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!
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.
Joe Welinske of Writers UA followed Sarah O’Keefe’s presentation on Adobe Day. I was especially interested in hearing what he had to say, because the topic of his presentation was about “Multi-screen Help Authoring–How to Deal With the Explosion in Device Sizes.” Anyone who’s read this blog before knows that I’m very much into the mobile revolution, and while I’m usually talking about m-learning more specifically, mobile goes beyond learning, and using mobile in technical communications is connected to m-learning in many ways.
Joe explained that the device population keeps growing! Smartphones and desktops are changing; the sizes between smartphone and tablet devices, whether they be iOS, Windows or Android devices truly vary. The same content needs to be displayed on everything from large monitors to laptops to tablets to GPS to small phones–there are dozens of choices! How do you design a UI (user interface) for all these variations?
Joe explained that different devices have different dimensions, different operating systems, different user interfaces elements…lots of variations to contend with when creating content. He suggested that a “graceful, efficient adjustment is needed,” namely matching the amount of content and the type of content with a device without crafting solutions for each. He contended that responsive design the key as it allowed for adaptive content. Responsive design would allow flexibility for different environments.
Joe mentioned that Scott Abel has touched upon this during his presentation, but Scott later clarified for me on Twitter, by saying, “That’s one way, although I question whether it is the best way…Lesson: Adapt content first, design second. Wrong content, right design = #fail.”
Joe continued by pointing out that one way to accomplish this objective included using HTML5/CSS3, tagging all objects in source code, create device-type style sheets, and including media queries in source. The end result would be a single-source content file that looks and works well on different devices. To prove his point, Joe demonstrated how same source content looked on different devices, specifically the iPad versus iPhone in this example. Joe also showed an example of how he divides the devices by “buckets” when creating his style sheets into categories such as 10″ tablets, desktops, phones, etc. He recommended using a “parent” style sheet, then fine tuning with a device style sheet for each device type. This would help create a graceful adaptation using HTML/CSS and query to allow your content to flow automatically and intelligently. From that point going forward, a technical communicator can consider making mobile the starting point and expanding from there. Joe’s last point was that a small percentage of people from traditional technical communications are involved in mobile projects but the user experience and design skills are actually similar.
I agree with Joe that designing for mobile really does use many of the same skills as traditional design methods, but it does take a little extra time to lay out the thought process and structure needed to make the content be delivered from a single-source to multiple types of mobile devices. It’s a little tricky, but with some careful thought, it’s not really as complicated as it could be. By using single-sourcing and customizing style sheets, multiple output of content can easily be attained. I strongly agree as well that this is the mentality that people need to adopt, whether involved in technical communications or e-learning/m-learning now. I think this opened the eyes of many attendees in the room. Mobile really is an important consideration now in content output!