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What Can Technical Communication Do After The U.S. Election?

DUDE! What just happened?

In the past week, the United States had an important election for its next President. The election results, to say the least, have been controversial. While I’m not one to usually talk politics on this website, I’ll simply say that this past week has been devastating to me, and has hit me hard. It wasn’t because my candidate lost, but because her opposition, who promoted MANY values which I do not endorse in the least, was elected. There has been a segment of people in my country, that as a result of this new leader’s position, that think that they, too, can engage and promote these inappropriate behaviors, while others are trying to find ways to express and take action against those inappropriate behaviors.

I’ve been thinking long and deeply about how this election affects the technical communications community. I know people involved in technical communications that voted for candidates from both parties. Most of the technical communications community that I know had the same reaction that I did–one of deep disappointment. There were some who were happy for the outcome, but the overwhelming majority of the technical communicators I know were not–including some who aren’t even American citizens and are living outside of the U.S.!

A big part of my disappointment is that the President-Elect, who is not known to choose his words well or speak eloquently, promoted animosity towards people of different colors, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientation or identification, and women in general. That’s problematic. These are all people who contribute to our society in positive ways, and don’t have any reason to be maligned at all. AT ALL.  I’ve always talked about the technical communications community being my “clan”. During the years I’ve become more involved with the tech comm community, I’ve found that each time I get together with my tech comm bretheren, the diversity among American technical communicators is what makes us an example of how American diversity is supposed to work.  This diversity carries over into our relationships with technical communicators around the world.

A big part of tech comm, especially in the last five to ten years (if not longer) has been embracing the knowledge that globalization and localization is an important key to effective technical communication. Whether it’s for business purposes or otherwise, a large part of what technical communicators do is write with the ability to reach out to the world. Not just their own hometowns, their own states, their own regions, or their own country–they write for a global audience.  With recent events, we are reminded that we need to continue to keep our hearts and minds open to different languages, different cultures, different religions, and different traditions here at home before it even goes abroad.

The other thing that has me very concerned is the economy. The U.S. was in a deep recession before the current President took his office. The economy has recovered, with the unemployment rate easily half of what it was during the recession. I’m definitely one of those people who felt that pinch, but worked hard to end up ahead. During these recession years, I went back to school–and some of it was paid for by my state’s training programs for re-employment–to reinvent myself as a technical communicator. I realized what my skills were, where I had gaps, and I filled the gaps as best as I could. Even now, I still do that. I constantly am trying to pick up new skills to keep myself flexible and employable.

When the world starts getting topsy-turvy, companies react for self-preservation, and that can result in job losses, often for people like technical communicators. It’s the old thing of doing more with less, so hiring stops or slows down until the company can figure out how the election will impact the economy. We’re in that position now, which is not good for those of us who are currently looking for new projects or jobs right now. So as we’ve had to do before, we’ll need to learn to adapt again.

Related to the economy, I’ve been listening to the pundits on television talk about how both political parties ignored a specific segment of disengaged voters from rural America that made their needs known through their votes. We’re feeling the impact of those votes now, but it has opened up a discussion about how to address bridging the gap. The focus of the political parties, according to the pundits, concentrated more on those who were living in the big cities and the suburbs instead of addressing the needs of rural America, or not addressing rural America as much as it should be.

This issue provoked a lot of deep thinking for me. One of my biggest issues related to rural America that I can relate to as a technical communicator has been finding work outside of a large city. While I live in between New York City and Philadelphia–two of the biggest cities in the United States where there are plenty of technical communication opportunities–they are too far a commute for me to go on a daily basis. Now, imagine someone who has a great set of technical communications skills, but then lives somewhere that isn’t anywhere near a big city. What do they do? Additionally, thinking even outside the box of technical communications, why isn’t there more industry spreading out around the country, to bridge those gaps? For example, why doesn’t Apple have offices in the middle of Nebraska that can start to help devise tech tools that can help various types of farmers in the rural areas of the U.S.? That’s not their focus, I know, but perhaps they should start thinking outside of their own box. How could someone in rural America use their products, provided that they could afford them? How would those products help agricultural services grow and prosper? The biggest question of all this is, how can we ensure that rural America is part of the globalization and localization movements? I was remembering that for many years–I don’t know if it’s still in place–that the U.S. Goverment used to pay farmers to NOT produce surpluses of crops. What if we could help them, by allowing farmers to produce whatever they produce, and help them learn how to globalize their businesses with shipping their crops or products made with those crops? When those government subsidies were created, there was no internet commerce, no globalization on the scale there is now. How can we, as technical communicators, help change that view and help that person globalize their business? (Perhaps I’m over-simplifying things here and don’t have a full grasp of economics, but hopefully you understand where I’m going with this thought process.)

