Good writing always gets you ahead.

Captain Picard has a lot of editing to do with ipads around him everywhere.

Even Picard knows that if you don’t have good writing and editing, things fall behind when you have a lot of editing to do.

I’ve been job searching again, as my last contract ended about a month ago. I’ve had some ups and downs in the last month, to say the least, but finding the next gig is always a priority (even though I said I was going to take the summer off). I’m still doing a few hours here and there of freelancing, but it’s not paying the bills, so the search goes on.

But as I’m working on coming up with a curriculum for the technical editing course I’m slated to teach at NJIT this fall, and following a phone interview with a recruiter for another job, it occurs to me that good writing and editing has always been a mainstay in my career, even before I got involved in technical communications.

The first job I had that involved writing was as a consumer affairs representative for the company that makes Arm & Hammer products. Part of the job was not only taking notes about the consumer calls, but also answering written inquiries. Now remember, this is in the days before the web, so phone calls and letters were all we had, but they kept us busy! My department had several form letters that we could use for the most common correspondence we’d get, but now and then, we’d have to customize one of those form letters, or write a totally new letter. I was often told, as a kid fresh out of college, that I was a good writer, and my letters usually didn’t need as many tweaks as the others in my group.

Fast forward to the job that launched me into looking at technical communications. I was working as an application specialist at a huge philanthropy/non-profit. My department used instructional design techniques and technical editing to review grant application processes, and help those writing the grant applications and review processes to turn those paper processes into digital processes. I’d have to check for grammar, sentence structure, make sure that instructions were clear to elicit the responses that were expected from those using the content management system. I didn’t know the terms “instructional design” or “technical editing” or “content management” at the time, but figured them out later when I got laid off from that position, and decided to go back to school to do…something. I was often praised by my manager that I understood grammar and knew how to make the correct edits better than my predecessor, and we bonded over Oxford commas.

And to think, I wasn’t even an English major! But I always liked learning languages and I always did well with grammar lessons, so it seemed natural to me.

Fast forward again to now. Many of the jobs that I’ve applied to in the past few years or so have involved my ability to write and edit. Some of those jobs were earned, and I had to show that I could write and edit, and I did successfully. I had done very well in graduate school in my technical editing class, and now I’m working on revamping the curriculum for the same class which I’m about to teach this fall.

These days, it seems like good writing and editing is going by the wayside. Digital writers depend too much on spell checker and grammar checker to be caught by their word processing or editing software, when that’s only a tool to help catch the obvious mistakes. I don’t know how many times I’ve checked and double-checked a document and found mistakes that spell checker did not find. Those tools on common software can’t find sentence structure phrases that would be unfamiliar to a machine doing translation to find turns of phrase that aren’t found in other languages.

As I continue my search for the next big thing I’ll be doing, I’m realizing that my attention to grammar and language has been a boon for my career, and if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s something that’s so simple and starts at a very young age while still in elementary school. For those who make arguments about evolving language and grammar, and advocate that emoji are part of written language, I disagree. Straightforward language, but written and spoken, has always helped me in my career, and I suspect that it will continue to help me going forward. Technical writing and technical communication beseeches that we use a solid foundation of good language skills, as it is a requirement for those in the field to do our job properly.

If you usually don’t do much authoring or editing, it would be worth taking a refresher course. I think the STC sometimes provides great ones online. In these days of digital writing when no one is properly checking content, it’s worth the time and effort to make sure that you have the skills to do what software or a machine sometimes can’t do.

What do you think? Include your comments below.

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STC-NEC Interchange 2018’s Keynote Speaker: TechCommGeekMom


Nighttime image of Lowell, MA
Well, this will be a first!  I’ve been invited to be the keynote speaker for the STC-New England Chapter’s conference, Interchange, this coming fall–October 26-27, 2018 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Interchange is one of those regional conferences that I’ve wanted to attend, and to be invited to speak as the keynote? Wow! I’m truly honored.

They first asked me if I was interested actually when I was in the midst of CONDUIT 2018 this past spring. To say the least, I was surprised. Me? Keynote material? Then I thought, hey, why not? I’m sure I can figure out something to talk about in a half hour (I have until October to figure it out now–possibly sooner).  I know that the STC-New England Chapter is hard at work to ensure that this is going to be a really good conference, and worth the trip north in the fall! I’m looking forward to seeing my STC friends from New England, and meeting some new ones.

If you are interesting in checking out this conference, go to the Interchange 2018 website for more details. I hope that I will see you there, and please don’t jeer or heckle me while I speak (although some people I would expect it from. LOL)

In the meantime, plans are already underway for CONDUIT 2019. We haven’t pinned down an exact date yet, but it will be in the first half of April, for sure.  I’m in the midst of seeing if we can find a new venue for our little conference. I’ve visited one place that’s excellent–and most of our board’s first choice–but I have to do due diligence in visiting the other places as well that we’ve chosen as finalists, and then doing some number-crunching to see which is the most economical. There will be some big changes for next year no matter where we go, but we are confident that it will be worth it.

In the meantime, go register for Interchange 2018, and I’ll see you there!

