The Wonder Woman of Writing, Marcia Riefer Johnston, has recently created a fantastic infographic on how to create a sentence. If anyone knows how to break it down, she does!
For more information, check her website, Writing Rocks!
I apologize for my blog coverage of the 2014 STC Summit edition of Adobe Day being delayed–it’s been a busy month! But hopefully, you’ll feel it’s been worth the wait, and you had a chance to see my live Twitter feed as it happened.
The STC’14 Adobe Day felt a little bit different this year. One of the things I noticed was that as much as Adobe says that these Adobe Day events are Adobe-product free, lately, they haven’t been. HOWEVER, they are still not one big, in-person infomercial either. Adobe products are not brought up much, but if they are, it’s to show that they can be tools to use to create solutions to common tech comm issues. So, it might be an inadvertant infomercial in that respect, but it’s not done in a blatant way that screams, “YOU NEED TO BUY ME!!!!!! PLEASE BUY OUR PRODUCTS!!!” Adobe continues to do a good job in showing what tech comm issues are out there, and as leaders in the software field, they are tuned into these issues and are creating products that benefit the technical communicator. I think that’s fair enough. The talks, overall, were broader topics that in some instances used Adobe Tech Comm Suite tools to provide solutions. And you have to remember, while these talks are aimed to be product-free for the most part, it’d probably look pretty bad if you had someone declaring all the glories of a competitive product when Adobe is hosting the event. Y’know?
With that out of the way, I observed some other things that made this a little bit different. First, there were fewer speakers this year. I felt that was a good thing, because in the past with more speakers, each speaker would be racing to get his/her presentation completed in a very short amount of time, and there would be little time for questions or discussion. Since there were fewer speakers this year, each one could elaborate more on their topic, which allowed for more time for questions and discussion. More networking time during the breaks was also a benefit from having less speakers.
The other difference I saw dealt with the speakers themselves. While they were all familiar, established voices in the tech comm world, it wasn’t the same crowd that one usually sees at Adobe Day events. All of them have participated in Adobe events or other tech comm events before, but in the past, it usually is most of the same speakers up on the podium. While I like all the “usual suspects” very much, and consider them my mentors and have become friends with several of them, seeing these new “players” was actually refreshing to me. I hope that Adobe continues to change up the speaker lineups with future Adobe Days, as all the speakers I’ve heard have a clear voice that’s worth listening to, and hearing as many of those voices as possible provides both variety and fresh perspectives going forward. As I go through each presentation in forthcoming blog posts, hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
But as tradition in this blog dictates, I always start with the panel that capped off the Adobe Day event. I find that these panel talks bring an umbrella perspective to where we are as a profession through several points of view, and seeing where there are agreements and disagreements in the issues at hand.
This year, the panel was moderated by Matt Sullivan, who has been an Adobe Day speaker in the past. He did a great job, as this was the first time I’d seen him as the moderator of an Adobe Day panel. The panel consisted of Adobe Day speakers Marcia Riefer Johnston, Bernard Aschwanden, Kevin Siegel, and past Adobe Day speaker, Joe Welinske. The theme for the panel was looking ahead to the future of where tech comm seems to be going.
Matt started with the point that tech comm is more than tech writing now, so what do we need to improve short-term and long-term? Kevin responded first, saying that we need to do more with less on smaller displays and adapting the content appropriately for mobile. Marcia added to that, saying that using less can mean writing tighter as well. (She has a technique she taught during the STC Summit, in fact!) Joe agreed with Marcia, adding that technical communicators need to put in the time to make concise content meaningful, and to look at simplified English as part of that objective. Bernard felt that attending workshops and demonstrations were important, because technical communicators need to continually learn and adapt in this industry! He added that SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) should contribute to content, but technical communicators should control it. Kevin also agreed with Bernard, saying that SMEs are writing content more often now, so teaching them to write tighter will help. Marcia chimed in that many people are now being required to write, but don’t have the skills. We need to help with that.
Moving onto topics about how technology affects technical communication, Kevin said that new technology, like Google Glass and other wearables, is emerging, and we need to understand how these work. Joe pointed out that the Pebble watch now is starting to have user docs now, and more will be emerging. Bernard added that gesture based technology similar to the Xbox Kinect will need documentation.
