Technical Communicators Wear Many Hats

MensHatsHere are some of the jobs, titles, tasks, roles, activities…, basically the hats that I wear, as a technical communicator. Naturally, I had to put this list in alphabet order!

I wear at least a few of these on every project.

 

 

 

 

  • Authoring tool sponsor, tester, integrator, user
  • Brainstormer
  • Contractor, full time employee
  • Defect and enhancement tracker
  • Documentation Specialist
  • eLearning Developer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Friend, critic, cheerleader, co-worker, confidante
  • Graduate Student
  • Information Mapper
  • Instructional System Designer
  • Instructor, virtual instructor, trainer, teacher, mentor, resource
  • Learning Consultant
  • Learning Management System Administrator
  • Learning Technology Consultant
  • Level I/II/III technical support, triage, troubleshooter
  • Librarian, curator, archivist
  • Narrator
  • Negotiator, mediator
  • Online & context-sensitive help author
  • PHI Hider
  • Photographer, photo editor/shopper
  • Proposal Writer
  • Prospector, candidate
  • Publisher
  • Report writer, runner, editor
  • Royalty-free image purchaser
  • Screen scraper, image capturer, image editor
  • Script writer
  • SharePoint site/collection administrator
  • SME Interviewer
  • Software sponsor, installer, configurer
  • Software, document, mobile, browser, technical, and user acceptance tester
  • Sound/audio recorder, sound editor
  • Storyboarder
  • Student, learner
  • Style guide author, referee
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Team member, team leader
  • Technical Project Manager
  • Technical Writer
  • Technology researcher, implementer
  • Template creator
  • Time tracker
  • Troubleshooter
  • User assistance creator
  • Videographer, video editor
  • Web Developer
  • Writer, author, formatter, editor, publisher

Bad Information (BI) is Everywhere and it Costs a Bundle

Bad Information Bell Curve

What is Bad Information?

Bad Information is information that isn’t quite accurate, not really helpful, or usually both. It could be a million miles off or just a few microns off. In both cases, it’s bad. That means that it isn’t good. Good Information is information we can use as-is to make, fix, do, or learn something right now. We don’t have to get a second, third, or twelfth opinion, we don’t have to balance information from 20 sources. We don’t have to research it for a year. We don’t have to deconstruct and reconstruct Good Information. Good Information is usable now. Bad information gets in the way of us discovering and acting upon the good information.

Bad Information (BI) takes many forms and wears many guises. And in fact, it’s truly everywhere. Think about it. If we were swimming in Good Information, would we have bought that item, taken that job, argued for something a certain way, or voted for that person…you get the idea. We’re neck deep in BI. Now, say it with me… “BI is everywhere!”

BI comes at us from all angles

BI comes at us like water from a fire hose. It’s sent to us in email, it’s on TV, the radio, in the news apps. Friends and family tell us BI. We get it in tweets, and on social media sites. Man! I’m still getting the Nigerian Letter for Christs’ sake.

Good Information is scarce and causes us to rely upon feelings and emotion

In addition to good/bad information, we make decisions based upon emotion and feelings. We almost have to because of the scarcity of Good Information. Take a look at ethos, pathos, and logos, if you’re not familiar. If we were (or could be) more rational and less emotional, we’d base our decisions mostly on information. That’s what I’m talking about here. One could easily argue that because there is so much BI, we’re pretty much forced to rely on emotion and gut feelings.

Some general characteristics of BI

Bad Information can have one or more of these characteristics. You can probably think of more.

  • Imprecise, inaccurate
  • Purposefully or accidentally false (the author is misleading on purpose or doesn’t know, or can’t know the truth)
  • Vague
  • Historical or forward-looking (it may have been true in the past or it might be true in the future)
  • Spin, bias, misleading
  • Omitted certain key characteristics or facts in order to support one side
  • Purely political, propaganda
  • Incomplete
  • Inconclusive
  • Shading of the truth
  • White lies, and plain old lies

Examples of BI

Since BI is everywhere, just think about your interactions with others, documentation, products, really anything. You might have had experiences such as:

  • The repair shop estimated the repairs to be around $300. They end up being $600
  • The Craigslist ad said the item is new. It’s actually five years old and smells of cigarettes
  • The piece of paper that came with the item you just bought neglects to tell you how to use the item
  • This investment is going through the roof
  • If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.

