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TechCommGeekMom reviews 2014 – So, how was it?

This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!
This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!

As the year 2014 winds down, many have summarized the past year, as a reflection of all that has transpired.  When I started to think about the past year, I wasn’t sure that it was all that great of a year at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized that despite some less than desirable things transpiring towards the end, there were actually a few good things that happened that were worth noting.

1) This was the first year that the number of hits my blog received for the entire year topped over 10,000 hits. It was a goal I had hoped to achieve, and I had to work for it. My stats would falter if I didn’t write an original blog post (like this one), and I think, despite the new achievement, my stats didn’t reflect what I had hoped, but I put that on myself. This was a very busy year, and it was difficult for me to keep up with writing original posts. So despite that, I’m glad that so many people still enjoy the content that I share here, whether it’s original content or shared content. I try my best to share what I find interesting in the hopes that others will find it interesting, too, and perhaps learn from that little piece of information as well.

2) I was able to travel to some new places and do new things. I went to the Intelligent Content Conference in San Jose, CA back in February, and went to the STC Summit in Phoenix in May. Not only did I have an opportunity to enhance my knowledge during these conference through the fantastic learning sessions, I also met a lot of new people. I love that I have some wonderful new professional connections as well as new friends. These conferences also gave me the chance to strengthen professional connections and friendships with technical communicators I met in the year before and the year before that. Becoming more ensconced in the tech comm community has meant a lot to me, and I have appreciated every connection I’ve made or deepened in the last year.

3) My writing opportunities changed. While I was writing mostly for my blog this year, I also wrote for other outlets instead. Some of those opportunities folded or didn’t work out, but other opportunities arose from the ashes, including two top ten articles for Content Rules’ blog, and a new opportunity to write for STC Intercom (which will be seen in the new year). I thank those who helped make those opportunities, and appreciate your faith in my abilities when I’ve sometimes doubted them.

4) I gave more presentations this year. I presented at the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference, but I also did my first presentation at the STC Summit. I also presented for the first time to a non-tech comm audience at the e-Learning 3.0 Conference at Drexel University this year.  In other words, I pushed myself to do more this year and put myself “out there” more, even though I think there are others who have more to contribute than I do.

5) I had an opportunity to stretch myself professionally at work. I became more confident in my abilities to be a project manager and content strategist working on new websites at work with assignments I was given. I learned a new CMS (Adobe CQ) as a skill I’ll be able to carry with me going forward, and I was chosen to help with the most important part of the company’s new external site–the Careers section. I spread my wings so much in my job this year, and gained myself back in the process. My knowledge and full abilities were suppressed for so many years, that having the chance to truly use them and have people find them to be valuable helped me immensely.

6) In a somewhat unrelated topic, while I stretched my mind, I shrunk my body. To date, I’ve lost about 40 pounds this year. For once, I kept to my new year’s resolution, even if didn’t actually start until May or June! Part of my success was due to the tech comm community. Many have supported me or taken this journey with me. I love that the tech comm community’s reach goes beyond tech comm–and with this support, I know I will be able to continue to lose another 40 (or more) pounds into the next year.

I took a quick look at last year’s year in review, and in some respects, this year’s review isn’t that much different in overview.  What makes this year different was that many of the events were new experiences, new faces came into my life both online and in-person, new relationships were forged, and old relationships became deeper and stronger. Networking connections have become friendships, both professionally and personally. For a person who lives a highly isolated life as I do, this is so incredibly valuable to me.  I’ve always supported social media because it supports connections between people all over the world. Social media keeps me connected to all of you who support me–whether it’s through this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn.

Thank you all for being there for me through the good times and the bad. It’s because of these connections that this upcoming year, which is going to be filled with a lot of changes, that I know I’ll be okay. I have a support system that I didn’t have a few years ago. And hopefully, I’ve been part of others’ support systems as well.  I know that several people were kind enough to reach out to me after my last blog post, and I felt humbled. I also reached out to a few people who were happy to offer help when I asked. I know that as I go forward in the next year, the tech comm community is one that I can easily crowdsource for feedback in my steps forward. My experiences this year reinforced this for me more than ever, and it’s not one I take for granted.

