The Value of Collegiality in Technical Communicaiton

Society’s attitudes towards written communication are changing. This is not simply a matter of the eternal development of language, though that, of course, goes on, and at an accelerated pace in any time of great social or economic change. There is also a difference in the relationship between the writer and the reader.

We might easily dismiss this as simply becoming “less formal” — a development you will either welcome or disdain according to your taste. And we might also too easily see as growing informality what is really just the diurnal migration of vocabulary. I would suggest that what is happening is something more precise and more important than that: the relationship between writer and reader is becoming more collegial. read more

Correcting our Publication Skew

Technical communicators and content strategists tend to have a skewed view of communications. We tend to think of communications principally in terms of publications. But publications have never been the sole or even primary means by which communication takes place, and in the age of the Web, the role of publications in communication is diminishing. As I have remarked more than once before, the Web is not a publication, it is a colloquium. To move forward in the modern world, we need to correct the long-standing publications skew in the way we look at communications. read more

How the Web Designs Information

John Carroll, in Nicky Bleiel’s recent interview in Intercom, suggests that there has emerged a theory that the advent of the Web means that information does not need to be designed anymore:

I do think that techniques like crowdsourcing and search have caused, what I think, is a radical position that there is no need to design information anymore because it’s so abundant. We can rely on the crowd and search, and between the two we’re going to be able to generate such wondrous amounts of information. read more

How the Web Restores Civilization

There is no doubt that the Web is highly disruptive. Nicholas Carr thinks it is rotting our brains. David Weinberger, on the other hand, thinks it is fundamentally changing (for the better) they way we understand and develop knowledge. I think it is restoring civilization to its roots.

Proactive Tech Comm

Traditionally tech comm ended when the product was released to manufacturing. We are slowly moving away from that outdated approach and towards an approach that supports the product throughout it life cycle, especially through forums and other social media.

But even when we do this, the pattern tends to be reactive. We wait for a customer to ask a question and then we answer it. But I received something in my email today that takes it one step further. It answered a question before it was asked. It was proactive tech comm. read more

Desert Island Docs

There is a long-running radio program on the BBC called Desert Island Discs that asks celebrities what recordings they would take with them if they were going to be stranded on a desert island. Today, the question does not make as much practical sense as when it was first broadcast in 1942. As long as the desert island had Wi-Fi, modern castaways would not have to make their choices before they leave, they could just listen to Pandora. (If the island has power for a record player, we can presume it also has Wi-Fi.) read more

The Long Tail and Why Docs are Frustrating

It is often a matter of some perplexity to technical writers that more and more people seem to prefer searching the Web rather than looking for information in the documentation. It is perplexing because information found through a Web search is of variable quality, sometimes hard to navigate, lacking in authority, and has to be picked out of a big pile of fluff.

Why would people prefer to search the sprawling mess that is the Web when they could look in the neat, authoritative, well organized documentation set? Shouldn’t they, at least, look in the docs first before turning to the Web? read more

On Being Misconstrued

If you write, you will sometimes be misconstrued. If you read, you will sometimes misconstrue what you read. These things are part of the human condition.

If you speak, you will often be misconstrued, and if you listen you will often misconstrue. These things are even more certain. But the beauty of conversation is that you can rapidly realize the you have misconstrued or been misconstrued and correct or seek correction until you and your interlocutor arrive at a common understanding.

It is not that simple when you write. I was misconstrued recently, by Joe Pairman, in an article in the CIDM e-newsletter. Based on his reading of several post in this blog and other writings, Joe accused me of misunderstanding minimalism in three ways. (The substance of what he has to say is worth reading, despite it being inspired by a misconstruction of my opinions.) read more

Shibboleths of Technical Communication

A shibboleth is a test which separates friends from enemies, insiders from outsiders, the trustworthy from the suspect.

In medieval England, it was easy to tell the nobility from the peasantry: the nobility spoke French; the peasantry spoke English. This is why our words for meat on the hoof are Anglo-Saxon in origin (cow, sheep, pig) while our words for meat on the plate are French in origin (beef, mutton, pork). A peasant might steal a noble’s horse and cloak, but he could not pass himself off as a nobleman because he could not steal a noble’s tongue. read more

We Are None of Us Publishers Anymore

“We are all publishers now” — It is one of the defining tropes of content strategy, spoken, in one form or another, by many of the pioneers of the field. So if when say, “We Are None of Us Publishers Anymore,” am I just being even more contrarian than usual?

Sometimes a corrective is needed to stay out of the ditch.

Sometimes a corrective is needed to stay out of the ditch.

Not really. Phrases like these are more about course correction than they are about defining the center line of a field. If you are heading into the ditch on the left side of the road, you need to make a turn to the right. But if you keep turning right, you will end up in the ditch on the right hand side of the road. read more