Microcontent and what it Means for Communication and Technical Writing

The simplest definition of microcontent is text, image, or video content that can be consumed in 10-30 seconds. In 1998 Jakob Nielsen Originally defined microcontent as small groups of words a person can skim to understand the idea of the content on a Web page. This can include headlines, page titles, subject lines and email subjects included on a page or displayed on a search results page. microcontent is popular in marketing, social media, technical writing, and communication. The difference lies in structuring and creating microcontent for these disciplines.

According to Mike Hamilton of MadCap Software, “Microcontent must be short/concise, easily consumable and stand-alone”. Stand-alone content can be understood on its own without needing surrounding content to clarify its meaning. When content can stand alone it is reusable which is key for microcontent.

Microcontent is a paradigm shift, we must change our mind set for how we create content. We must understand that it is more than text, it is content that has meaning, purpose, and a job. When we create the content with an eye for conciseness, ability to be consumed, and information that can stand-alone and then focus on its delivery and use, we unlock new possibilities

The following are possible uses for Microcontent:

  1. Knowledge and job aids: Sales Prospecting assets, Pre-call Prep Tools
  2. Marketing and selling content: Conversation aids, preview videos
  3. Content source: Common phrases, common research or facts, and links to internal/external web reference articles.
  4. Search Engine Creation: Knowledge base, online help.
  5. Chatbot: Conversation design elements

The short phrase structure of microcontent lends well to for searches. Once the content is created a best practice would be to always make sure it is searchable. When content is created, it very quickly grows in volume and without a way to search the content can become less usable. You have to be able to find it.

MadCap Software has built a microcontent editor into its latest release of Madcap Flare 2019. This industry first allows content to be marked as microcontent or new microcontent be created then used in chatbots and to enhance help and knowledge base search results.

Whether you are creating social media posts and are addressing an audience with a short attention span or quick steps for job aids, this content can shrink while offering growth in engagement with customers, users and employees.

 

References

https://www.brafton.com/blog/creation/microcontent-what-is-it-and-why-do-you-need-it/

https://www.google.com/search?q=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&rlz=1C1GCEU_enUS819US819&oq=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&aqs=chrome..69i57.7491j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcontent

https://marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/micro-content-important-content-type-dont-manage/

 

 

Flow Chart/Diagram Types and Terminology

I recently read a job posting for a technical writer where creating swimlane flow charts is a job requirement. I have created flow charts in the past, but this had me thinking what is a swimlane flow chart and what makes it different from other flow charts. I quick search engine query gave me the definition of swimlane flow charts.

Much of communicating and writing is knowing the right tool to use at the right time. Lets take a look at the types of flow charts and when they should be used.

What are Flow Charts

A flow chart is a diagram that represents a process, workflow, or data flow. In the diagram, steps are shown as boxes with arrows connecting them. The arrows indicate the flow of the information or data. Typically process or activity steps are denoted as rectangle boxes. Decisions re denoted as a diamond. This is a very simple explanation of what a flow chart is and its common symbols. There is more than one type of flow chart. Each has its own purpose depending on the industry or situation needing charted. The power of the chart is using the correct type to display the content. Together these bring meaning to the diagram.

Types of flow charts and their uses

  1. Process Map/Process Chart: This type of flow chart is used to map a process. These can be used to troubleshoot problems or provide walkthroughs for decisions. One example of a process map would be to fill an order. Each step in the process leads to its own string of possible decisions and actions.
  2. Swimlane Flow Chart: Swimlanes shows distinct but linked processes in a process. The swimlanes, much like those in a pool, divide actions and decisions into separate lanes. The lanes can represent who is responsible for the process. This could be employee roles or the uses for a piece such as internal vs. client facing.
  3. Workflow Diagram: Workflows are a visual representation of a process. Each step of the process is shown so simplifies complex processes. This allows viewers to focus on one step at a time. These can also include the length of time each step should take. A nursing agency may make such a diagram for their staff to follow while admitting new patients or human resources could make a diagram for the request and approval of employee vacation time.
  4. Data Flow Diagram: Data flows show how data moves through an information system. They are used most often in system design and analysis.

 

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart

https://www.gliffy.com/blog/six-flowchart-types-templates

https://www.smartdraw.com/flowchart/flowchart-types.htm

Role of Technical Writers Industry 4.0

The Information 4.0 Writer

The changes that are happening in Industry 4.0 will change the role of the technical writer. How and When are the questions to be answered. As technical writers we explain things, processes, and how to perform tasks. With Industry 4.0 that will continue but the technologies we write about and those that we use will change along with Industry 4.0. Information 4.0 is the change in technical writing that corresponds with Industry 4.0; the trends and technology that will make technical writing possible. Information 4.0 brings technical writing to a highly advanced technical level.