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Why we always need to keep learning…

I saw this video on LinkedIn, and wanted to share. I continually tell my son (who is a day shy of finishing his Junior year of high school at this writing) that tomorrow’s jobs aren’t necessarily today’s jobs, so not to worry. Heck, when I graduated high school, there was no Internet, so any web-related jobs of any kind, like a digital content strategist, was not a job.

Watch this–this is why we have to keep learning and growing to be prepared for the next thing.

When I was looking for the original video to embed here, it turns out that this video came out a year ago. Nonetheless, it’s still applicable.

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Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened?

A great bot can be about as useful as an average app. When it comes to rich, sophisticated, multi-layered apps, there’s no competition. Today’s most successful bot experiences take a hybrid approach, incorporating chat into a broader strategy that encompasses more traditional elements.

Source: Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened?

This is a great article that was originally shared on STC San Diego’s Facebook page.

One of the things that often irritates me is that you go to a conference or attend a webinar, and you hear about the latest and greatest technology, and understandably, one gets mixed feelings about hearing about new technology (at least I do). On one hand, you are excited to hear about the latest innovations, and see how new technology has the potential to change things in great ways. On the other hand, it’s new, and it’s scary, and sometimes it’s complicated or deep. Add to that, the possibility of using that technology, for most of us, is still far away because our place of work is still not even to the standards of what’s available today (Windows 8, anyone?)

This article, while a little long, is worth the read, because it talks about those cycles of how new tech or concepts gets adopted, and also shows some great examples of why we shouldn’t fret, because sometimes the technology isn’t there yet.

As technical communicators, the idea of chat bots and AI has been shoved down our throats for the past year or so, much in the same way that content marketing had been for several years before that.  While technical communicators are definitely the people who should pay attention to chat bots, because they have the skills that can lend to making AI a more useable experience, most companies are not there yet, or are–again–forcing something that isn’t ready or sophisticated yet before its time. This article shows that clearly.

We can most definitely be part of technological advances going forward, but more often than not, where we work is not caught up with yesterday’s tech still. While we can help get things caught up, I don’t think the pressure that the industry is putting is necessary. Yes, we should be ready, but it’s not today. It might not even be tomorrow.  Getting panicked about writing for chatbots and such to create natural language and great user experiences are something we should think about now, but most of us are still trying to get our employers or clients to understand how to use social media (and that’s been out for more than ten years already).  Don’t get me wrong–technology is advancing at a breakneck pace, and we should definitely do our best to try to keep up with it or at least be knowledgeable about it.  But we really aren’t ready for it, and that’s okay. We’ll get there. There’s no rush. Better to do it right than winging it and hoping it will work okay.

What do you think of this article? Do you think the push is too hard, or it’s appropriate? Include your comments below.

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Writing for chatbots – Microsoft Style Guide | Microsoft Docs

Source: Writing for chatbots – Microsoft Style Guide | Microsoft Docs

Thanks to Johanne Lavallee for sharing this on LinkedIn.

There are a few good pointers in here as we start looking towards the future, and from none other than one of the big sources, Microsoft.  So much of the advice here is just good technical writing, after all. Plain language, and clear and concise writing is important all the time!

What do you think of these guidelines? Did Microsoft miss anything? Include your thoughts below.

–TechCommGeekmOm

 

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White House: Retired teacher fixed Trump’s letter about gun policy and sent it back. – The Washington Post

“If I had received this from one of my students,” Yvonne Mason said, “I would have handed it back without a grade on it and said, ‘I hope you left the real one at home.’ ”

Source: White House: Retired teacher fixed Trump’s an letter about gun policy and sent it back. – The Washington Post

This isn’t another political statement, but rather an amusing story that I can relate to easily.  I keep hearing arguments from some that language is always evolving, and while it’s true, good grammar doesn’t change as quickly. After at least a thousand years of English evolution, grammar is pretty much stable, I’d say, these days. And you would think that those at the highest echelons of the U.S. government would understand the basics, at least.

Nope.

So, to see this English teacher not only send the letter back with corrections, but also the reference to a government plain-language site just thrills me.

I found out that I will be teaching another class in the fall at NJIT’s MSPTC program, and it touches on this topic–proper grammar and editing. So you can guess that lately, I’ve been digging into grammar texts and such with a little more vigor than I have in a while, and enjoying the process.  So to see this example–well, it might be used in class in the fall. 🙂

What do you think? Should the government–especially high offices–be held accountable for their use of grammar and how they use language? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

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My Grammar Pet Peeve: The Apostrophe Crisis | Thrive Global

The phenomenon is spreading so rapidly, it’s practically an apostrodemic.

Source: My Grammar Pet Peeve: The Apostrophe Crisis | Thrive Global

YES, YES, YES! Arianna Huffington–THANK YOU.  In addition to my huge issues with people not using adverbs correctly–or at all–anymore, this is another thing that shouldn’t be a pet peeve. It’s just plain sloppy!

Listen, any good editor should be able to know the difference and pick up when apostrophes are misused.  This is stuff you learn in third grades! Seriously!

Read this article, and tell me what you think. Ms. Huffington is totally on point with this article, and as technical communicators–especially those of us who write and edit all the time, we should be working hard to prevent this abuse of grammar from happening! It’s getting worse!

What do you think? Is this just “language evolution” or laziness on the part of writers and editors who overly rely on “autocorrect” to write content? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

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