Bad Information versus Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence permits businesses to grow because they have a handle on their; data, customers, product, price, profitability, market share, workforce, salaries, etc. Business Intelligence is a goal, a business plan, an ideal. And just because its initials are also BI, it should not be confused with BI, Bad Information. It’s also basically the truth described in two words instead of one. Bad Information, from a volume perspective, is the Atlantic Ocean. Business Intelligence on the other hand, is the gallon of milk in my refrigerator. The bell curve image above fairly describes the relationship between how much BI you’ll encounter versus how much truth or even truthiness.

The Cost of Bad Information

The cost of BI is astronomical. The reason that it’s so high is because so many people are so heavily invested in BI. Disseminating BI gives them the edge. From the fake Vuiton handbag salesman in NYC to the large company that doesn’t want you to know that you can buy a very similar but better product across the street. Not knowing how to use/fix/do something costs us time trying to figure it out by; trial-and-error, asking someone, Googling it, or looking for professional user assistance, etc. I’m sure you can think of many examples.

Technical Communicators Constantly Battle BI

Creating Good Information, and battling BI is our work and our passion, or at least it should be. Just as journalists should report the unbiased news, technical communicators should describe what we’re describing based upon the facts. It’s the ethical thing to do. BI is everywhere and we should keep that in mind at all times.

Localize the Content After Translation

Flags of several nationsLocalization is what technical editors do to your document after it’s been translated. They localize the writing. Localization is the process of polishing the writing so that it is comprehensible to your audience without your audience having to spend additional time analyzing the writing. Localization may be accomplished by machines but it is often performed by people.

Translated + Localized = Reader Bliss

Obviously, translated and localized text is going to have a greater impact on your audience versus text that isn’t translated, or isn’t localized. Only highly motivated readers are going to take the time to use a translation service or tool, such as https://translate.google.com/ then take the extra step of deconstructing and reconstructing the not-so-great translation so it makes sense to them. The question you should ask is “is it worth the effort to provide my audience with a well translated and localized text?” In other words, will the effort to produce a better quality translation mean more sales, fewer customer support contacts, higher customer satisfaction, and higher review scores on social sites?

Non-informative, Misleading, Irritating, or Just Plain Funny?

Poor translations/localizations can range from not-helpful, to wrong and misleading, to highly irritating. It can inhibit your customer’s efforts to use your product or service. This can reduce sales and increase customer service contacts. If your users/customers find your documentation to be of low quality, will that same feeling translate to how they feel about your product or service? In general, you want all aspects of your product (web site, web application, email, contacts, support, packaging, documentation, etc.) to reflect positively on its quality. Poor translations can also be funny. Here are some examples: http://www.boredpanda.com/funny-chinese-translation-fails/

Product Inserts, Online Documentation

Many physical products include one or more paper inserts or provide online documentation on the company site or mobile application. This material should serve a purpose. The purpose is often; installation, configuration, maintenance, troubleshooting, or getting support. These materials should effectively answer the common questions your users/customer have. If they don’t, you may have wasted the time and effort to produce them.

Cutting Costs

Before deciding to ship a product with or without documentation, you should analyze the need for and use of the documentation. Does the audience need it in order to properly use your product or service? If so, it may be worth the extra cost to provide information they can use. I wrote a little bit about audience, purpose, and context here.

Getting the APCs Right (Audience, Purpose, Context) in your Communications

Audience, Purpose, ContextEvery communication project begins with analysis of the APCs; audience, purpose, and context. Before creating your communication, you should know who you are communicating with, why, and under what circumstances. And by communication project I’m talking about everything from a telephone conversation with your great aunt Elsa, to producing a multi-million dollar blockbuster movie. Literally every communication has these three components at its core.

