One of my favorite indulgences offline is watching reality shows on the US cable channel, Bravo, and one of my favorite shows is the Real Housewives of Atlanta. During a past season, one of the Housewives, Kim, decided that she was going to be a singing star, and recorded the song, “Tardy for the Party.” It was a minor one-hit-wonder song, but it still sticks with me, just because it’s a fun song, and it makes me think about fun in Atlanta.
So, as I start thinking about the upcoming STC Summit in a month, lo and behold, I receive news about a tech comm celebration. Adobe is having another Adobe Day–this time in the ATL! Adobe is hosting another one of its fabulous free networking and thought leadership Adobe Day events in Atlanta, GA (USA) on 5th May 2013 (Cinco de Mayo!), from 8:00 AM-1:30PM.
If this Adobe Day is anything like the one that I attended at Lavacon in Portland, OR, then we are in for a treat and a good time! You can access the details for this event and register by accessing the event microsite.
The thing that is really great about these Adobe Day events is that they are free (I can definitely afford that), and the talks presented are not a long-winded infomercial for Adobe products. The talks are about the leading trends going on in tech comm right now.
I was SO glad that I was able to attend the one at Lavacon, because the information I learned at that Adobe Day actually helped me get my job. No, seriously. Because the Adobe Day talks gave me a better understanding of current trends in content and mobile strategies, I was able to speak competently about these topics when I had my interview for the content strategy job I have now. It really helped! That’s how good this event is.
At the Lavacon Adobe Day, I met some of the top movers and shakers in the tech comm industry, and was blown away by all of them. It was an incredible experience for me. For the STC Summit Adobe Day, the speaker line-up looks fabulous. I met or saw at least half of them at the Lavacon Adobe Day, and they were all creative, smart (and friendly) people who had great information to pass along. I’m looking forward to hearing them speak, as well as meet and listen to some experts I haven’t seen before.
One of the highlights that should be exciting is that the “father” of Framemaker himself, Charles Corfield, is scheduled to speak. How cool is that? I mean, Framemaker is a long-time standard in tech comm software, so to hear about its origins and what he has to say about the tech comm industry now? That’s going to be a treat in itself. And yet, there will be so much more!
It should be a great time! So, don’t be tardy for the party! You don’t even have to be attending the STC Summit to attend Adobe Day. You just have to be sure to register on the event website. If you are in the greater Atlanta area, and want to attend, or you are attending the STC Summit and can come into town early, it’s definitely worth the trip. I’ll be going for sure! I’ll be blogging and tweeting about the event, so keep your eyes peeled for that as well!
If you do attend, please make sure to thank the Adobe TCS team members present for such a wonderful opportunity to learn, and then make sure you say hi to me, too. I’ll be the one with the Nene Leakes haircut. 😉
This post is just a quick summary of the Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 series from this past week. As you see, there was so much information that it took six posts to try to summarize the event!
Being in Portland, Oregon was great. It was my first trip there, and being a native Easterner, my thoughts pushed me to that pioneer spirit of moving westward in this country. Once there, I saw a hip, young, modern city, continuing to look towards the future. The information I gathered at Adobe Day was general information that was endorsement-free, and practical information that I can use going forward as a technical communicator, and that by sharing it, I hope that others in the field will equally take on that pioneering spirit to advance what technical communications is all about, and bring the field to the next level.
To roundup the series, please go to these posts to get the full story of this great event. I hope to go to more events like this in the future!
As I said, I really enjoyed the event, and learned so much, and enjoyed not only listening to all the speakers, but also enjoyed so many people who are renowned enthusiasts and specialists in the technical communications field and talking “shop”. I rarely get to do that at home (although it does help to have an e-learning developer in the house who understands me), so this was a chance for me to learn from those who have been doing this for a while and not only have seen the changes, but are part of the movement to make changes going forward.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts. I still have many more to come–at least one more that is inspired by my trip out to Portland, and I look forward to bringing more curated content and commentary to you!
Mark literally wrote the book about how DITA metrics are done, titled, DITA Metrics 101. Mark explained that ROI (return on investment) and business value are being talked about a lot right now in the business and tech comm worlds, so it’s worth having a basic understanding of how DITA metrics work.
Now, I have to admit, I know NOTHING about how any tech comm metrics are done, let alone how DITA metrics are done, so I listened and interpreted the information as best as I could. (Mark, if you are reading this, please feel free to correct any information below in the comments!)
Mark began by explaining that content strategy applies to the entire ENTERPRISE of a business, not just the technical publications. There are lots of ways to measure tracking through various means, including XML. Traditional metrics involved measing the cost of page, and the type of topic would be gauged by guideline hours. For example, a document outlining step by step procedures would equal four to five hours per write up of this type of procedure. Traditional metrics looked at the cost of the project through the measure of an author or a team’s output of pages, publications per month. It doesn’t measure the quality of the documents, but it concerned more with quantity instead of quality.
Mark referenced several studies which he based the information in his book, especially a paper done by the Center for Information-Development Management, titled, “Developing Metrics to Justify Resources,” that helped to explain how XML-based metrics are more comprehensive. (Thanks, Scott Abel, for retweeting the link to the study!)