How will Content Change

Because Industry 4.0 is beginning now, Information 4.0 is only a concept. We do not have all the answers to how to create materials, what tools (do the tools even exist), or what materials to create. Preparation is our best ally in this phase. We can evaluate what we know now, and we can plan for the changes as we see them happening.

The Information 4.0 Consortium has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.

  • Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
  • Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and findable.
  • Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
  • Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.

Let’s say you need to produce instructions for 5 new system changes for 6 different users or types of users who have 4 distinct roles as users. This means that you will have to produce numerous sets of instructions; unique to each user. The difficulty is in managing these permutations of content without error.

How will Technical Writer Tools Change

Without a tool that applies these characteristics to content, it is just theory. With a tool, these characteristics can be implemented.  There is not a tool that can be used to implement all the characteristics to content. The best strategy for us as writers is to be prepared for what we image the changes may be:

  • Set standards and enforce/teach them: For a standard that content is to be independent of format, instruct writers to avoid inline formatting and use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting.
  • Keep tools up-to date: When using a technology tool, take each update. If you try to move from version 8 to version 12 there may be some functionality that has depreciated. Deprecated features are features that remain in software but are not updated. At some time, these features will be removed. If the leap between the past and new software versions is too great, there can be functionality issues.
  • Seek out new industry tools: Whether you look for new tools to solve an existing problem or are just watching new trends in the industry, new tools will be developed to handle Information 4.0. Here are a few organizations and standards to watch for developing tools:
    • Dublin Core: an initiative to create a digital library card catalog for the Web made up of d15 metadata elements. Metadata is data about data.
    • Resource Description Framework (RDF): World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications for how to describe Internet resources such as a Web site and its content. These descriptions are referred to as metadata.
    • Fluid Topics: Captures content in any format to deliver on-the-spot knowledge tailored to the reader and suited to the channel.
  • Keep up with training: It is best to participate in training of existing and new technologies. A common misconception is that workers are smart enough to pick up the material or can research and teach themselves. Thought this is true, there is a possibility of bad habits being perpetuated through the organization if the self-taught employee teaches others their ‘bad habits. It is best to learn how the tool works and should be used by those who designed the tool or by industry experts.

How with Technical Writer Skills Change

As industry changes and technical writer tools change, so must the skills of the technical writer. Let’s look at machine generated text as an example.

For example, if there is a system for hospital equipment maintenance and repair and during a routine automated inspection of a piece of equipment a repair is determined to be necessary. The system will generate necessary reports for management and financial, as well as a full description of what was fixed for an automated fix or a set of repair instructions for a manual fix.

In this case the technical writer will not write the text. The writer becomes a rule maker and curator or the content; they will setup the system to generate specific pieces of content, for specific users, under specific situations.

With this content tailored approach writers will be geared toward writing 500 one-page documents rather than one 500-page book. The content is written in smaller chunks that can be put together in any order, for any different user, for any different state or condition.  The tools to come will handle the mechanics of how this occurs, but writers must understand the mechanics of what data, for whom, when and under what conditions.

Technical Communicators as Effective Change Agents

As business and industry continue to change our work and personal lives, the one constant is change. For workers of the future what skills will change? How will the businesses and customers we serve change? What do these changes mean for communications and technical communicators? Change and transformation for organizations is about helping people change the way they do things. Because technical communicators live at the intersection of technology and users, they are positioned well to be agents of change for their organization. Also, technical communicators typically work with multiple departments within the organization enabling them to bridge the gaps between departments.

Why Organizations Change

Change is important for organizations because it allows companies to retain their competitive edge and succeed at meting the changing needs of customers. Reasons for change include responding to crisis, reducing performance gaps, adopting new technologies, business structure changes such as mergers and acquisitions, and identification of new opportunities.

Types of Change Management

  • Organization Change Management: Managing enterprise changes at the organization level and focuses on culture. This includes Mergers and acquisitions.
  • Program Change Management: Tackles change at the program level. The program is a portfolio of projects. The goal is to balance the need for change with the program’s objective and budget.
  • Project Change Management: Change is integrated into to every phase of a project.
  • Department and Team change: Prioritizing change and raising the success rate for changes. This includes the integration of new technologies and processes.

