more quickly. One of the people from the altercation who felt I was out of line called me rude and horrible towards children. Anyone who knows me knows I’m actually really great with children (I usually like kids better than adults), but in this case, children were being disruptive and disrespectful, and all I did was I say to the children in a stern but polite voice to stop screaming and running in this public place. I had already heard them ignore their dads three times to stop, and they didn’t, and it was getting worse. Long story, short, the kids did stop, there was a heated exchange, and the fathers and one mother tried to berate me. After the exchange was essentially over and my back was turned away from them, one of the fathers passed by me afterwards, and uttered a threat that if his buddies weren’t around, he’d beat me up. Of course, my first thought was “Bring it on!” since I have black belt in taekwondo and could probably smear him into the sidewalk. But, while I can’t remember my actual verbal response, I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “Really?” or “Seriously?” Afterwards, I was thinking about how his wife and kids must live with this awful person who would make a threat like that, and that his priority was that he’d be more embarrassed to punch a woman in front of his friends than his wife and small children. And all because he was not disciplining his kids. Seriously.

I was within my rights to say something, and I was bringing the mom/teacher tone with the kids. One of the kids eventually came back and apologized (I don’t know if it was at a parent’s prompting), and I kindly accepted the apology. I also apologized to the kid for yelling and said that I was frustrated, and as he was one of the older ones, asked if he could help the smaller kids understand. He was nice, and I was being nice back. I could be the responsible adult that their dads weren’t being. I had hoped that at least one of the parents heard what I had said in that I apologized as well.

But in the end, I’ve never gotten into a verbal altercation like that, let alone being threatened by someone. So, as much as thought I handled it as well as I could I could have, I was really agitated by the whole thing. Once I got home and tried sleeping, all I could think about was how I could have handled it better, or had that golden tongue to shut them down quicker. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and since I couldn’t sleep from being so agitated from the incident, as all the wittier and more appropriate responses came to mind, making me angry at myself to not think of these responses at the time.

Perhaps it’s my autism at work. Maybe not. I don’t know. I’m also at an age where I feel that I don’t care what people think. I want to speak my mind whenever I can, and I bite my tongue more often than speak up. (I know some people who know me well would be surprised to read that). And yet, I do care. After discussing the incident further with my husband later, he felt this incident was an exception not the rule, because when the adrenaline is going, your mind will work very differently than when not under threat.

The next day, I listened to the keynote speaker, MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, give a message that making an impact is more important than being famous. This is why I’m in technical communication. The daily work of tech comm’ers impacts lives. But what if we’re only good with written words and not spoken words? I fear this impacts our effectiveness and worth. So I’m at an impasse from recent events. Am I an effective rhetorical communicator or not?

In the end, I know there is power in words. As technical communicators, the words we choose have impact, whether they are written or spoken. If our written words are already strong, we need to ensure that our verbal words are equally as strong. Perhaps this is why I push myself to not always read off of written scripts or even to do presentations off of notes–to push myself to have more rhetorical power.  Even as I wrote this, it occurred to me that as we write, we have a chance to edit and refine our words, but we don’t necessarily have that opportunity to do that when we speak. That makes it tricky.

How would you rate yourself and rate the importance of rhetoric in tech comm? Include your comments below.

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Tech Comm and The State of Urbanization

This is how I view many cities.
Is this really where all the tech comm work is?
Photo by Lee Aik Soon on Unsplash

Being that I’m a person whose career is always seemingly in flux, I was listening to a past webinar that featured a few people I knew who were giving advice on how to stay current within the tech comm profession.  While I found there were a few tips in there that were useful, I found that many of them were things that were things I had already tried, but hadn’t found true.  Or, I’ve been doing them all along, and I’m not as far into my career as I want to be.

I’m sure after reading a lot of my posts about remote work, people obviously know what a big proponent I am of remote work–especially in the tech comm field.  But I started thinking about additional aspects of it, and why it’s important that we try to keep working towards remote opportunities being available in this day and age: urbanization.

Now, just so you know, I’m currently contracted at a company–remotely–that has a vested interest in urbanization. One hundred and fifty years ago, people swarmed to the cities to find jobs–industrial jobs in factories, mostly–to support themselves and their families. Once the industrialization craze calmed down, as housing and cost-of-living costs went up in the cities, the move towards more suburban areas started.  People could live outside the cities and still have really good jobs, or they lived in close enough proximity to get to a city without the hassles of city life. It was a winning situation.  I’m finding that now, that is changing back to the industrial revolution thinking again, except there are differences this time.