Part of that, in my opinion, goes back to two things I’ve talked about many times in this blog. First, we need to make mobile learning a priority, because it’s not just second- or third-world countries that need opportunities to advance. There are already segments within the U.S. that have yelled loudly through their votes during this election that they need it, too. Education is progress, even in rural areas. If someone has a problem with land producing crops, and they only know the old solutions that aren’t working, then technology is going to be the solution in educating them on how to create or learn new solutions.

Second, companies have to start being more flexible towards remote work. Not everyone can get up and move to a big city or large suburban area to find appropriate work. They need to stay in their community for whatever reason. A great solution in figuring out how to extend globalization and localization within our own borders is allowing remote work. That way, that person from rural America can work doing what he/she does best, while still being an active and vital member to their community, and perhaps with the good pay they have, can help to revitalize their local economy, bringing that knowledge to their community instead of having to move elsewhere and not making a direct impact.

The proclivity of technical communicators, from my observations, is that they have big hearts. They have strong ideas, they are organized, and they know how to take action. They are generally open-minded, they think “outside the box” for solutions, and they understand the importance of reaching out and embracing the world because the proliferation of the internet has warranted it.  We can make a difference in how we approach our work, both domestically and internationally, to set an example of best practices of being decent human beings trying to help each other progress and survive in this world.

This isn’t just something that Americans need to do right now, but it’s everyone globally who supports the basic values of every human being being treated with respect and dignity, and providing moral support whenever possible that needs to be part of this. We all have the same human rights and needs. We all need to be able to live together, work together, and survive together. Technical communicators have the ability to shape ideas and processes. We are strategists at heart, whether as wordsmiths, content strategists, or instructional designers, or any other title that falls under the umbrella that describes technical communication.

In the coming weeks, months, and years ahead, we need to figure out how each of us can contribute to this human goal, starting at home. Let’s start with the words from the Wyld Stallions of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”:

“Be excellent to each other!”
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Unspoken English rules

Now here’s something that’s been making the rounds among some of my friends on Facebook regarding an unspoken rule when speaking about adjectives: 

I really had never thought about it, but this is right. It makes me wonder if there are similar “unspoken” rules in English, but if there are also similar rules to this in other languages. This might be why other languages can be a little confusing to native English speakers.

Those of you who are bilingual or multilingual, what patterns have you noticed like this one–unspoken rules, but it’s correct grammar–in other languages?  Post your comments below. 

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More localization and user-friendly features in the new Framemaker 2015

Framemaker2015BoxYou might have heard by now that there have been some updates to the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (TCS) that were released today! Both Framemaker and Robohelp have been updated significantly, while the other programs (Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter), have had some ongoing updates as well.

Adobe held two virtual press conferences in early May 2015 to let insiders learn about these latest and greatest releases for updating Framemaker and Robohelp. I’ll start with Framemaker in this post, and post about Robohelp in a post coming soon.

The biggest take-away that I took from the Framemaker press conference was that Adobe has worked to make the application more user-friendly so little or no coding is needed, even though access to code is still available, and that efforts are continuing to push forward to make more global and mobile outputs available.

The latest version of Framemaker will be titled Framemaker (FM) 2015. The reason for this is that way, all the versions within TCS will be in synch based on the year that the version was released. So, Robohelp (RH) and the other applications will also be known by the 2015 label for this release. It makes sense, and easier to track than version 10, 11, etc. for different products.

The presentation was given by Kapil Verma, who is the Group Marketing and Product Manager for the Adobe Tech Comm line of products.

