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A Reminder That ‘Fake News’ Is An Information Literacy Problem – Not A Technology Problem

Beneath all “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, digital falsehoods and foreign influence lies society’s failure to teach its citizenry information literacy: how to think critically about the deluge of information that confronts them in our modern digital age.
— Read on www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2019/07/07/a-reminder-that-fake-news-is-an-information-literacy-problem-not-a-technology-problem/

This is an argument I often make with the Academic Outreach team of my STC chapter, especially considering that 3 officers were History majors as undergrads.

Information literacy is a big part of content strategy. Understanding what is truly important is a huge chunk of us helping clients decipher what is needed moving forward.

This is a great article about information literacy, which goes well beyond technology.

–TechCommGeekMom

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Content Strategists are the Marie Kondos of Tech Comm

Marie Kondo, folding a shirt.
Even Marie Kondo knows that content strategists know their stuff when it comes to content.

Here in the U.S. (and perhaps in other places that have Netflix), there’s a big phenomenon about Marie Kondo. For those who don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she wrote a self-help book about home organization several years ago called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This book is now a Netflix series that has taken the U.S. by storm. While I have had the book in my Amazon Wish List for four years, and I haven’t watched the series (yet), through other articles, interviews I’ve read with Ms. Kondo, and other videos, I’ve gotten the basic ideas of what the Konmari method is. In the process, I’ve come to the conclusion that content strategists are the Marie Kondos of technical communication.

Now, I’ve thought about this for a while, so there is some logic to this. Ever since I’ve learned this content strategy analogy from Val Swisher of Content Rules, I’ve always used a person’s clothes closet as an example of how content strategy works. It might be oversimplified, but it works, and this is how you can further the analogy because of the Konmari method.

In that analogy, it’s explained that just about everyone needs to organize their closet, because most people don’t want to be looking for their clean clothes in a pile on the floor (although my teenage son is an expert on that method). While you can certainly hang all or most of your clothes, it helps to organize them a little bit. You can simply hang everything up, but it’s helpful to organize what you have. For example, you can put all the shirts in one area, the pants in another, skirts in another, etc.  But that’s not the only way you can organize them. You could also organize everything by color–all the red items together, all the blue items together, all the black items together, and so on. You get the idea. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense. The idea is to optimize what content you have so that it’s easily found when you need it.

In Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, organizing does not only mean getting organized with your items, but also determining what you don’t need and what you really need. You haven’t worn that sweater for ten years and really aren’t thrilled with it anymore? Thank it for its service and need at the time, but get rid of it–don’t hold onto it. She also gives tips on how to take what’s remaining and optimize how you access it. For example, she recommends folding t-shirts using a particular method so that they can be stored vertically, making them more easily accessible in one’s drawers. Her main mantra is about only keeping any items that “spark joy”.  She even uses checklists to keep you on track in determining what to keep and how to stay organized. Does this sound a little familiar?

In this respect, this is why content strategists are the Konmari experts of content. What is our primary job? Sort through content. Make sense of what you need and don’t need, and organize it. We use taxonomy and content models to help our clients organize their content so that they–and their users–feel that the content sparks joy (serves its purpose most effectively) and they understand where they are going on their journey.

Now, recently, I’ve gotten into debates with a colleague about using content models before using a site map. His argument is that by creating a content model or taxonomy outline of a website when revamping after a content audit or inventory is a pointless exercise, as it leads the client to believe that this outline will dictate the sitemap and how the pages work, and it should be more fluid. While I understand his point, I strongly disagree. Let’s go back to that closet analogy. You’ve been hired to organize someone’s closet. They have a pile of clean clothes on the floor, and no bars or shelves or drawers in the closet. What do you need to do? Sure, you could organize all the clothes on your bed, but it doesn’t help because you are organizing for your closet, not storing on your bed! You need someplace to store it rationally. You need to provide the structure–the closet–first. For content, that could be a taxonomy outline or content model. Once you have that in place, then you can start organizing.