Champions of Change

Change agents are the person inside or outside of an organization who promotes and enables change within an organization. They do this by focusing on organization effectiveness, improvement, and development. Change agents can volunteer or be selected to facilitate change; it can be a part of their job or their whole job. These people are integral to the change process, they manage change during each stage, and are key to a successful outcome.

Case for Technical Communicators as Change Agents

There are two main characteristics which make technical communicators suited to become change agents:

  • Technical communicators are skilled at making technologies accessible to users through communications.
  • Technical communicators must integrate change when implemented by the organization.

Being the recipient of our own organization change allows us to guide others (coworkers and clients) through change. In her article, 5 Lessons from A Professional Change Agent, Carol Kinsley Gorman states this of the purpose of changes agents, “hired to help leaders become more effective communicators’. Communicate is what we do. Usually that communication relates to change; integrating it, surviving it. Traits of successful technical communicators mirror those of successful change agents, we are:

  • Confident
  • Passionate
  • Driven to explore
  • Creative problem solvers
  • Continuously learning
  • Technically adept
  • Comfortable with chaos

Career paths for communicators and technical writers are not limited to writing web site content and/or writing instructions for software. Our duties integrate us into all facets of organizations and provide the skills necessary to move customers and the organization through change successfully. These skills should not be overlooked by companies searching for talent and communicators looking for opportunities.

 

Resources:

Why organizations change and what they can change

Technical Communicators as Agents and Adopters of Change: A Case Study of the Implementation of an Early Content-Management System

Why is change important in an organization?

Managing Your Customers Through Change

Customer success through change management

4 Types of change management

The role of champions within the change process

5 Lessons from a professional Change Agent

7 Traits of successful communicators

 

2019 Communications, Technical Writing, Content Creation, and Artificial Intelligence Conferences

One of my favorite tasks at the beginning of each year is to plan for conferences. With respect to Communication and Technical Writing there is so much to learn in 2019 and beyond. Conferences provide a way to sharpen your skills while away from regular work, meet experts face-to-face, network, and break out of your comfort zone. Many conferences offer scholarships and reduced rates for students.

Below is a list of communications and technical writing conferences in the coming months; some are in Pittsburgh, some in the USA, others are in foreign countries.

March

13th-16th, Conference on College Composition & Communication, Performance-Rhetoric, Performance-Composition, David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA

27th – 30th, Association of Writers & Writing Programs, AWP Conference, Portland, OR

 

April

9th – 10th, The Carnegie Mellon University – K&L Gates Conference on Ethics and AI, Pittsburgh PA, USA

10th-14th, Eastern Communication Association Annual Conference: Creating Our Future, Providence, RI

14th – 17th, MadCap Software User Group: Madworld, San Diego, CA

26th – 27th, Artificial Intelligence: Thinking about Law, Law Practice, and Legal Education, Pittsburgh PA, USA

29th – May 2nd, Innovation Research Interchange 2019 Annual Conference – Innovation Unleashed: Physical Meets Digital, Pittsburgh PA, USA

30th – May 2nd, Social Media Week, New York, NY

 

May

5th-6th, The American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference (ASJA), Collaboration Nation, New York, NY

5th – 8th, Society for Technical Communication, Technical Communication Summit & Expo, Denver, CO

19th – 21st, Write the Docs, Portland, OR

 

June

5th-8th, NASIG 34th Annual Conference,  Building Bridges: Connecting the Information Community, Pittsburgh, PA

9th – 12th, IABC World Conference, Vancouver, CA

12th – 14th, 4th Biennial Philosophy of Communication Conference, Duquesne University Power Center, Pittsburgh PA

22nd – 26th, Robotics: Science and Systems, Pittsburgh, USA

 

July

14st – 16th, SEAT Conference, Daytona, FL

 

September

3rd – 6th, Content Marketing World Conference and Expo, Cleveland, OH

29th – Oct 1st, Association for Women in Communications, National Professional Development Conference, Embassy Suites, Saint Charles, MO

 

October

8th – 11th, MadCap Software: MadWorld Europe, Dublin Ireland

The Face of the Workforce in the age of AI

 

As communicators and technical writers, we are always living with change. Changes to messaging, changes to our tools, changes to industry and the workplace. What will that mean for our future as we navigate Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution?

Pittsburgh business owner George Parks spends a large part of his day driving between meetings when his peers are slowing down or entered retirement decades earlier. Entering the Pittsburgh workforce in the early 1950s, he is familiar with how technology, business, the workforce, and  a city can change. He has a standard invitation to meet and talk about business and industry, “Let me take you out for a milkshake.”