Kapil reminded us that in the last four years, there have been a lot of advances in FM, including DITA support, multichannel publishing, mobile publishing, CMS connector API, multiview XML authoring, AEM connector,  native multi-channel device publishing, FM XML author, MathML, Enhanced collaboration w/mobile and cloud based tech, and other productivity boosters. So, while a lot of upgrades and enhancements have happened in that short amount of time, further enhancements found in this update are sure to make technical writers rather happy.

What’s new in FM 2015? There are six main points that were given, and while Kapil did a “deep-dive” into each of these highlights, I’m going to be giving you the highlights of those points.

Framemaker 2015 will allow you to work faster and smarter with several core feature enhancements.

  • Working with tables is much easier and faster now. You can conditionalize columns and rows (formerly only on rows) now, and there are usability improvements to allow arrow keys to navigate cells, tab to insert rows, and drag-drop rows and columns. There are several new table styles available out of the box. When demonstrated it, looked REALLY easy, very clear, and highly flexible.
  • FM writers can now more easily work with conditional text–including applying it at the book level–due to visual indications of conditions applied on tables and graphic objects. Again, when Kapil demonstrated it, it was very clear where color coding was applied so the writer could more clearly see the associations of what conditional text applied in different areas, making it much easier to make appropriate changes and see the changes.
  • You can now generated a “mini” Table of Contents (TOC) in the middle of a document, simply by placing the TOC where you want, then easily modifying it and styling it the way you want!
  • Enhanced Word import provides more options and control, with the ability to map styles for paragraphs, characters and tables while retaining Word formatting for matched styles or inline Word formatting overrides.

Serve a global audience with new right to left language support.

  • Arabic and Hebrew are now included and supported in FM 2015! There is also leveraged support for Right-to-Left (RTL) languages and the ability to create bi-directional documents. This support for bi-directional content means that you can have both RTL and LTR (Left-to-Right) in the same document–you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have just about any combination of languages in a document now!
  • New object direction properties for document and object such as paragraphs, tables, text flows etc. can be inherited from the direction imported from Word, whether it’s LTR, RTL, or both. You can leverage the direction inheritance model to enable 1-click flip of all objects.
  • You can publish your RTL content into multiple formats including Acrobat, HTML5, HTML, ePub, Kindle, iOS, Android, and Webhelp.

Publish for mobile devices–including mobile apps–natively.

  • FM 2015 has a brand new HTML5 layout with several enhancements, including topic descriptions and breadcrumbs, with the ability to show search results on the left panel for easier navigation. HTML5 layout comes with host of customization abilities including the easy “off/on” functions in which you can choose the component to customize, then view and customize the component properties in a visual/tabular format, allowing writers to achieve frameless outputs.
  • Writers will now be able to publish natively mobile apps using Framemaker that are iOS and Android supported, using PhoneGap:Build, which is an Adobe product. PhoneGap is available for a single app generation for free, while creating multiple apps requires a PhoneGap/CS subscription. The way it works is that once the app is created, it creates a QR code so that a user can scan and download the app, or save the info to your local drive. The content itself can be published to Google Store or iTunes.

Personalized content can be delivered dynamically to your end users.

  • Dynamic content filters are provided in the navigation for the end users to allow them what to see what they want to see. The creation of how to do this reminded me of how taxonomy tags are used in Adobe’s AEM to filter content for readers. This can be done by enabling the dynamic filter in the output, then creating and customizing with the conditional tags used in the content for the end user filter. The Dynamic Content Filter applies to all content, meaning the main content as well as TOC, topics, and search results. Existing tags can be re-used, based on existing conditional tags/expressions functionality.
  • Generate high fidelity ePub outputs by embedding your custom fonts.

XML authoring is easier now for SMEs/Contributors.