Analysis

Your analysis of audience, purpose and context can be informal or very formal and extensive. How much effort you put into analyzing APC is determined by the scope of your project and the overall return on investment of the communication. When you’re composing an email to a coworker, you probably work out in your mind the ACPs while you’re drafting the email. At the other extreme, you may want to conduct some primary or secondary research into your target audience, how best to communicate with them, how best to get them to act on your message, and under what circumstances (when, where, and how) to deliver your message so it has the greatest impact.

Audience

Who you want to communicate with is probably your first consideration. First of all, how many people? Is it 100 or 100,000? You want to know about their demographics, as well as commonalities and unique qualities. You want to know about audience age, sex, nationality, language abilities, their knowledge of or experience level with the message you want to share with them. Is it one monolithic audience or are there five distinct sub-audiences? Can one communication reach the audience, or does it require multiple pieces each aimed at a sub-audience. For example, you might best reach your audience who are in their 20s one way with one type of message, and the over 50 audience a different way with a different type of message.

Purpose

Why you’re communicating with your audience and why the audience wants to hear your message is the second consideration. Are you inviting your uncle Bud to Thanksgiving dinner and looking for a “yes” answer, or are you trying to convince 150,000 associates to complete their required compliance training by the end of the month? For training/performance improvement pieces, you want to show your audience how to perform the task and give them practice and feedback as they learn it. For these pieces, you’re trying to change behavior.

Context

The context of your communication is also critical. Are you yelling “fire!” because you just started a grease fire in your kitchen? Or maybe you’re writing about your company’s quarterly performance for your stockholders while you follow various templates, get certain reviews, and meet certain timelines. For this discussion of corporate technical communications, we’re usually talking about internal and external communications that we have at least some time to prepare. Our typical modes of delivery include; live broadcast, recorded presentations, email, documents, guides, and eLearning.

After you’ve determined the audience, purpose, and context you can design and craft the message. When drafting your piece, typically, you’ll use the persuasive writing style. More about that in a future article.

WriterTech Elevator Speech, What is Technical Communication?

Image of two people shaking hands. One is thinking "what is Technical Communication?"Every organization, and even every individual when you think about it, creates three types of communications. We create Corporate Communications, Marketing Communications, and everything else we can lump into Technical Communications. My typical elevator speech mentions all three types and how I specialize in Technical Communications.

Corporate Communications

Companies of every size create internal and external corporate communication pieces. Internally, companies communicate HR policies, business goals, standards, compliance, metrics, performance, sales, benefits, job role descriptions, corporate governance, promotions, etc. Externally, companies communicate with local, state and the federal government, as well as with the business community, business partners, the legal community, and the financial community; lenders, stock markets, etc. Depending upon the size of the organization, these pieces may be created by senior management, the legal team, and with assistance from one or more Corp Comms specialists.

Marketing Communications

Marcom includes everything from business cards to television spots, and everything in between. Ads have to be written. Marcom can include; promotional items, web site copy, branding, trademarks, trade names, video clips, webinars, social media, radio, newspaper, and television, and on and on.

Technical Communications

Everything that isn’t Corp comms or Marcom is T-Comms. And even some of what is Corp Comms or Marcom is also T-Comms. Sound confusing? It isn’t. There’s obviously some overlap between Corp Comms, Marcom and T-Comms. The overlap depends upon a number of factors, not the least of which is the size and specialization of your organization. For the purposes of this post, Technical Communications includes:

  • Product and service descriptions and details
  • Instructional design, eLearning design, Training
  • Whitepapers, user guides
  • Information distributed with your product or service
  • Installation and maintenance guides
  • Line art, branding, images, drawings, and graphics
  • Proposals
  • Internal and external how-to guides
  • Translation and localization