Happy New Year–welcome to 2015!

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“Lucy, you have some ‘splanin’ to do!”: Considering your ESL Customers

Lucille-Ball-Desi-ArnazContent Rules Inc. was kind enough to extend their invitation to have me blog for them again. This time, it’s on a subject that’s near and dear to their hearts as well as mine.

This article talks about my own personal experiences in trying to use standardized language. Whether you use standardized language in your personal or professional life, it’s something that one needs to keep in mind as a writer, especially when writing for a global audience, and even more so if you are writing for a digital format that is easily accessed through the Internet. It’s not easy to do, but it’s something that should be tucked in the back of every writer’s brain.

Read the article for more:
“Lucy, you have some ‘splanin’ to do!”: Considering your ESL Customers

Many thanks again to Val Swisher and the gang at Content Rules, Inc. for the opportunity!

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The Top 6 Questions to Ask When Creating Your Content Strategy

WOW!

I will admit that there are a lot of content strategists who have been doing content strategy for a much longer time than I have.  Val is one of those people, and she’s someone I consider to be one of my many wonderful tech comm mentors. So you can believe me when I say that it’s been a great honor to be asked by Val Swisher of Content Rules to do a guest post on the Content Rules Blog that will also be in the Content Rules Newsletter soon. I’ve learned from her and many others over the last few years, and I have some experience under my belt as well now, which has culminated in this article. I hope you enjoy it!

The Top 6 Questions to Ask When Creating Your Content Strategy

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Content Strategy practices are not hard!

pulling-your-hair-out-girlWhile I haven’t been an official content strategist/publisher for that long, I actually have been web publishing for a long time now. Over the years, I’ve learned the difference between good practices and bad practices, from experience and through classes and webinars I’ve taken. I’d like to think that from all of this that I’ve learned to be a pretty good content strategist and web publisher. Even so, I still don’t understand why people find content strategy difficult to understand, and why creating a high standard of quality in content strategy and publishing content that’s user-friendly is so difficult. It makes me want to pull out my hair it frustrates me so much!

A recent occurrence of this lack of comprehension spurred my intense frustration again. I’ve experienced this before in many places that I’ve worked, but this was just the latest occurrence that sparked my ire.  Among several projects that I’m working on at work, one of them is managed by another web publisher. In our project, we’ve been assigned to revamp a current internal website. Par for the course–this is what we do. The project manager was given an outline by the internal client, along with the main content, which included documents to be linked within the pages. That sounds fair enough. Of course, as most technical communicators know, content written or planned by non-technical communicators usually needs some help to make it more user-friendly.  In this case, much of the formatting of the content was…less than desirable. In addition to making the outward facing part of the microsite user-friendly, we also had to make the back end–the organization in the content management system–user-friendly as well, since the client would be maintaining the site after we were done setting it up. This all sounds like a reasonable task, and a technical communicator would be just the person for the task.

However, I found myself frustrated with the process, or rather, the quality of what was starting to go up. The project manager gave me sections of the website to work on and format. I found it difficult to decipher the client’s outline because the outline was written poorly. Nevermind the actual text itself, which wasn’t always well written either. I couldn’t really touch that. The outline was meant to help the web publishers–the project manager and I–understand how the client wanted the site organized. At a high level, the main outline seemed fine, but when getting into the finer details, it easily fell apart for many sections. I often had to consult the project manager for clarification, as I wasn’t supposed to be talking to the client directly, for some reason. Whatever.