Taking that a step further, let’s say that you’ve set up some hanging bars and shelves in the closet the way the works best for the space, and organized your clothes for your client by type of clothing–shirts, pants, t-shirts, skirts and dresses (if you are so inclined). The client is almost happy, but feels something is still not right to them. “I’d really like to have my short-sleeved shirts together, separated from my long-sleeved shirts, because I have to wear long-sleeved shirts for work and I want to find them quickly.” All content in an inventory is not weighed the same, and should be treated at different levels as well. Okay, in this structure, it’s something that can be done easily. The structure of the closet has stayed the same (the taxonomy), but there’s a little bit of moving around and prioritization of main categorizations and sub-categorizations, but it makes it most optimal for the client.

The client then might say, “Wait, I think I also would prefer that the shelf for the t-shirts be moved to this different spot.” It might be possible, and that makes sense, or moving the shelf there would not allow for as much storage space, and that’s your job to tell them that it’s a bad idea. Ultimately, they can take your advice, or they can disregard it, but you’ve done your due diligence in pointing out what you know will work best, and what won’t.

In the same way that having that initial closet structure is important, the content model or taxonomy outline is important as well. You cannot determine the flow (like a website sitemap) until you know what the initial structure is. There is some fluidity or flexibility with the model, but as with any physical structures, there are limitations.  The model outline and the sitemap might seem redundant, but in the end, they really work together to help the client. The outline sets up the structure as it should be set up (at least initially, if not entirely going forward) and imply how pages might be laid out, but the sitemap visually supports the outline by documenting how the flow of the outlined content works.

So everything we do as content strategists really is done using the Konmari method, if you think about it. We help others to provide structure, organization, and help determine if content is needed, and thanking it for its service while it lasted. Our jobs are meant to not only spark joy in our clients in helping them to create a better, more fluid, searchable way to access content, but ensure that the best content is available, so that their users can have the content spark joy in them as well. We, as content strategists, have studied this, and we know what’s needed to make things happen in the architecture and building of this “closet” or website. We need to be trusted that we know what we are talking about, even if sometimes it seems like we are talking nonsense (we usually aren’t). We provide the initial solutions that make things happen, and no amount of UX or design is going to happen if you don’t have your content (or your closet) in order first.

What do you think? Does my Konmari analogy makes sense? Include your comments below.

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How do we determine the bounds of digital literacy?

Yes, you are seeing this correctly. There’s a blog posting from me. No need to double-blink in disbelief. I am still alive and well. I don’t always get much of a chance to write here because I’m busy! One of these days, I’ll try to catch up with what’s going on with me, but in summary, I’m busy teaching a technical editing class at NJIT, working a part-time gig for BASF, working a “freelance contract” with a pharmaceutical company as a digital content strategist, and working my tail off for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter as president, conference chair, sponsorship chair, and competition chair.  Not a lot of time to come up for air these days!

But as I do have a short moment right now to put these thoughts down, I thought I’d start this conversation, because it is a frequent topic that comes up again and again in all the things I’m working on these days.

Where are the boundary lines what constitutes digital literacy? Just like a person needing to know how to read and write, we live in an age where almost everything is done digitally these days.  You can’t do a lot of what you used to be able to do on paper or manually. You call a toll-free helpline, and you are most likely to get an automated chatbot responding to you before you can even get to a real person. Credit cards use chips increasingly more than the magnetic strips, or even use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or the like. To get help for anything, most people go online to find answers through browser searches.  So where’s the line of what’s considered digitally literate and digitally illiterate?

I bring this up because I often get into discussions about what is acceptable and user-friendly UX, and what’s not. I usually follow the tech comm mantra of “know your audience”, so many of the audiences I have to deal with aren’t necessarily the most digitally savvy bunch. I’ll argue to include something to make interactivity with the site more apparent, whereas others will argue that it’s not necessary.