  • There was the realization that the current XML authoring workflow in FM 12 has been too complex for SMEs and other “casual contributors”, so a simplified XML authoring environment was created.  This new XML Authoring environment is ideal for SMEs, Casual contributors, and even technical writers who are new to XML/DITA,  as it was created for those who have not been exposed to XML, allowing them to work with common objects rather than elements that will always produce valid XML. The input for these users looks like a form, which is easier for most anyone to figure out.  You can create a free form authoring form, or a guided authoring form where you ask for specific info. (This looked really good, because I could see some benefits for this for a project that I’ve been working on.) This simplified form-like environment allows the end user to enter various types of content quite easily, with a simplified menu and tool bar, an enhanced quick element toolbar which mimics many of the same features as an MS Word text editing toolbar. A DITA toolbar is also provided out of the box, as well as a BYOT (build your own toolbar) feature for your custom application.
  • MathML has been enhanced so you can easily do in-line MathML equations through MathFlow Editor, pick up paragraphs properties so that the equation merges well with the surrounding text, and high quality, searchable vector (EPS) output as opposed to raster (PNG) in FM12.
  • A new connector with DITA Exchange by Content Technologies will be shared natively with FM 2015. An enhanced FM-SharePoint connector with claim-based authentication support and support for SharePoint 2013 is also available.

Enjoy a rock solid product with improved usability and performance.

  • To improve usability and performance, Adobe addressed many bugs from its prior release of FM. In fact, more than 90 bugs were corrected in this release!
  • UI enhancements include the ability to resize dialogs (both TOC, Add/edit and show/hide conditions, x-ref, conref, link-ref), conditional text checkbox behavior mentioned above, and no grey areas when you reduce pod width.
  • Performance enhancements include EDD update performance improvements (same operation has been reduced from hours to minutes!), a smart pod refresh, the FM-Adobe Experience Manager connector  has improved performance with multi-threading support), and contextual in-product tips as needed are now included.

There were SO MANY more details about these new features that I left out for the sake of the length of this post, but if you have any questions whatsoever about this new product, I highly encourage you to contact Adobe. To make it easier for you, click on the ad in the right column of this post to find out more!

As mentioned earlier, this will be part of TCS 2015, which will include the 2015 versions of Framemaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter. Buying it as the Tech Comm Suite is a 57% discount from buying buying each of these separately, and you can use these in an end-to-end workflow, so it’s worth getting the entire package!

Pricing & Availability on June 2 (in USD):

Product Full Price Upgrade from last release Upgrade from 2 releases Subscription Price Languages Supported
FrameMaker 2015 $999 FM 12 :$399 FM 11: $599 $29.99/mo English, French, German, and Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 XML Author $399 (no upgrade) $19.99/mo English, French, German, Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 Publishing Server $14,999 FMPS 12: $5999 FMPS 11: $8999 $499/mo English only
RoboHelp 2015 $999 RH 11: $399 RH 10: $599 $29.99/mo English, French, German, Japanese
Technical Communications Suite 2015 $1699 TCS5: $699 TCS 4, 3, 2 or 1: $1199 $49.99/mo English, French, German, Japanese

Overall, as the main foundation product of Technical Communications Suite, Framemaker 2015 looks to be a significant update that will help provide technical writers with the user-friendly, flexible tools needed to truly create the best content possible for their end-users that serve their ever-growing global and mobile needs.

Oh, and there’s a FREE webinar on June 16th, 2015 to launch the product. If you would like to attend that, register on the Adobe Online Event site. The event runs from 11:00 AM-1:00 PM Eastern Time.

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An American in Ireland: An experience in globalization and localization

TechCommGeekMom in front of the main building at the National University of Ireland (NUI) at Galway.

I’m now back from my 10-day trip to Ireland, and it was certainly an adventure. While there are parts of the US that have bilingual signs around due to the large Hispanic populations in areas, I think I had gotten used to hearing Spanish enough that I don’t think much about it. (I do live in a bilingual household, thanks to my Ecuadorian husband, after all.)

So it was interesting to be in a European country for the first time in about 15 years and making adjustments to both a different version of English, as well as listening to another language I had never really listened to before!

Since Ireland is a former British colony and it’s so close to Great Britain, I had to turn the “British English” switch on in my head. Using that tactic certainly helped to bridge the gap of my understanding of people and things around me. While it’s practically a sin to compare British English to Irish English, since the two islands are so close together, the language similarities are enough that you can’t deny the connection.  It’s little things like asking where the “loo” is, or seeing a sign at a store saying they are “stockists” (versus Americans saying “dealers”), or that instead of “Help Wanted” signs, you see “Required”. It’s these little nuances that you find to be important to know what people are talking about.

