Fame, glory and … tech comm?

Many technical authors pride themselves on staying above the political fray —avoiding office politics and instead focusing on producing excellent content. But the most effective technical communicators and managers embrace the organizational complexities.

When management doesn’t know anything about tech comm, technical authors must manage “up.” Leading a successful technical communication effort requires close attention to the organizational priorities and aligning tech comm work with those priorities.

In this keynote presentation, Sarah O’Keefe discusses how technical communication can become more influential within an organization.

Automating content layout without losing flexibility

One of the major advantages of DITA and XML lies in automating layout. One of the major challenges of deploying DITA and XML lies in automating layout.

Automating layout is a tedious task performed by some technically gifted persons. But what if there are dozens, even hundreds of different layouts? Then automating layout becomes expensive and only available to large-scale projects. Rolling out structured authoring to areas with such layout requirements is virtually impossible.

What if the required layout cannot be fully automated? Then performance and security gains on the authoring side may be eaten up by finetuning the generated output. This might be a show stopper on an otherwise worthwhile move to DITA and XML content management.

In this presentation Sebastian Göttel explains how SCHEMA tries to tackle the challenge by allowing for automating layout without scripting or repeatedly fine tuning. Layout automation and flexibility do not have to be in contradiction!

This is a vendor session delivered by Stefan Freisler.

Using technology to simplify export documentation

Business West working with their IT partners i2i, have built upon their combined expertise in assisting companies to export and tackle the bureaucracy and paperwork associated with exporting. The platform creates the myriad of documents required via a single entry point and then enables these to be shared both up and down the supply chain.

The resulting award winning platform www.acorninteractive.co.uk is now assisting exporters across the globe and enables them to engage with a raft of related export services.

The team will outline how they identified the market opportunity, scoped and developed the technology and are now taking this innovative solution to the end users.

This session is delivered by James Monk and Penny Underwood.

Common Technical Data

This keynote presentation will describe the Common Technical Data Solution being introduced at Rolls-Royce. The aim of this plan is to optimize the development of technical publications across different business functions, and to coordinate the work of the technical authors involved in writing them. This promises to be a fascinating and exciting insight into technical communication on a grand scale.

This keynote presentation is delivered by Nigel Wright, with Steve Foster and Ian McGill.

The death of the manual

The average consumer doesn’t read manuals any more; even the most complicated device they get (such as a smartphone) will be expected to explain itself, not through words, but through affordances. (The classic example of an affordance is a door handle; but those can be done wrong too – watch how many doors have a u-shaped handle built in, yet are meant to be pushed.)

That’s partly because people don’t want to read before getting to play with their devices (play being a good thing; we learn about things through play), but also because we grew so used over the years to badly translated manuals that weren’t in Chinese but weren’t in English either. People puzzled it out.

So what is left for technical writing? Is it only for those spaces where people have to describe fiendishly complex processes occurring within banks, or for dismantling aircraft? Even the latter will be transformed by devices such as Google Glass, which might show you which item to unbolt first when you’re taking something apart, or what not to touch.

Technical writing – a field in which I once considered a job – is going to have to evolve in the consumer space to become something akin to design. When people don’t want writing, they’ll still want guidance, but in a more subtle form than it ever was before, because the devices we’re using are more complex – in terms of what they can do – than before. (Consider the tree of possibilities when using the iPhone’s Settings app, which has scores of possible paths, each of which will have an effect.)

If it’s not called “writing”, what will it be? That’s a puzzle for the profession. All I’m sure of is that the change is coming.

This keynote is delivered by Charles Arthur.

Building a team to support proposal production in a large organisation

So, your organisation regularly churns out bids for technical equipment and services and your boss wants you to set up a team of specialist communicators to support this work. How do you decide what that team should look like? How do you plan, launch, develop, fine tune and finally manage that team in “steady state”?

In this session Fi will present several approaches to this challenge in large and complex organisations. She will illustrate these approaches with examples based on her experience building teams to support business and technical communications in the professional services, IT and telecommunications, and engineering sectors.

This session is delivered by Fi Parker.

Using social media to communicate with farmers

Is social media the place for “over the gate” discussion

In order to meet the challenges of feeding an ever growing population the farming sector needs to use innovative ways of getting in touch with each other and also to access general knowledge that will underpin and enhance existing indigenous knowledge. Whilst access to high speed broadband is challenging in rural areas the opportunities to engage in a digital dialogue remain. Conversation and knowledge exchange is driven by the demand for information and skills within a context of ” not knowing what you do not know.” Simple information transfer can be delivered through SMS texting and websites but this is a broad brush approach and does not afford the information seeker to modify or enhance the information provided. Social media provides the opportunity for greater person to person interaction and upscaling of a sector.