Matt then asked, “What should we look forward to in the next five years?” Bernard felt that less specialization will be needed so that the right people write the right content, such as an engineer who can write. Specialized writing will be very important. Joe added that we need to agree on taxonomy and terminology, and use style sheets more often for consistency. Marcia believed that topic-based writing will be emerging more as a growth area. Kevin explained that in e-learning, there is a need to develop learning for new devices that responds to user displays, thus accomodating multiple screens.
The next question asked about how to help educate and help with adapting certain generations adjust between print and digital writing/designing. The consenus was that we just need to adapt. The panel encouraged the audience to get to know your UX/UI people, as they will help you learn to adapt, especially if you aren’t as tech-adaptive.
The last question centered on customers customizing their content–is this a trend? Bernard leapt into a response with, “GOOD! DO IT!” He encouraged us to help customers to start doing personalized help, or personalizing any information, for that matter! Moderator Matt closed by saying that rich media that engages users is going to be about content strategy, but it will also be about content marketing. The group agreed that personalized, concise information going forward will be best!
And that was it! The session went by quickly, but as you can see, there was a lot of great information that many technical communicators can take and use going forward in their own work. While it might take some time to adapt, sure enough, it will bring the field forward as technology and the way we access it moves ahead.
Coming soon: The individual presentations at Adobe Day #STC14 Edition!
With each big conference that I attend, I always look forward to Adobe Day, and Adobe Day at the 2014 STC Summit is no exception. You’ve probably read my past posts about Adobe Day from other conferences, so you know how rich in information they are. I’ve learned an enormous amount of information FOR FREE that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars from the leading experts in the field. It’s hard to find that anywhere else.
On Sunday morning, May 18th, 2014, Adobe is once again putting together a stellar group of technical communications luminaries to set our imaginations on fire! This year’s theme appears to be, “Vision 2020: The Demanding Job of a Technical Communicator.” Based on the descriptions of each speaker’s talk during this morning session, each will be providing advice and tools–free of any product promotion–that can help make our demanding jobs easier and more productive. I’ve heard all the speakers before in one way or another, and I can tell you that all of them are top rate. Most of them have spoken at previous Adobe Day events, and they are invited back time and time again because they have valuable information to share.
Kapil Verma of Adobe will be speaking about who he thinks are today’s technical communicators (hint: there’s more than one type!). Marcia Riefer Johnston will be talking about single-sourcing techniques she used to save her company USD$16,000! I’ve taken Marcia’s writing workshop and read her book, so I can tell you she have some marvelous tips. Kevin Siegel will be talking about how to combine something I love–e-learning–with technical documentation to make the documentation more dynamic and valuable! I’m looking forward to that. Bernard Aschwanden–the STC’s newly elected vice-president–will be speaking about using content strategy to help promote revenue growth. And last, but not least, a panel including all the speakers plus Tom Aldous of Acrolinx, moderated by Matt Sullivan, looks like it will be quite the lively talk.
Did I mention that breakfast, snacks, and lunch are included, too? And it’s FREE?
I know–you are saying, “Great! I want to go! I don’t want to miss out on this!” Great! But you do have to register so that Adobe knows you are coming! Make sure you register by 11:59 PM PDT on May 16th, because you don’t want to miss out!
I will be covering the event LIVE on Twitter from my @techcommgeekmom account, so make sure to follow along, even if you are attending!
See you there!
While I was at the 2013 STC Summit, I was asked to talk to Adobe about Marcia Riefer Johnston’s book, Word Up, which we all know is a subject I’m happy to discuss.
Here is the end result–hey Ma, look! I’m on (Adobe) TV!
In Conversation with Adobe
Thought Leadership Interview Series @ STC SUMMIT 2013
Being that I came of age in the late 1980s, my immediate thought when I hear the words, “Word Up!” is the Cameo song playing with all its funkalicious glory. But now, “Word Up!” has a new meaning for me as well.
I’ve just completed reading an advanced copy of the book, Word Up!: How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them) by Marcia Riefer Johnston. Marcia and I met back at the Adobe Day event at Lavacon last October, and since then we’ve bonded over several interests, including our love of writing. I had first heard that Marcia was in the process of writing this book during the Adobe Day event, so when she asked me to read and possibly review the book, I was thrilled that she considered me as someone who could provide a constructive critique. When she sent me the copy, she stipulated, “[Please write] any kind of review you feel inspired to write: short, long, thumbs down, thumbs up. Or write nothing. No expectations, no strings.”