This time, we are driven by the digital revolution–not the dot-com industry, exactly, but all the digital companies that run throughout the internet that provide information, development, and other resources in our lives.  This sounds like it’d be a tech comm paradise–and it could be–if it wasn’t for one thing. Many of the opportunities are in the cities. Millennial are willingly flocking to the cities to hopefully provide manpower needed, but even they can have issues with living in the cities simply because of one thing: cost.  I know I’ve read where you can’t even afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, even on the generous paychecks they dole out there, even if you live hours away.  I think I just heard or read the other day that millennials are the first generation that won’t be able to buy cars or homes easily after a couple of years of working out of college.  Baby boomers could because the cost of college, housing, and other “normal” living arrangements were still easily attainable. With each generation, it gets harder, and even if you are a Gen-Xer like myself, it doesn’t mean it’s easier necessarily.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as for myself, I find it very difficult to think that the only way for technical communicators to get jobs is to uproot themselves–and in some cases, entire families–for jobs in the cities, and that includes contract jobs.  It’s bad enough that tech comm struggles to prove to industries that it has permanent value, and that technical communicators are not engineers, scientists, pharmacologists, executive MBAs, or computer programmers/developers who can write. The industry expectation is that you are one of those things, and you can write, instead of the other way around–a writer who can learn terminology and research, and can turn techno-babble into clear language for everyone else. That’s already a battle. But to say that those who do value tech comm are only found in the cities? That’s horrible.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Why is being in the city so important in the digital age? Is it because that’s where the financing is found? Is it because of corporate offices being in a city? I’m sure it’s yes, on both accounts.  But when you really stop and think about it–why, in this digital age, are we having another flocking to urban areas? This doesn’t make sense to me.  I think about where I live in Central New Jersey.  When I was getting out of college, this area was the hot spot if you wanted to find a job. I moved from my parents’ house to the town I live in now to be closer to Princeton. Now…unless you are in finance, pharmaceuticals, or are an ace web programmer/developer (none of which are me), there’s nothing. All the appropriate jobs in are either in New York City or Philadelphia, both of which are at least an hour and a half commute in each direction. That would be three to four hours out of my day. Now, not to sound old, but that’s WAY too much of my time that could be my own. Taking public transportation doesn’t make it any better, really. It makes it more of a hassle, and still doesn’t allow me to own my time.  I know people who do it, and I think they are crazy.

There are a LOT of talented people around the world. A lot of smart people around the world.  I know technical communicators who, like myself, are at a loss as to what to do, because either they already live in a city and struggle to afford it, or like me, struggle to find something that’s either remote, or nearby so they can have a good quality of living for themselves and/or their family.  Why should we sacrifice so much? It’s bad enough that the jobs are in the cities, but if the cost of living in those cities is making working at those jobs unattainable, isn’t the solution for companies to start either moving to the suburbs OR figuring out ways to encourage remote working? Perhaps that’s too logical.

The re-urbanization of society is not necessarily a good thing, especially considering this is the digital age, where we can put up hotspots and satellites and wi-fi towers anywhere we want within reason.  Why aren’t companies taking advantage of this technology? If they like to think of themselves as global and inclusive, why are they limiting that global access and inclusivity only to their urban work sites?

As technical communicators, it should be a big part of our initiative to promote ourselves not only as people who add value to a company’s bottom line through documentation, UX, content strategy, and other skills we have, but that we are also able to work just about anywhere–including in our home offices–and still be effective at what we do. We can help our local economies by staying put and not contribute to the overcrowded cities and the rising costs there.  Why would I want to try to get a studio apartment in San Francisco or Silicon Valley or New York City for USD$1-2 million when I can get a three-to-four bedroom house in a nice neighborhood, have some green space/a garden, a good school district for my child, for a fraction of that? Why should I have to sacrifice my time with my family and other obligations I have to my community by commuting four hours round trip everyday, and sacrificing my physical and mental well-being at the same time?  Urbanization is not a solution, it’s more of a problem. Digitization should be allowing for more widespread resources, not confining them to one area that everyone must flock to.

If companies truly embrace global digitization and global opportunity, they shouldn’t focus solely on cities. They need to look EVERYWHERE, and provide opportunities everywhere.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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Combating Age Bias in Your Job Hunt – UW Professional & Continuing Education

There’s little doubt that age bias exists in the job market, unfortunately. You can lessen the likelihood of it hindering your job hunt, though. Dig into life-tested tips from career coach Matt Youngquist.

Source: Combating Age Bias in Your Job Hunt – UW Professional & Continuing Education

I found this link through an email that was sent to me from the University of Washington Continuing Education program (they have some cool certificate programs I’ve looked at in the past, but can’t afford right now).