A sign on one of the lawns at NUI-Galway. Notice that the Gaeilge is before the English, and that this seems to be a universal rule at many college greens!

I spent half of my time in Dublin and half my time in County Galway. The famous Irish brogue isn’t that strong in Dublin, but it’s certainly stronger as you move westward. What makes much of it stand out is the pronunciation of English words with the “-th” in it. For example, the number after “one, two…” is “tree”, not “three”. It takes a little getting used to hearing, and I’ve had to stifle a giggle now and then, but you get used to it. There are a few slightly rolling “R” sounds as well, but they aren’t as clear as those “tr-” sounds. Otherwise, at least in Dublin, the accent is not that strong. You could easily mistake someone (until you hear some of those slight nuances) for being American, as compared to a London/British accent.

In Galway or the Aran Islands in western Ireland, which I spent the other half of my visit, the Gaeilge (Irish language) brogue was much stronger, and my listening skills were truly put to the test. I made sure that my flat American accent was as crisp and clear as possible as well, to make sure that I was understood and didn’t slur my words as much as I would if I was back at home, although it was easy for me to slip into a slight brogue myself.

Gaeilge is an interesting language, because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t figure out the phonetics or understand bits and pieces of it. I suppose that since it’s not a Latin-based or Slavic-based language like those I’ve studied (but never quite mastered) over my lifetime, I had nothing to compare it to. One thing I’ve always tried to do is pronounce another language decently enough not to be laughed at, and usually I can do this with Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, or some other common European languages. But Gaeilge–forget it! I couldn’t figure it out at all.  My favorite example is from travelling on Irish Rail. As we approached each stop, the speakers would announce the arrival in Gaeilge first, then in English. I swear that “Iarnród Éireann” (which means “Irish Rail”) sounded like, “Here nor there” every time I heard it, which I thought was ironically kind of amusing.

The Spanish Arch in Galway.
The sign above the arch reads:
The Spanish Arch

Through the combination of trying to employ my British English and attempting to understand some Gaeilge, I was able to navigate around Ireland without any significant issues. But I also found that culturally, Ireland is trying to still find its identity. I know there has been a very big movement nationally to bring Gaeilge and Irish culture back into predominance, especially with the 100th anniversary of the 1916 revolution just a year away. But at the same time, as a former British colony that played a huge part in British history and has a very long love-hate relationship with the country, the British influence was still rather clear. So, I think Ireland is still trying to figure out if it likes being a former British colony, especially since it still imports many of its goods, stores, and media from Britain, or if there is still a huge grudge against them. It was hard to tell sometimes.

This was a great opportunity to put my views about localization and globalization into practice as a content strategist. I know that the lack of good navigational signage was another thing that was lacking–I couldn’t find my way around if it weren’t for my handy-dandy iPhone with me helping me with maps and directions! Even so, when there were signs, most of the time they were rather clear, which was refreshing to see.  I was glad for that.

I will be returning to Ireland in July to attend the 2015 IEEE ProComm in Limerick. Having been through Ireland now, I know the “drill” and have a better idea of what to expect when I arrive in this new town. I know what to ask and look for to satisfy my needs. It makes me want to visit more countries, and see how they handle localization and globalization issues with signage and other media. I think it’d expand my knowledge to be something that I’ll better understand going forward, especially with English-language countries. After all, this was a trip that definitely proved that all dialects of English are not alike!

What do you think? Should English-language speakers try to homogenize the language more for better understanding? Put your comments below.


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Top 5 Tips for Creating Global E-Learning

I conferred with two e-learning experts to get their input about globalization and localization issues in e-learning. The following recommendations emerged.


Val Swisher of Content Rules, Inc. was kind enough to give me the opportunity to write another blog post for her! This time, it’s about creating global e-learning. I talked to experts Joe Ganci and Clark Quinn about their experiences creating e-learning for various companies, and got their insights.


There’s some good stuff here!


See on Scoop.itM-learning, E-Learning, and Technical Communications