Okay, Marcia, I’m going to take you on your word about that!
So, I prepared to truly dig in to see if I could pick this book apart, and to find reasons why someone should read this book and have it in his or her library of writing resources.
Unlike most readers, I do have the advantage of knowing the author, so I found myself reading the book in her voice. Even if I hadn’t heard Marcia’s voice in my head, the casual, jovial tone and language she used throughout the book sounded very natural to me. Someone who has never met Marcia will enjoy this book very much as well, and would read it the same way I did. I enjoy her casual approach to this formal subject, and her sense of humor was infused into each chapter!
Marcia wrote in her chapter titled, “Mastering the Art of Knowing Your Audience”,
“…I find it satisfying to write for a reader whom I can imagine fully and accurately. Writing for someone I know–someone real or imagined, someone just like me in many ways or in few–is like making a gift for a friend. While I’m working on it, whatever it is, I confidently imagine the recipient opening it and saying, “Yes!”
I am happy to say that I had this “Yes!” response she described as I read this book. I write as if I’m talking to friends that share the same passions as I do, so to read that Marcia composes her words in the same way as I do was a revelation, and I was glad to see she made this recommendation.
Throughout the book, Marcia addresses common sticking points in writing as well as some that are not quite as obvious. One of the difficulties in reading any style guide is that the information can be rather dry since it is very factual. Dry and factual can be boring. Fortunately, Marcia doesn’t do this. With each chapter, she paints each new layer upon the last one, slowly building upon each topic so that the reader can see the big picture that writing is full of color and light. She uses everyday and personal examples which illuminate the point she’s making for a particular chapter much more apparent. In the process of reading this book, I ended up learning several tips that have helped me fine-tune my own writing.
Word Up! starts with a section that addresses common grammatical errors that just about everyone uses in one way or another. Once those details are conquered, the second section of the book takes the basics up to an intermediate level, where further common grammatical errors, sentence structure, and paragraph building are addressed. The last section of the book ties everything together, teaching the reader how to be his or her own editor, and learning the fundamentals of technical writing, even for a creative writer. The last chapter itself shows Marcia dissecting one of her own essays apart using all the tools provided in the book. (Sorry for the spoilers!)
I’ll give you an example. How often, either in speech or writing, do you use the word, “just?” I have to admit, I do it ALL the time. It seems like a catch-all to emphasize the immediacy of an event’s occurrence. Marcia shows the reader how to avoid using the word as often as possible. Some other themes covered in the book include the proper use of metaphors, how to use contrast in a sentence, how to avoid the verb “to be” and most of its conjugations whenever possible, writing for one’s audience, and the importance of continually revising one’s content. While these topics are just a sampling of what Marcia covers, there is so much more!
As you may or may not know, I teach a technical writing class on behalf of World Learning to students from various Microsoft offices in Asia. While I was reading Word Up!, I kept thinking that this would be a great book to recommend to my students. My students are often technical managers who are seeking some help to sharpen their business and technical writing. World Learning has provided me with a great curriculum that I have found to be very thorough, and actually ran parallel to the information that Marcia provided in Word Up!. In fact, Word Up! provides more information in a compact volume than I do over the weeks that I teach the course.
I’m definitely going to add this book to the resources list that I provide at the end of the course. I know it will supplement the classwork effectively in a highly approachable manner that will be easy for my students to understand. Having the reinforcement of the material in a relaxed, humorous, and informative way will help the students retain the information much better than remembering my lectures alone.
So, as you build your writing resources library to include copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White‘s Elements of Style, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, be sure to add this new book to the collection. I guarantee you will find it an incredibly accessible writing resource, and I suspect it is destined to be one of the classic style guides in years to come.
The book will be released on April 27, 2013, which is also National Tell A Story Day, and available through Amazon and other fine book retailers. Click on the title below to find out more information about how to order this fine tome.
Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)
Publisher: Northwest Brainstorms Publishing
**Disclaimer note: I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, and did my best to provide an unbiased review even though I know the author. **