I thought this article was pretty interesting, and gave some good advice when it comes to trying to “combat” the age bias in resumes and the job hunt. I think the recommendation that I had difficulty with is the idea of letting go of any jobs older than 10 years back. Sure, it might shorten my resume, but some of my earliest experience is something I feel I need on my resume, especially to establish that I do have the experience and skills. What puts a kink in this is that there’s a huge gap in my resume from the years that I was a stay-at-home mom. I was doing the odd part-time jobs here and there when I could during that time, but nothing that’s directly relevant to what I’m trying to do now–just the pre-mom stuff is relevant. Add to that problem that it’s been difficult to find any full-time jobs or long-term assignments in the last ten years.  I think the longest assignment I had that was working full-time lasted two and a half years. That same assignment yielded a part-time gig later that’s been going on for about 3 year now, but it’s not the same thing.

So, while I can appreciate much of what this article says, I think in the gig economy that especially impacts the technical communication industry, I’m not sure how much of it applies. Sure, it’s easy to take out the outdated software references and skills and leave in the more current, hopefully more relevant skills, but with technology zooming faster than we can keep up with it, even for millenials, how can we stay afloat?

What do you think of these recommendations? Include your comments below.

PS – Did you notice that the author of the article didn’t look that much older than about 35 years old? Or was that just me?

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The Revolution Will Have Structured Content | Think Company

The content decisions we make as individuals, organizations, or a society—consciously or unconsciously, inherited or created from scratch—dictate our values.

Source: The Revolution Will Have Structured Content | Think Company

I am a fan of David Dylan Thomas.  I’ve seen him at several presentations, and just this past weekend, he presented as the keynote speaker at the conference I was running for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, CONDUIT 2018.

I always like Dave’s insights because they put a twist on things that we either take for granted or just know inherently.  This article is a great example of that point. When I read it, I realized that, “Huh, you know, he’s exactly right about that.”  In some ways, it feels like he’s talking about the evolution of our language, but really, it’s more about the evolution about how we use language and create content based on that evolved language.

Definitely take a look at this article. Let me know what you think in the comments.


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Remote work is “the new normal”

We know the number of freelancers is on the rise, but more than half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work among full-time permanent employees is becoming more common, too. Many of the 1,000 hiring managers surveyed said that they expect up to 38% of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the … Continue reading “Remote work is “the new normal””

Source: Remote work is “the new normal”

It’s interesting to read this, because I’m wondering who these companies are and what kind of positions they have for permanent employees that are remote! In the tech comm field, I’m starting to realize that part of the problem is that there are very few permanent positions anymore–or it seems, from my years of job searching, very rare. The majority of tech comm positions are some sort of temporary or contract position, and while some are remote (it’s improving just a tiny bit), most are on site. There still seems to be an expectation of contract workers going to great lengths to either move to a location or do long commutes just to be able to work.  If remote is the new normal, and remote working is rather conducive for many types of tech comm work, how come we aren’t seeing more of it? It still doesn’t feel like the “new normal” described in this article, although the article is encouraging.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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Why content strategists are the doctors of the content world » FH JOANNEUM

Rahel A. Bailie on the similarities between content strategists and physicians.

Source: Why content strategists are the doctors of the content world » FH JOANNEUM

Let me tell you–when it comes to content strategy, Rahel Bailie knows her stuff! She is someone to listen to. She is someone I’d like to think is a friend of mine, as well as a mentor, too. I’ve gotten to know her not only by attending presentations of hers over the years and hanging out with a lot of the same people at conferences, but also getting to know her on social media too. I’ve learned a lot from her.

In this article, I like her analogy of a doctor to a content strategist. But I think it’s also interesting point she makes about content marketing strategists–they aren’t content strategists in the same vein.  I can verify that from my own job searches.  Job descriptions are always listed as content marketing strategist jobs or even content strategist jobs, but their focus is usually more on marketing than actual content strategy or understanding content management. Or worse, they’ll combine the two with the greater emphasis on the content marketing, and that’s just not what content strategists are. I don’t know how many recruiters have contacted me or how many job listings I’ve seen that confuse me with a content marketing person.  Now, I even earned a certificate in digital marketing to potentially bridge that gap, but in the end, it really wasn’t my thing. It helps to have an understanding, but I’m still a generalist in that respect. I try to look at the big picture, and figure out the symptoms to help determine what the best treatment is.

Do you agree with Rahel’s assessment of what content strategy is…or isn’t? Include your comments below.


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