Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day 2 at the 14th STC India Conference

The first session I attended on day 2 was about Videos as a genre in Technical Communication. This paper was presented by Nabaneeta Sarkar and Faraaz Mohiuddin.
  • Started with some statistics about how many words can be conveyed in a minute of video.
  • Videos capture attention and create curiosity
  • Result in faster transfer of skills
  • Videos are more involving to the user when compared to plain text
  • Videos make it easier to understand concepts and there is a higher receptivity to learning
  • Better retention and recall of information. Users can retain 50 percent of what they watch but just 10 percent of what they read
  • Lower data storage costs, availability of higher bandwidth, portable devices, tools for recording and editing, greater access all contribute to why there is an explosion of videos on the internet
  • As much as 60 hours of video are created on the internet every minute
  • Cisco predicts that video will account for as much as 62 percent of total internet traffic
  • Intel predicts that the future could see as many as 500 billion hours of video
  • Examples of how videos are already being used successfully in technical communication - Telstra, Adobe TV and Citrix TV
  • Video trends include a lot of how to videos, reduction in tech support calls, product reviews, social bookmarking, tagging and sharing
  • Text is dead, videos are more conversational
  • Videos are not required everywhere
  • Text still rules when it comes to legal documents. While news analysis is saved for text, knee jerking breaking news is best shown as videos
  • Some best practices include creating playlists and progressive playlists, applying gamification concepts, creating video table of contents and 'let me try' videos where the user controls the pace of the video.
  • Challenges include addressing broad audiences, the possibility of sub standard content damaging your brand, demanding audiences
  • To create good videos, in addition to writing skills, one needs to be good at design and production, writing for a universal audience, information architecture, building viewer experience and content curation.
Percy's Lets get the Technical back in Technical Writing presentation was probably one of the more 'hard hitting', closer-to-home kind of presentations that a lot of people seemed curious about. The presentation hardly had any text and consisted entirely of well selected, apt images. Do look at the presentation when it's posted, especially the 'ice breaker'.
  • He talked about how users are becoming more demanding
  • And about how Technical writing is evolving
  • It's important to immerse yourself in Technology and not just scratch the surface.
  • If that means clicking the Submit button, do it! (If a bomb is going to go off, assume it's going to go off in a certain neighboring country ;)
  • Important to see the big picture and find the connections between everything you do
  • Explain like you are explaining something to a 3 year old
  • Don't be lazy!
  • Benefits of getting technical include increased ROI, added value, reduced dependency on SME, increased credibility and of course, better career prospects!
  • Getting more technical also increases your engagement with work.
For the second time, he talked about his 'forgettable' Twin days. The last time, when he presented a topic in Bangalore, he said that he was a big time flamer on Twin. Now that probably explains why he seemed to be heckled by one of his possible 'victims' during Q and A. But I must say, he handled it extremely well.
Bindhu and Bhavana presented Alfresco, an open source enterprise content management tool
  • They started by describing what a CMS is and why an organization would use a CMS.
  • Reasons to use a CMS include improved operational efficiency, collaboration and security
  • Reasons that hold back users from using a CMS are cost, training and complexity
  • Alfresco can be installed on any platform that supports Java std edition
  • It's easy to download, install and deploy and the UI is very user friendly
  • Described various offerings for various needs. Only the community version is free.
  • Described workflow, how it can be integrated with Google Docs and how it allows users to edit the markup language
The Social Documentation presentation was about user generated content and how cumulative knowledge of users, fills information gaps.
  • Social Documentation offers real time solutions to user queries
  • Uses social networking sites, wikis blogs forums
  • Leads to increased interaction and collaboration
  • Content is user centric as it is created and owned by users
  • Discussed new roles like community manager and content curator who were required in this kind of documentation
  • Complements end user documentation
  • Challenges of social documentation include maintaining accuracy of content, formatting, avoiding repetition, implementing standardization and consistency and archiving
  • Use social media to get closer to users
  • Social documentation involves less writing but more curating
Anima Palshikar started the Competitive Analysis presentation by taking a pulse of the audience expectation.
  • Competitive analysis is a decision making method that allows us to understand similarities and differences between available options
  • Helps understand the market and competition
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses and identify scope for improvement
  • She explained why technical writers are most suited to write competitive analysis
  • The approach to writing a competitive analysis is to believe that your product is the best.
  • It's important to identify the audience and choose your competitor. Also identify your strengths and competitor's weakness
  • Now your user's psychology and identify your pitch line
  • Study all available literature, collateral and be familiar with the user interface
  • Some of the points to compare are features, value for money, user experience
  • Competitive analysis must be interesting and useful to the reader
  • It must be backed by appropriate resources
  • Improve the reader's knowledge regarding the product and motivate them to ask more than the competition
  • Penetrate your customer's thought process and motivate them to ask more questions than the competition
  • Highlight what users are enjoying and present weakness (if you must) of the product in a convincing manner
  • Address cost problems as part of the Gap analysis.
  • Analyze the most compelling features, requirements and scope
  • Case studies with visuals are a must have for competitive analysis
  • Other must haves include business criticality of the product, market trends, brief insight into what the competitor is offering
  • A good eye for detail, an analytical mind-frame, an understanding of customer perceptions and psychology and the right attitude are part of what it takes to be good at competitive analysis
  • You don't win every deal. An important thumb rule is that you should be careful that none of all this work should ever make you lose an existing deal. Double whammy!
  • Concluded the presentation with some of the places where competitive analysis is used. These include sales and marketing, branding and advertising, newsletters, core development and documentation.
Engaging with your users was a presentation from Fredrick Menezes. Fredrick usually organizes quiz competitions at STC each year, but for whatever reason, there was no competition this time.