This session is delivered by Louise Manning.

Don’t manage: lead

Whatever the next step might be for your career, leadership will become increasingly important. Whether you are moving into a management role for the first time, have been managing for some years, or are looking for ideas about how to increase the influence and development of technical communication in your business, it is leadership that will protect you, and leadership that will open up new opportunities.

This presentation will make the case for focussing your energies and learning on developing your leadership habits, and will demonstrate what this means in the context of technical communication.

This session is delivered by Paul Ballard.

Communicating the Bristol innovation story

Bristol is one of six Science Cities in England. The designation is there to attract inward investment, and encourage organic growth, in the technology and science sector. The challenge for Science City Bristol Limited is how to communicate with a disparate audience of business people, investors (both local and international), academics, funders and support organisations. This session will look at the approaches SCB is taking to try and reach these sectors and what success it is having. These include the use of social media, newsletters, networking events, video, websites, conferences and an innovative cluster map of technology-related businesses.

This session is delivered by Alastair Watson.

Embracing change: How two technical authors made their skills go further

Marilyn Heron and Nick Tonge give an insight into their varied roles at Pace plc, showing how these have extended beyond that of the traditional author. Using examples of their work in consumer electronics for the Americas market, they describe:

  • How they became responsible for designing the labelling on products and cartons. This led to:
    • input into product design
    • increased understanding of the manufacturing processes
    • discussions with suppliers
    • research into labels and materials
  • How they took over the design of carton artwork
  • How their typical authoring tasks changed, moving away from user manuals, words and paper.

This session is delivered by Marilyn Heron and Nick Tonge.

More pictures, less text: modifying technical content for the “visual age”

Our consumers’ attention span is diminishing on a yearly basis, increasing the challenge to engage and retain their focus. Although a few tools make it easy to insert rich media into multi-channel published content, how do you determine when to use images instead of traditional steps? Today’s projects require distribution equivalents of a press release, a movie trailer, and an interactive, visual experience. Text and words aren’t going away; we will just be using fewer of them. Attend this dynamic session to discover which skills you already possess to address the challenges described above, and how to “think visually”.

This session is delivered by Maxwell Hoffmann.

Technical Writing in Energy and Resources: Risks and Opportunities

Working as a technical writer on some energy and resources mega-projects, it is apparent that there is a potentially vast “undiscovered country” of opportunity for writers. An exploratory study was carried out, with the help of stakeholders at all levels, concerned with identifying and exploring the risks and opportunities associated with using a dedicated technical communication resource on engineering projects. One recurrent theme emerged – that of promoting technical communication as a profit centre. Furthermore, the risks identified were largely culturally predisposed and were perceived as being easily mitigated and/or massively outweighed by the benefits.

This presentation is delivered by Robert Illes.

Patterns in language for linguistic disambiguation in a style checker

Some style guides specify the part of speech that an approved term has. For example, Microsoft style permits the word ‘input’ as a noun but not as a verb. An effective style checker must give a warning only if a term is used incorrectly.

Patterns in language can be used to identify the part of speech that a term has.

In the structure, ‘an + X + was’, X is a noun. Most text is more complex.
Sometimes, disambiguation is not possible. However, the patterns are sufficiently good for practical purposes. (The patterns are used in a term checker.)

This session is delivered by Mike Unwalla.

When culture meets content

This session presents an overview of some of the issues documentation and training materials can face when being viewed through a cultural lens different to our own to better equip technical communicators who are writing for an international readership. Choice of words and supporting images will be examined with the aid of in-country research conducted in Oman together with experience gained on recent projects.

This session is presented by Andrew Peck.

Changing our mindset for the future of content work

This session is about getting yourself ready for the future, whatever it may bring. Change is not something that we usually excel at in technical communications.

If we don’t update our thinking, content and methods, each new wave of technology puts us yet another step behind the curve. Even though tablets and smart phones have reached near ubiquity with professional users, most organisations do not have their people, processes, platforms or content ready for mobile delivery. Many are not even internet-ready. Today we’re bombarded by announcements of new content creation and consumption technologies that are wearable, social, dynamic or embedded directly in products.

Although we can talk about how to do something about it, before our content and processes can change, we must change. We must address what is actually holding us back: how we think about our content in the first place.

This session will provide a new and inspiring perspective on how you can and must work with content to be ready for the future. We’ll look at updating our processes, structures and the biases and habits that surround them.

This session is delivered by Noz Urbina.

Simplified technical English: Overview of the ASD-STE100 specification

  • The making of the ASD-STE100 Specification
  • Basics: one word for one function, procedure or object, keywords, rules
  • ASD-STE100 makes the difference: accuracy, clarity, risk reduction, translatability
  • Practical examples
  • The global market
  • Updating the ASD-STE100 Specification
  • UKCeB STE Training

This session is delivered by Maria MacDonald.