XML-based metrics, Mark pointed out, uses just enough DITA information, concerning itself instead with task, concept and reference within documentation. XML-based metrics can now track the cost of a DITA task topic, showing the relationship between occurrences, cost per element, and total number of hours. The cost of a DITA task topic is lower because referenced topics can be reused, up to 50%! For comparision, Mark said that you can look at the measurement of an author by measuring the number of pages versus the amount of reusable content of a referenced component. The shift is now in the percentage of reused content rather than how many pages are being used. Good reuse of content saves money, and ROI goes up as a result!
Mark introduced another metric-based measurement, namely through the perceived value of documents as a percentage of the price of a product or R&D (research and development), as well as looking at the number of page views per visit. Marked warned the audience to be careful of “metrics in isolation” as it can be an opportunity loss, a marketing window. He clarified that page hits are hard to determine, because hit statistics could either mean the reader found what they wanted, or didn’t want that information. We have no way of knowing for sure. If technical communicators are not reusing content, this can make projects actually last longer, hence producing more cost.
Mark emphasized that through metrics, we can see that reuse of content equals saving money and time. Productivity measures include looking at future needs, comparing to industry standards, how it affects costs, etc. He suggested looking at the Content Development Life Cycle of a project, and how using metrics can help to determine how reuse or new topics cost in this process. By doing this, the value of technical communications become much more clear and proves its value to a company or client.
I have to admit, as I said before, I don’t know or understand a lot about the analytical part of technical communication, but what Mark talked about made sense to me. I always thought that measuring the value of an author based on page output rather than the quality of the writing didn’t make sense. Part of that is because as a newer technical communicator, I might take a little longer to provide the same quality output as someone who is more experienced, but that doesn’t mean that the quality is any less. So measuring pages per hour didn’t make sense. However, if consistency in reusing content is measured instead throughout all documentation, then the quality, in a sense, is being analyzed and it can be measured on how often information is referred or used outside that particular use. Using DITA makes a lot of sense in that respect.
More information about DITA metrics can be found on Mark’s website, DITA Metrics 101.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of all the Adobe Day presenters. They all contributed a lot of food for thought, and provided great information about how we as technical communicators should start framing our thought processes to product better quality content and provide value for the work that we do. I gained so much knowledge just in those few hours, and I’m glad that I could share it with you here on TechCommGeekMom.
Val is the founder of Content Rules, Inc., and she spoke about eight simple rules for technical communicators to follow to make content global-ready–now! Her specialty is doing translation work, so she knows a thing or two about making content ready for a global market. As she went through each rule, she would explain the impact of the rules and why the rules were in place, although some were self-explanatory.
The rule she listed were as follows:
Rule 1:Not all errors are created equal. Some can cost you thousands of dollars! This is one of those obvious rules. Taking the time to write content carefully as well as making sure proper editing is done is a necessity. Even one small typo can make a difference.
Rule 2:Creative Writing is a myth. Standardize. Val’s point with this rule is that superfluous writing is not necessary. Keeping content clear, concise, cogent and correct is especially important in translation, and allows for better reuse of content.
Rule 3:Real copy editors don’t do it without a terminology manager.
It is vital to use the same terms for certain words, especially for translation purposes. For example, the words “puppy”, “dog”, and “canine” all refer to the same animal, but are clearly different words, even though they essentially mean the same thing. In translation, there are times that this much word variation for a single item isn’t available in a different language, so choosing one word as the referential term is recommended. It keeps terminology within the content–especially if reusing content–consistent. Style guides are, unfortunately, not followed as often as they can be. A system is needed to manage terminology and help prevent problems like this example from occurring.
Rule 4:Have you got translation memory (a translation database)? Your vendors do. Use it. It keeps content standardized and saves money. This is another fairly self-explanatory rule. I was not aware, since I’m not in the translation business, that there are such things as translation databases. From what I could understand how it works (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong), a translation database has features that when a specific turn-of-phrase is used on one language, there is a specific translation for that combination of words into another language. When a translation is done, the database looks for that word combination and translates it accordingly. This, again, allows for consistency in translations between the different language editions of content. As a technical communicator who does translations, Val is saying that if you don’t have such a database in place, you should have one because in the long run, it will standardized content and save money.
Rule 5:Don’t complain about quality of your tech writers. You agreed to outsource docs to ___ in the 1st place.
Val pointed out that while there are good outsource resources for writing and translation out there, sometimes the quality is not as good as keeping it in house or closer to home, especially if the content is written by someone whose first language is not English. Good quality source material is key! Having good quality source material helps control costs, especially with translation!
Rule 6:If you write flabby copy, even the nicest vendors will email you a bill for localization that will astound you.
Again, this comes back to having quality content in place. Val’s point was that if you do write weak content that is difficult to translate because it is not quality content, even one’s best clients will send you a bill for the translation for localization purposes, and the bill will be VERY HIGH. Again, having quality content saves money!
Rule 7:Get rid of extra adjectives and superlative words! Delay this product launch, and there’s no next product launch.