George entered the workforce in 1952 as a grass cutter “at St. Mary’s Sharps Hill,” he says with pride. Referring to is St. Mary’s Sharpsburg Cemetery in Pittsburgh, he was 13 years old. Within three years he was setting memorial stones in that cemetery. As a Shaler High School graduate of 1957 he continued working at the cemetery during weekends and summers.

After completing his education at the University of Pittsburgh in Mechanical Engineering he began working in business. Computers were being incorporated into industry at this time. General Electric (GE) had created a computer what was partitioned, or had a hard drive separate from other segments of the hard drive allowing users to divide a task into logical sections. The computer used linear programming, a mathematical calculation, was used to determine the least cost rate of materials for different ores used in the production of steel. “The computer could put the formula together, but there was not enough memory. $1 million for a computer to do the math. GE partitioned it out to the core and multiple computers,” he said.

Sitting across the table from George is like taking a walk back in time. He has seen so much in his life and has seen so much change. He seems energized by the amount and speed of change where others may be exhausted by it. Each business he bought or started has fueled the next, each more technical; Westinghouse Security System, Hipwell Manufacturing (flashlights). Today his latest venture has him delving into Artificial Intelligence (AI) software.

George offers insights into what business owners need to know; how to identify opportunities for incorporating AI to grow their business and what workers need to do to keep themselves marketable in an AI workforce. Will workers be replaced by robots? According to George, no. “ IOT -Internet of Things will be an 18 billion industry within the next 10 years. AI will help make workers perform their jobs more efficiently and with less errors.” Parks says. The power is where AI works with human intervention rather than in replacing workers. An artificial intelligence sturdy by Pwc Global estimates $15.7 trillion contribution to the global economy by 2030 from AI.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the name for the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing. This is also known as the fourth industrial revolution. What makes this revolution different from the other revolutions is that this is where humans meet the cyber world; where technology is not distinct from people. Computers were introduced in the third industrial revolution, but in but in this phase, everything gets integrated and smart-automated. Much of Industry 4.0 technology is invisible such as artificial intelligence and powerful algorithms. It is an immersive experience in computing to the point that computing will disappear into the background and take minimal effort to control. We will not see the effort of the computing, but the result.

According to George Parks, “AI is expensive now because of the cost to create the algorithm to handle the data load.” His latest company Emergtech is developing AI software to measure acceleration, temperature, and the open/close of automatic doors. We place a sensor on the door to measure these functions, the sensor talks to the cloud and gives a service warning to the inspector. Now inspectors can only identify issues when they are already on-site, often for routine maintenance. Once they leave they will return for the next scheduled maintenance or when they are called for a broken door.” The sensor is constantly monitoring the door and evaluating performance against performance metrics set by the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturer (AADAM). When a door performs below these standards, the software gives a service warning which alerts the inspector.

Automation enables productivity

On February 11, President Trump signed an executive order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence. The order recognizes “The United States is the world leader in AI research and development (R&D) and deployment,: and that “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance.” The order describes a multi-pronged approach to U.S. policy on AI; driving breakthroughs, development of technical standards, support AI research, foster public trust in AI technologies, and training the workforce. “The United States must train current and future generations of American workers with the skills to develop and apply AI technologies to prepare them for today’s economy and jobs of the future,” the order states.

With his new business George anticipates the new technology to increase demand for inspectors. With the automated inspection, workers can complete the inspection in have the time and will spend less time on emergency service calls. “They will be on a more regulated schedule, have a better lifestyle. This is a cost savings for the manufacturer and will make techs more money because they need to be more technical.”

The more doors that can be inspected, the more will be installed. “There are 5 million automatic doors in the United States which open and close 50 billion times per year. Only 200,000 of these doors have annual inspections. This software will allow all doors to be inspected by the sensor. The doors will be safer, will be maintenance rather than repairs. It costs less to maintain a door than to repair a door.” Says Parks.

Artificial Intelligence is not restricted to high-tech industries; but at the intersection of people and machines. The retail and food industries are beginning to incorporate the technology. In March of 2017 McDonald’s published its Velocity Growth Plan. The plan aims to retain current customers, regain lost customers, and to encourage occasional diners to visit more often. How the plan will accomplish this is through interacting with customers digitally, offering delivery service, and “Elevating the customer experience in the restaurants through technology and the restaurant teams who bring it to life,” as the growth strategy states.