Digital accessibility: Strategy, content and delivery

Delivering content across different digital channels is an accepted part of today’s communication landscape. But how do you make sure your information is reaching everyone who wants (or needs) to access it?

This presentation will explain how to create a successful digital accessibility strategy. It will look at existing standards and frameworks, accessibility as part of agile and waterfall methodologies, and provide best practice guidance for accessible content across different platforms.

This session is delivered by Léonie Watson.

Single-source/content management beyond text: Dealing with graphics and multimedia

For most authors the concepts of content reuse are nothing new. Whether you work under the labels of “single-source publishing”, “content management”, or “multi-channel publishing” it all boils down to writing content once, maximizing reuse, and (hopefully) never resorting to content duplication to achieve your publishing goals. All of this works beautifully with text, but various media elements have always been the Achilles heel of content reuse. In this session Mr. Hamilton will explore concepts and techniques to bring graphic and multimedia elements into the content management workflow.

This session is delivered by Mike Hamilton.

Working with product management – how important is the information experience?

How well do you know your product manager? Do they come to you to understand what the user experience is like when using the product and associated help? If not, then maybe it is time they should. According to the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), products that deliver unique benefits and superior value to the customer are the primary drivers of success and product profitability. This doesn’t just relate to function, it also relates to the user experience as a whole, a massive part of that being how a user feels about the help and ‘documentation’ that is presented to them as part of that experience.

Sophie will discuss her experiences working with product management in terms of ensuring the right message is being delivered across the product, but also in making the product teams aware of the impact that the written word has on the user experience.

This session is delivered by Sophie McMonagle.

Using screen video: best practices, regardless of the tool

Screen videos have been growing in popularity as ways to provide detailed information and document processes. Many in the Technical Communication field are finding that they need to expand their skills beyond writing to communicate with their audiences. Many already use screenshots, but will benefit from creating screen videos.

We will focus on tips for making screen videos, including tips for recording, editing and producing – regardless of the tools used to make the video. Be prepared to walk away with ideas that you can apply, whether it’s your first or fiftieth video.

This session is delivered by Matt Pierce.

Managing accessible mobile content

There are two trends that technical communicators must be aware of, and manage.

  1. In some regions or market sectors, you might not be permitted to sell your products or services unless you can demonstrate accessibility.
  2. The growth of mobile platforms continues to accelerate.

In this presentation, we review the implications of these trends when taken together, illustrated with simple examples. We will explore the impact of accessibility and mobility interaction, and outline ways in which you and your organization can manage technical content to benefit from the resulting opportunity.

This session is delivered by Adrian Warman.

Planning user documentation when you are a startup business

In this presentation, we’ll look at how to plan a user documentation project when you’re working for a startup technology company. Working in this environment gives you the opportunity to work ‘from a clean sheet’, but it also has its own challenges of working in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.

We’ll look at the issues around planning user documentation and the additional considerations when you are a startup. Your budget may be limited and the product or service in development may be constantly changing, so how should you work in this situation? What should you be developing, and what is the value of user documentation for a startup?

This session will cover:

  • What is different about working for a startup
  • Lean startup strategies
  • The value of user documentation for a startup and why should you provide it
  • How to document in this environment
  • What you should document
  • What you should measure
  • What to do when budgets are limited
  • What to do when there is no clear audience

This session is delivered by Ellis Pratt.

Addicted to meaning: Mental models for technical communicators

This presentation explores how ‘meaning’ works and how you can create meaningful technical communication. Understanding how and why communication is meaningful can help make your documentation more effective. Based on semantics and mental models, Kai explains:

  • How users create meaning from documentation
  • When meaning succeeds – and why it fails so often
  • Why minimalism works, but FAQs often don’t
  • And how we all are addicted to meaning

Attendees will get a deeper understanding on their work as Kai puts familiar tech comm methods into new context in a romp of aha-moments.

The session is delivered by Kai Weber.

Leading the change

“The only constant is change” – Heraclitus taught that more than 2,000 years ago. Has anything changed since then? Do we need professional Change Management? “Yes!” says Stefan Gentz, senior business consultant at TRACOM Germany. Manage the change or be changed!

The Tech Comm business is fundamentally changing before our eyes. We keep adapting, and yet – five years from now, ten years, and beyond, the sector will continue to face new technological, demographic, and economic challenges. In this keynote Stefan Gentz will outline a brief history of change and unveil the real triggers that drive the world’s top 500 managers to initiate (and approve!) change projects. After a quick check-up of today’s major social and economic forces driving the need for change Stefan will search the North Pole with the audience (yes, Change Management can be fun!) to start a journey through the top errors in change management. Finally we will conquer the eight steep stages of successful change management, drop off ballast to climb and will eventually learn why Change Management is not Crisis Management.