The other problem was that nothing was labelled in a way that made sense or was user-friendly for use on the front or back end. I can understand that people have different naming conventions for files that make sense to themselves. But when creating the name of a file that is some sort of document or form to be used by others, and not giving the document a title? I don’t get that. For example, if the document is a quick reference guide about how to use your Lotus Notes account, then the text on the web page should be something like,

Quick Reference Guide for Lotus Notes

and the file on the back end should be called something like, “QuickRefGuide_LotusNotes.pdf,” or something like that in order for the user to understand what they are downloading. The file shouldn’t be called something like, “QFC-LN_ver1_01.02.14.pdf”. Down the road, someone will look at that downloaded file and question what that file is. Wouldn’t it be easier to title the file more appropriately rather than have to open it?  I’m sure some would argue something about versioning here, but in our CMS, there seems to be a bad practice of putting many versions of the same document up with different names rather than utilizing the versioning function of the CMS. I use the versioning function on the CMS extensively on the other sites I work on, so this confuses me that others think it’s okay to clutter up the system with many versions of the same file under different file titles.

To add to the grief, the client sent files in zip files which yielded unorganized folders and files as well. In this instance, the project manager would keep the folder convention the client had given, even when it didn’t make sense. When I questioned the project manager, I received the response of, “The client had them organized that way, so we’ll leave it because they’ll be maintaining it later.” NOO!!! The organization didn’t make sense, it didn’t follow the client’s own outline, and complicated the back end so that it didn’t make sense! I am confident that the client just slapped some folders and files into a zip file, and sent it along for us to decipher it. I spent the past year cleaning out another department’s very large microsite doing just this–giving files more appropriate names and creating a folder system that would make sense to ANYBODY going into the site to find the page or document needed that followed what was on the front end. And now, when changes need to be made, it’s easy to find the appropriate documentation.

As I’d do the pages I was assigned to do for this new microsite, it became clear to me that the project manager didn’t care. Granted, it’s a big project, and we want to get it done quickly. It would be easier to be able to merely cut and paste content into the site and be done, but it’s also our responsibility as content strategists and technical communicators to make things easier, more streamlined, more user friendly for both the front end and back end.  The mantra for all technical communication is always user advocacy– for all aspects of the project, whether it be digital or print.

This means that there needs to be attention to details, thus the “copy and paste” method of entering content into a CMS system alone is not enough. I used to be known at one job as the “Table Queen” because the CMS used didn’t like the copy and paste of tables from Word, so I usually had to go into the HTML code and fix everything so it displayed correctly–or if I could, make it display even better.  Tables are something simple to figure out in HTML, but even so, it was something that other people at that particular job with the title of “web publisher” did not know. (They didn’t even know HTML at all, so why were they called “web” publishers?) It was important to make the pages look consistent and be organized in a way that would allow the users to find information quickly and easily.

In this project, I’ve found that the project manager isn’t taking the lead in setting the standard for the website. I’ve been disappointed that the same standards that I would expect aren’t being displayed by this person. It frustrates me, but like I said, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this reluctance to make a website work.

Do understand that I’m not a perfectionist. I let things slide to a certain point, too, and post things that are “good enough”.  But in the end, it comes down to the foundation of the website. If the foundation and the building blocks aren’t sound, it’s not going to hold up. In content strategy, if the infrastructure of the site isn’t sound, and the content isn’t well defined, then the website will reflect that disorganization.

Content strategy, at its core, is really easy. It’s all about organizing information in a way that it can be easily searched and retrieved. It’s about labelling files and folders so that they make sense.  Val Swisher’s analogy about content strategy being like one’s closet still stands at the heart of it.  If you can organize your closet and identify the different clothing pieces in order to categorize them, then you understand how to do content strategy. The only difference is that instead of having shirts, skirts, pants, and shoes to organize, you have folders of documents, webpages, and multimedia.  The method of making sure that users can find those documents, webpages, and multimedia should be streamlined, clear, concise, and user-friendly. As content strategists and user advocates, it’s all about making sure that what the audience is viewing looks and reads well, and what the content managers can maintain easily.

Ultimately, when creating a content strategy and setting it up for maintenance, do it correctly now, even if it’s time consuming. If for no other reason, it’ll save time and headaches later. It’s not difficult. It’s just common sense.