In August 2018, McDonalds announced that the company and franchisees will invest $3 billion to upgrade stores by 2020. Approximately 360 restaurants in Pennsylvania will be among those modernized at a cost of $266 million. These upgrades include self-ordering kiosks, table delivery using RFID table numbers, and curbside pickup.

The McDonald’s on Route 228 in Cranberry Township was closed for remodeling and reopened in October 2018. The remodel included kiosks for ordering and table service for completed orders. According to team member Beverly Cope, “It’s really a preference to use or not the kiosk. It is best to come when we are not busy and take your time with it.”

McDonald’s uses data from their mobile ordering app to determine customer intelligence about which locations customers are visiting, when they are there, what they are ordering, and even how often customers use the drive through instead of entering the restaurant. This data is used to make recommendations when ordering on the app. It is also used to change the selections on the kiosks based on time of day and the weather.

With the kiosks and online ordering less staff could be scheduled for each shift, reducing labor costs for franchisees while reducing order error rates. A reduction in staff has not happened at the Cranberry Township McDonald’s, “We are so understaffed, we should have two in the dining room helping with kiosks,” according to team member Beverly Cope.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported expected growth of 14% between 2016 and 2026 for food and Beverage Service and Related Workers. With this growth additional fast-food restaurants are projected to open. With potentially less staff per shift at each restaurant, but more restaurants open, the workforce is projected to grow.

The future of work

Industry 4.0 poses many questions for workers and working conditions. The greatest of these is the displacement of physical labor by robots or machines. Will there be hundreds of positions eliminated by machines? Will there be new positions to fill that require new skill sets? Through the historical record of industrial revolutions, we see that new technology or method of production expands economic ability and fosters differentiation of employee labor skills.

AI is not a technology of the future. It is here and is shaping our lives as business owners, consumers, and workers. Early indications show that AI will not replace workers but will replace tasks. The percentage of a worker’s daily tasks replaced by AI will vary by industry and by role. As AI is integrated further the workforce workers need to transition to be more technical to be able to work with the AI to accomplish their work. How jobs are performed will change and workers must adapt to close the skills gap created by the new technology.

“We don’t know so our best defense is to be prepared” – Eliezer Yudkowsky

 

 

 

How Chatbots are Changing Communication

What are chatbots? How do they work? Can I build one myself? These may be questions you are asking.

What are Chatbots?

Chatbots are programs that respond to messages they receive through voice commands or texts or both. Chatbots are designed to simulate how humans behave as conversational partners. The chatbot is a virtual conversation in which one participant is a computer or robot. Chatbots can be designed for phone text, social media platforms, websites, and for computer applications. Synonyms for chatbot include: smartbot, talk to, interactive agent, virtual assistant, or conversation bot.

Chatbots pass the Turing test developed by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. This tests a machine’s ability to display intelligent behavior equal to humans or not different than humans.

Still puzzled on what they are? Some mainstream examples of chatbots are:

  • Virtual Assistants: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Messaging Aps: Facebook Messenger and WeChat messaging aps

What are chatbots, how do they work

Chatbots work much the same as a human at a help desk. For example, the customer opens the chat and asks for assistance, the chatbot responds rather than a human. You could ask the chatbot ‘what are the store hours tomorrow’ and the chatbot will respond with the information available. The response can be delivered as text or an audible reply.

Behind what the customer sees is the programming which controls how the chatbot works. They can be designed to answer questions based on structured questions and answers or they can use Artificial Intelligence to adapt their responses to fit the context of the message.

Why they are the future

In his article Five Reasons Why Chatbots Are the Future, Nicholas Edwards lists the following reasons why chatbots are the future:

  1. They are the new apps – chatbots simplify processes such as banking transactions and travel reservations by acting as our digital helpers.
  2. They use natural language – interacting using our own natural language via speech or text using technology we are already comfortable with.
  3. They are scalable – chatbots can handle ever-increasing numbers of quests; no need to add more chatbots.
  4. They learn and improve – chatbots powered by Artificial Intelligence use the information they receive to automatically improve their performance. This is done without additional programming.
  5. They are the perfect Business Solution – chatbots have are able to guide users through processes and improve the flow of information, this makes them an ideal business solution.

Watson Assistant is a platform to build chatbots:

 

What does it mean for the Communicator and technical writer

Chatbots are the new technology, communicators and technical writers must understand new technologies to keep themselves current in their career; avoiding a skills gap. Each new technology may not fit each organization’s need. It is up to communicators to evaluate the technology and apply it as a possible solution to an organization need.