This session is delivered by Stefan Gentz.

The Quantum Funnel: working with the black holes of knowledge

For most of our history, we have designed linear, sequential learning systems, starting with beginners’ level and progressing to advanced. But the web lets us quickly find morsels of information out of sequence, without the context to understand it. We all have “quantum black holes” in our knowledge bases, which we fill in using a variety of strategies, mostly improvised. This presentation focuses on a cognitive model that explains current learning phenomena, and goes on to explore how we can design information for this world of “standalone chunks” that comes from a “new” user interaction model, and a new type of user/learner.

This session is delivered by Ray Gallon.

Time-saving tools and techniques for capturing screens

This session starts by presenting examples of how screenshots can really add value to software documentation and user assistance. You’ll then learn the key steps you need to take at capture time: these include guidelines on setting colour depth, sizing UI objects, and capturing drop-down menus. The session concludes with demonstrations of the most popular and powerful screen capture tools and strategies that are available.

You will learn:

  • Where, when, and how screenshots can really add value
  • The key steps for capturing a window, screen region, or object successfully
  • An overview of the tools available
  • The strengths and weaknesses of each tool
  • A range of powerful tips for saving time
  • Guidelines on single-sourcing screenshots for print- and screen-based presentation

This session is delivered by Matthew Ellison.

Creating instruction videos for using software – a case history

This session takes you through our experiences of creating a set of short narrated videos (*.avi) to supplement a set of HTML Help pages required for a new-look item of Remsdaq software. The talk will be down-to-earth, covering the entire process including both its successes and the inevitable setbacks and problems encountered when one does something for the first time.

This session is delivered by Martin Block.

Changing the engine without stopping the car

Even if you know that structured authoring and reuse makes perfect sense, the sheer volume of your existing documentation may keep you from making the transition that your documentation team desperately needs. Most companies cannot afford to start a full rewrite of their materials, and they cannot afford to stop production for months while the legacy materials are being converted and imported into a content management system. This presentation shows how gradual migration of legacy materials into a structured authoring environment, and subsequent migration into a reuse system, is feasible when you use the right set of methods and tools.

This session is delivered by Jang Graat.

Was this written by a cat on a keyboard? The useless assistance project

Over a year ago Edward Smyda-Homa started a brave Felix Baumgartner-like, spiraling plunge through the Twitter-sphere. He created and maintains a Twitter account called Useless Assistance (@uselessassist), which contains retweets to remind organizations of the frustration and negative emotions that result from poorly prepared assistance.

This presentation is a light-hearted look at the poor assistance people are encountering and attempts to categorise the common gripes. How organizations are monitoring and responding to such negative assistance-related tweets will also be examined. It is hoped that the findings shared will trigger discussion on how quality issues in our trade can be addressed.

This session is delivered by Edward Smyda-Homa.

Content delivered? Check. OK how do we use it?

You spend months developing your content. You deliver it and wait for your users to say how good it is. The problem is, how many users REALLY know how to get the best from it. For example, do they know:

  • What content is there?
  • How best to find what they require?
  • How to navigate around the content?

In this presentation you will see how training users about your content increases customer satisfaction and reduces support costs. If you can’t do this directly, it will show how others can do it on your behalf.

This presentation is delivered by Colum McAndrew.

McAfee: Our DITA journey towards collaborative authoring

Although painful at the time, the move to topic-based writing and the use of DITA and a Content Management System has improved our content, significantly reduced localization costs, and provided the building blocks for dynamic and collaborative content.

Explore lessons learned and areas of opportunity for tapping into the power of DITA and all it promises.

This session is delivered by Andrew Westfold.

The Challenges of Remote Management

In this session, Adrian draws on his experience managing technical writers at a distance to discuss some of the issues faced with remote management. The talk will cover areas such as the following:

  • Remote management scenarios
  • Hiring
  • Security
  • Access to company resources
  • Working on shared documentation projects
  • Performance expectations
  • Conducting reviews
  • Data backup scenarios
  • Communication
  • International issues
  • Firing/redundancies

This session is delivered by: Adrian Morse.

Managing as a freelance technical communicator

You leave office politics behind when you become freelance – but you find yourself taking on tasks that would previously have been carried out by others. As a small technical communication business, Clearly Stated has to manage time and resources, provide estimates and quotations, co-ordinate reviews with people over whom we have no control… and find time to actually do the work. All this ramped up a notch when I became an employer! You will find this session useful if you want to learn from my mistakes, or if you take on freelance technical communicators and want to avoid pitfalls.

This session is delivered by Alison Peck.