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Adobe Day @Lavacon 2013 – Val Swisher Says It Starts With The Source

Ladds_1
Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden
Photo from http://www.rosegardenstore.org

Val Swisher was the next to last individual to speak at the Adobe Day at Lavacon 2013 event. For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know that my love for all things Val Swisher has no bounds. I’ve always been able to take her easy-to-digest information, and absorb it quickly into my brain, as well as relay her knowledge to others.  When I looked at Portland Gardens to compare her to, I chose Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden.  While it’s not as well-known (unlike Val, who is very well-known), this particular park, according to The Rose Garden Store,  was one of four rose gardens especially built from the Ladd estate, in which the design included these gardens coming together to form the points of a compass. I often think of Val as my compass, as she has never steered me wrong with her information or with the wisdom and fun that she’s shared with me one-on-one.

Val’s Adobe Day presentation centered on talking about source English terminology in a multi-channelled, global world, and how terminology affects structured authoring, translation and global mobile content. She started the talk by reminding us that historically, we’ve always created content, whether it’s been on cave walls, through stenography, through typewriters or eventually on word processors. In every instance, consistent terminology has been essential for structured authoring and content. Managing terminology is also essential for translation and for reuse.  She stated that prior attitudes used to be that the more complicated the writing was, the more “fancy” the product was. Today, that’s definitely not true.  She used the example that I’ve heard her use before, but it’s so simple itself that it’s a classic. Her example involves writing for a pet website. If multiple words meaning dog are used, there can be problem with reuse, because you can’t reuse content if you use different words.

Val_example_dog
Here’s the example Val showed.

Val pointed out that it would be an even worse situation if technological or medical terminology was used instead.

Val continued by saying that when it comes to  XML, reuse , and terminology, you cannot realize the gains of structured authoring if you’re not efficient with your words. Terminology is critically important to gain more opportunities.

ValSwisher
Val Swisher explaining how to approach content from a translation perspective.

Translation comes down to three elements– we’re trying to get better, cheaper, and faster translation output. We MUST use technology to push terminology and style/usage rules to content developers. In order to make it cheaper, we need fewer words, reused words, and reused sentences. It’s impossible for writers to know or even know to look up all term and usage rules. We MUST automate with technology. For example, “Hitting the button” is not translatable, but “Select OK” is fine!  She said, “Say the same thing the same way every time you say it.”

For better translation, translation quality needs to improve and meanings need to match in order for better machine translation to be a possibility. Bad translation comes from the source itself.  If the source information is problematic, then the translation will be problematic.  The best way to save money and time is to say the same thing, every time, using the same words, and use shorter sentences. For machine translation, don’t go over 24 words in a sentence.

Faster translation is seen as content that takes less time to translate, needs fewer in-country reviews, and gets to market more quickly. The key to delivering global mobile content is responsive design, global mobile apps, text selection is key, and terminology is the most important element. Val showed this example of how translation in responsive design isn’t working, where the Bosch websites are not exactly in synchronization:

The mobile website on the left looks nothing like the English language version on the right.
The mobile website on the left looks nothing like the English language version on the right.

The simpler the design is for the website–especially in mobile, the less you have to tweak it. This is especially true where consistent terminology is important, because consistency is needed for structured authoring. Creating truly faster, cheaper, and better translation enables a true global responsive design. This is not a simple task, as there is no such thing as simple, even when writing about complex concepts. Even if you think you’re not translating, your customers are, so the content needs to be very clear. The scary part of this is that some companies use Google Translate as their translation strategy, which is risky at best. To use something like Google Translate as the translation software, the content had better be tight, clear, and consistent.

One of the things I enjoy with Val Swisher’s presentations is that it all comes down to common sense, and she breaks it down into easy manageable parts for those of us–like me–who might not have thought about the context of language for structured authoring, and the consequences for not strategizing content to include translation considerations.

I highly recommend checking out Val’s blog for other great insights.

(As always, Val–if you’d like to add or correct anything here, please do in the comments below!)