This rule is a strong recommendation related again to how content should be written. The use of extra adjectives, adverbs and other superlative words do not enhance the content. Using such words that have to be rewritten or translated can delay a product going out, and for a client, that can be a deal-breaking move. By delaying the product due to not meeting a deadline due to overdue time for translation, and there will be no next time being able to help with a product launch. Obviously, that would be bad business.
Rule 8: Translation is a team sport. You want to work alone? Become an accountant. While this rule elicited a laugh from the audience, it was a point well taken. Teamwork is KEY! A better source of English content will result between source writers and translators if they work together.
Val was asked the question at the end of her presentation, “What alternative tools for style guides are on the market?” She responded that there are lots of software tools out there, but to be careful about push technology within those software items.
I found this presentation rather fascinating, especially since Val presented it with a sense of humor. But her point was clear. Content needs to be as precise as possible when it will be reused and especially when used in translation for consistency. By following her basic rules, costs can be controlled, and the quality of the content can only get better.
I thought about what it takes to do translation, searching my own memory banks from when I almost minored in French during my undergrad years and had to do translations, to the present day watching my husband translate literature written in German to Spanish for a group he’s been involved with for years, to my own struggles to translate what I want to say to my in-laws into my broken Spanish. Translation is not an easy task, but when thinking about translating my English thoughts into another language, it can get tricky because of the turn of phrase or colloquialisms used from area to area. Even in talking to my husband about the topic, he will say that there are different idioms used between Spanish speaking countries, although Spanish will still be relatively “standard.” Being from Ecuador, he can still understand someone from Spain, Mexico or Argentina as much as an American can understand someone from the UK, Canada, or the Australia. But I’ve even found in my own teaching of a business and technical writing course to a corporate group in Asia is that English taught globally is not consistent due to the source English being from different countries, so I have to go and set the record straight. I can certainly appreciate where consistency and choice of words can lead to better quality content and communication in the long term.
Sarah started by telling us that many companies don’t understand the value of technical communication, so technical communicators need to justify their approach. When writing up business cases for these justifications, technical communicators need to include what the current situation is, recommendations to improve the situation, costs associated with those recommendations, as well as the benefits and risks of taking the actions recommended. If there are regulatory and legal requirements, then there is the need to build a case for more efficient compliance in order to avoid legal complications.
Sarah expounded on how technical communication departments should talk to management about how technical communications can control costs. She explained that there is a myth that cheap documentation can be done. She busted that myth by explaining that cheap documentation is actually more expensive, as it can be limited in availability making it useless, it can be hard to understand and out of date, and it may not be translatable into other languages. The cost of bad content is high customer service volume, lost sales, content duplication, huge global costs, and it can contradict marketing communications.
The solution, she said, is efficient development involving the reuse of content, using single sourcing and cross-departmental reuse of content, only tweaking text that is already available. She stressed that formatting and production are important! Using templates and various structures are helpful. She encouraged using tools for creating the needed output. Sarah also said that localization is important as well, that translations are needed component of communication documentation. All these can help bring costs down significantly! Sarah gave an example of how a common obstacle to efficient customer service or tech phone support is often a monster-sized PDF that the support representatives need to read before providing service while on the phone! The process of having to read the long document while online with a customer is time consuming and not cost efficient.
Sarah encouraged technical communicators to work on collaborating and creating better working relationships with other business departments such as tech support, training and marketing with technical content, as this will help to support those departments with pertinent information as well as help them to streamline information. Technical communication can be used to support sales–read documentation before you buy! Technical communication content also can help to increase visibility by creating searchable, findable and discoverable documentation, especially for Google or SEO purposes. Sarah recommended building user communities with technical communication documentation, and making sure that technical communications aligns with business needs.
Sarah’s presentation was really good, in my opinion, because coming from my own experiences, much of what she explained was true, and as she said, the biggest battle is making management understand the value of having solid content strategy. One of my biggest issues at my last consulting job was exactly the scenario that Sarah described; marketing was not taking proper advantage of the technical communication documentation available, nor was it sharing resources and creating reuseable content. As a result, in-house documentation was long and overly customized when much of the information was the same or very similar (needed few tweaks), and the sales advisors that needed the information rarely looked at it because it was too long. When I made the recommendations about reuse or editing from a technical communications standpoint, I was ignored. Of course, I was only a consultant, and I wasn’t privy to understanding the departmental costs, but it did not feel good to know that some of the issues could be fixed with the kind of collaboration that Sarah described. In this respect, I could associate with what she was saying.
An aside note is that Sarah is a self-confessed chocoholic, and a fun part of her presentation was that she incorporated chocolate production into her presentation. To verify her chocoholic status, I was out with Sarah after the event, and caught her in the act of buying more chocolate at one of Portland’s chocolate boutiques:
I do think Sarah’s message is very clear. Technical communications has a lot of value, especially with structured content and reusable content, and as technical communicators, we need to push that agenda to management so that we can provide a bigger service to our clients and companies that they currently realize.
(Sarah–feel free to correct any of my interpretations in the comments below!)