  • Started with why it is important to engage with product/documentation users
  • Users can be found internally (pre-sales, consulting services, technical support) or externally (user conferences, promotional events, product beta events, social networks, feedback links)
  • User surveys can be used to engage with users. These can be deployed on mailing lists, social networks or internal groups
  • Ensure that the questions are specific to a product.
  • Multiple choice question along with space for comments, works best
  • Promise an incentive to participate (Fredrick mentioned that incentives made a big difference in the response rate. However, he didn't have data to show what is the difference in the response because of the incentive. The other observation he agreed to was that some of the responses may not be genuine and may have been submitted only because of the incentive)
  • Another way to engage is to request for a presentation slot during product Beta events.
  • Seek out specific participants for a one-on-one conversation
  • Don't be defensive about documentation errors or product flaws. Learn to listen!
  • Once you have a foot in the doorway, explore further engagement opportunities
  • Use delegate kits to deploy surveys during user conferences. Offer an incentive for returned forms
  • Request a presentation slot only if the topic you have is reasonably interesting to a majority of participants
  • Negative feedback and challenges are important. Collect reactions.
  • Seek out presenters who could reference documentation when applicable
  • Request for a stall or table space in user conferences
  • Special meetings can be used to discuss customer engagements with account managers
  • Gather background information about customers and industry before these meetings. Go prepared with an agenda. Prep your teams
  • Once the survey results are in, analyze your responses and prepare reports
  • Use the inputs to formulate going forward strategies
  • Let users know what actions have been taken to address concerns
  • Get new initiatives validated by users
Melanie's presentation on Editing for Non-native Speakers was brilliant. She talked about her experiences working with Chinese writers. She is an American editor with over 30 years of work experience. The last time I heard about the Chinese was from Sunita Agarwal in her presentation about how Tibco was getting the documentation done out of China. But Melanie brought us better news.
  • She delighted the crowd with her opening statement which went something like this. "It's unfortunate, but you know how jobs are moving to China because Chinese developers are turning out to be better than their Indian counterparts? Well, we DON'T have to worry about the same issue when it comes to technical writing"! to which the crowd responded with thunderous applause.
  • Her presentation was punctuated with hilarious pictures of signs that were translated literally into English. I'm sure you've seen them in forwarded emails. If you have not, make it a point to check her presentation when STC India makes it available.
  • One of the reasons why it's a challenge to edit non native (read Chinese) work is because of poor translation
  • Machine translated documents are particularly bad
  • She touched upon how the Chinese learn English as a subject. Though they study English for 10 years, many of them can only read and write English but can rarely speak the language.
  • How the one child policy has spoiled rotten the Chinese kids
  • The problem probably starts with the teachers who can't communicate in English
  • Then most of their text books are Chinese authored and fraught with errors
  • The primary text books are in UK English, about 25 years old
  • High School and University are in US English as perceived by Chinese authors
  • Most students learn English through memorization
  • Mexicans also learn English in the same manner
  • Students read classic literature; learn big words that they don't know the meanings for, nor can they pronounce
  • Chinese students think that English is spoken like how it is in classic literature. Who art thou? Where goes't thou? Why doeth though sayeth that Arunachal Pradesh is part of thy territories? When you talk about English to the Chinese, it's books like Pride and Prejudice that come to their mind. That's how they think English is used.
  • The fact that there are hardly any copyright laws is also a challenge
  • We then looked at the Chinese language and how the role it played when it comes to English
  • Chinese is a rather vague language but can be descriptive. Uses obtuse forms of expression that does not work in technical communication
  • The Chinese language uses guidelines (suggestions), never instructions. So imagine describing a procedure!
  • It has over 40,000 ideograms or characters. (Aren't you glad your kids aren't studying Chinese)
  • Most people can understand 3000 to 5000 characters. The government considers all those you at least 2000 characters as literate
  • You need to know at least 3000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper
  • Melanie herself knows about 800 odd Chinese characters after nearly 8 years living in China
  • Writing Chinese characters is an art (calligraphy)
  • Students also learn Pin Yin, a Romanized form of writing Chinese
  • Homework usually involves copying something from a textbook
  • Essays express opinion. Writers are not encouraged in critical thinking
  • The key objective is to do well in an examination no matter what it takes (I see some similarities with Indians!)
  • Other than providing suggestions instead of instructions, the other challenge is that the Chinese use a lot of metaphors that don't mean much when translated to foreign languages.
  • Translators don't know how to translate infrequently used characters used in highly technical documents
  • The style of communication is to present EVERYTHING that one knows about a subject and then allow readers to draw their own conclusions
  • Common issues includes lack of organization, redundant information, need to know information is missing and 'who cares' information is more!
  • Long sentences in the passive voice with obscured meaning
  • Editors need to explain the edits to the author/translator and help increase their understanding
  • Really helps if the editor can speak the other language
  • Pay attention to the intent of the document so that it meets the needs of the intended audience
  • Delightful examples of signs that were translated literally into English.
  • Most importantly, be respectful and make the writer/translator understand that you are trying to make everyone look good
The final session I attended was on Adaptive Content. This was presented by Amulya Suraj
  • Adaptive content ensures that the content renders well irrespective of what device you use to view it.
  • This is becoming more important given the shift in how the world is accessing the internet and how content is being consumed.
  • Adaptive content is structured in a hierarchical manner to use format free XML. It uses filters and layers so that the output can be viewed in multiple channels
Yeah, I know. You are tired too at this point :)

1 comment:

  1. This article, like many others in this blog was first published on TWIN. I've decided to move whatever's left of my articles so it's all in one place.