I also wonder about people who still can’t figure things out like social media, or GMail or Google Drive, or things like that. These have been around for a decade–or more! There are other apps and sites that have also been around for a long time, and people still have no clue how to begin to use them (and it’s more disturbing to me when it’s someone who has to either work with digital on a daily basis, write for digital, or is teaching digital).  Now, some may argue that it’s a generational thing, but I don’t agree. I know people who are my parents’ age (into their 70s) who have a better clue than I do about how to use digital, and are very good at it. And then I know people younger than me who have no idea how to use word processing or a simple spreadsheet. It runs the gamut.  Digital has been a part of society for at least the last 30 years, and there isn’t anybody who isn’t touched by it these days. Those who don’t adapt fall behind. Digital is pretty much everywhere, and it’s even easier to use now than it was in the decades before.

Case in point: I recently had to go for my yearly eye exam. My optometrist is still scheduling in a paper book, does her bookkeeping in a paper book (the receptionist writes out receipts rather than prints them out), and most of the records are still done solely on paper. Additionally, they don’t have an up-to-date database or access to one to look up insurance information. I was told that I didn’t have certain kind of coverage, but when the place that I got my glasses (a different place than my doctor) looked the information up, I did have the coverage. Why? They could access the information online more easily.  While it seems old-fashioned, my doctor is actually severely behind the times, and she’s going to have issues keeping up with more modern practices soon enough. She complains that there’s no software that meets her needs, but she doesn’t know that no software will meet ALL of her needs, and she needs to work with a vendor to customize things as much as possible so that it WILL meet her needs.

I also had to deal with someone for whom I had help them sign onto Google Drive and Gmail. I’ve told this person many times how to do it–in writing, no less–and they still can’t figure it out. I don’t think it’s my instructions, as others have used the same instructions without any issues. I think part of it is a conscientious mental block that person puts up, because they don’t want to learn.

So, this is why I ask…

As a society, we put great emphasis on the basics of learning how to read and write. Same thing for understanding the basics of mathematics. So what’s the functional literacy level for using digital? I will grant you that understanding how to use digital has evolved over time. But there’s a point where, even as technical writers, we need to be promoting better ways to be literate. For example, if you are on a webpage, and you see text that’s in a different color or especially if it’s underlined, wouldn’t that tell you that it’s a hyperlink, and it’s going to take you somewhere else or open another window? Then why do we still have text like, “Click here to view the video” instead of “View the video”–or better yet, if the title of the video is mentioned in the sentence, just hyperlink the video title? This is especially true when it comes to writing for mobile, as you can’t “click” on something, just as you can’t “tap” on a desktop/laptop interface unless you have a touch screen.  This is an example of something that’s incredibly basic, yet there are those who still don’t get it.

So how do we define the parameters of being digitally literate versus being digitally illiterate in this day and age? I know I have my own ideas, but I would like to hear yours.  How would you define these parameters? Include your comments below.

 

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TaxoDiary – Taxonomies in Information Science

TaxoDiary – Taxonomies in Information Science
— Read on taxodiary.com/2018/08/taxonomies-in-information-science/

Thanks to CJ Walker for posting this on LinkedIn.

This is a big part of my job right now, and this is an excellent way to clarify the difference between what a thesaurus is and taxonomy is. Taxonomy really is about the organization of the content so that the hierarchy makes sense.

Another analogy that I’ve used–which I got long ago from Val Swisher of Content Rules is how one can organize a closet. You can put the pants together, the shirts together, and the jackets together, but you could put all the red clothing together, all the blue clothing together, etc. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense and others can follow the flow.

Except with me these days, it’s more about pharmaceutical departments and procedures. Still, even with those topics, we need to scale it back all the way to what are the objectives of the website we’re building, and how do we structure the website so that users can find what they need quickly and easily. Start with the foundational basics, and build from there.

I highly recommended this article if taxonomy isn’t your strength. It shows that it’s not as hard as it seems.

–TechCommGeekMom

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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.