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Book Review: Global Content Strategy: A Primer by Val Swisher

Image courtesy of XML Press
Image courtesy of XML Press

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows how much I love Val Swisher of Content Rules.  Why? Well, first of all, she’s a lovely person and great friend all around. But that’s beside the point. As a technical communicator, she is one of the foremost experts on content strategy, specializing in global content strategy.  I’ve seen Val give presentations at various conferences, and the thing I like about her presentations is that while her topics might be high-level topics, someone like me who is still learning can understand what she is talking about.  I never walk away from a Val Swisher presentation without feeling like I absorbed something that I can use in my own work–or at least have a better understanding of how it fits into the content strategy field.  I have often credited Val for providing me with the ideas that have helped me get my current job and make an impact there.

So on that note, I was pleased to see that she had written a book on her specialty called, Global Content Strategy: A Primer, which is available through The Content Wrangler’s Content Strategy Series published by XML Press.  This book is easily read in an afternoon, and is loaded with a lot of information.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Val’s presentations, then this book is a great way to have many of the concepts she talks about in her presentations found in one place. She provides not only the basics of what global content strategy is, but breaks down bigger ideas into simple terms, and includes color images to provide examples, which is a good move. Val explains that globalization is not just about translating content, but also being sensitive and knowledgeable about localization as well. For example, what works in Portugese in Portugal doesn’t necessarily work for Portugese in Brazil. Translations can’t always be made word for word because of idioms and expressions that aren’t universal. Val provides many examples of this applies not only textually, but in imagery as well.

The book also talks about how the translation process can get complex and bungled without establishing a translation memory database and consistency of terminology. Val provides some pointers to help global strategists wade through these issues to keep it all straight, including what not to do as well as what best practices are.

My only criticism of the book, ironically enough, is that it doesn’t seem to be written for a global audience, but rather for an American–or perhaps North American–audience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what if I was in another country and looking to create a global strategy? Perhaps it’s because as the Internet has grown, it has seemingly been American English-centric, and by writing for an American audience, Val has written for the group that needs to become more aware of the global audience it needs to reach!

I’ve been a team member on a global web project for the last six months or so, and I remember much of what I learned from Val had taught me to the members of my immediate team that would show that even though we were working on a North American section of a website, we had to find that balance between the global and local content. Sometimes my words were heard, and sometimes it fell on deaf ears. Upon reading this book and revisiting the concepts that I’ve heard her present in the past, I do wish this book had been given to someone at the top of the global team to understand that translation alone is not enough, and that localization makes a big difference. They could’ve used this book as a great reference to better streamline the process and the web project. Many global companies could benefit from reading this book to help put their content in perspective.

If you are looking to acclimate to the concept of global content strategy and what that entails, then this is a great resource for you to read. There are a lot of details squeezed into this slim volume that will be easy to understand, and yet you’ll feel a little overwhelmed at first at how many details one needs to consider when creating a global strategy. Fortunately, this reference book breaks it down so that it isn’t as overwhelming as it could be, and helps content strategists think in a more single-sourced, consistent way to provide the best ROI for a project.

I highly recommend this book.

You can find purchasing information about the book at XML Press:
Global Content Strategy: A Primer

Have you read this book? What do you think? Include your comments below.

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Adobe Day@STC Summit 2014 – We Went Back to The Future

We definitely didn't hear this panel say to any of us, "I'm afraid you're just too darn loud!"
We definitely didn’t hear this panel say to any of us, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud!”

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.

The Adobe Day Panel L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel
The Adobe Day Panel
L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel

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!

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet--but your kids are going to love it!"
“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet–but your kids are going to love it!”

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!

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

Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden
Photo from

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.

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.

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!)