If a chatbot is viable for your organization you need to perform a content audit or content inventory to be sure the right data to fuel the chatbot exists. A good way to evaluate content is to answer the following questions:

  • How is the information used?
  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Why should someone read the information?

What communicators need to concentrate on is the necessary changes to existing content so that it is can be published as the repository of information for a chatbot. The content should be solving a problem posed by a user, the chatbot provides the answer. Communicators must take an active role in information architecture, we are the ones tailored to provide the content chatbots use.

Chatbots are the way-finders for content. Communicators and technical writers are subject matter experts on content. Content is still king.

See Also: Consumersadvocate.org: 10 Best Chatbots of 2019

 

 

 

Qualities of a Good Journalist

Journalists are the ones who must gather facts of a news story and organize the facts to tell a story. These activities are the same regardless of the subject, value, format, or medium to deliver the news story. Journalists need to possess the following qualities:

  1. Ethical: Ethics are moral standards of right and wrong that govern our actions. For journalists acting with this integrity is critical to ensure the information shared is accurate and fair. The Society of Professional journalists lists the following in its code of ethics: See truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent.
  2. Persistence: To be the best, journalists need to have a clear sense of their story mission and a large pool of resources. Rejection is a part of the journalist’s job. Journalists must deal with rejection by not letting it derail their progress toward the truth and the deadline. Rejection can come in the form of not getting responses for quotes on a story to a whole story being rejected by a publication. Rejection will always be a part of the job, but by learning to craft better questions based on research and propose stories that align with the publication’s mission.
  3. Enjoy interacting with people: Journalists build relationships with many people while conducting interviews. These relationships become reliable contacts. Having the ability to speak comfortably with people to get them to provide information to you is vital. Interact with the audience before you need them so that when you need to request information it is not taken as a demand.
  4. Expert listening skills: To be a good interviewer a journalist must learn to listen. Journalists are most successful when they ask dimple direct questions and repeat the same with follow-up questions. When journalists are speaking they are not acquiring information which is the goal of the interview. Speak to ask the simple question, then listen. According to Universal Class, Journalism Skills – Listening and Observing:
    Research shows that the average individual only hears and retains anywhere from 25% to 50% of the messages being vocalized, a fact that journalists must be keenly aware of, so they do not fall into the trap of only capturing half of the content of what is being said.
  5. Organized: Journalists handle multiple tasks will few resources. Successful journalists excel at managing responsibilities by staying organized. These journalists run their days efficiently and flexibly always anticipating the need to reroute their time during the day. With few resources, time is not a resource to be wasted.
  6. Accept criticism: Journalists must understand that criticism is necessary; it keeps journalists accountable. With social media it is easy to publish criticism online and the public expects publications to respond. Journalists must become accustomed to explaining mistakes and engage in conversations with readers.

While these are qualities of a good journalist, they can be easily substituted for communicators and technical writers.

Computer Talk: Incorporating Speech Recognition Software into Daily Tasks

Getting more done in less time. That is a typical mantra for technical writers and communicators. Perhaps you have expressed needing an extra hand; your voice could be that extra hand. Using speech recognition software allows you to control your computer with simple voice commands. Microsoft does not promote it much, but newer Windows versions contain Windows Speech Recognition preinstalled.

Enabling Speech Recognition

  1. In the Taskbar at the bottom of the screen, click the search.
  2. Type Speech Recognition.
  3. Click Windows Speech Recognition It will open a window where you can select microphone type.
  4. Click Next.
  5. You will be prompted to read a sentence for the software to recognize your voice. click Next when ready.
  6. After reading, click Next.
  7. Select other necessary options such as document review, and speech recognition enabled on startup. Click Next after each option to advance through the wizard.
  8. Once completed, the status box appears. You can use this to switch Voice Recognition on and off.

Using Speech Recognition

To start, say “start listening”.  Once enabled you can use it to open applications such as Word, notepad, or a new email. Once an email or document is open, just start talking to dictate text.

You can also tell the computer to open the command line box, restart or shutdown. When you want to stop, say “stop listening”.

Yes you can even use it to play Solitaire!

 

Here’s a Notepad file created entirely using speech recognition:

These are the words used to create it:

  • Start listening
  • Open Notepad
  • Hello notepad
  • comma
  • press enter
  • today’s reminders are
  • colon
  • press enter
  • press tab
  • business writing exercise one
  • press enter
  • press tab
  • promote blog articles
  • press enter
  • press tab
  • request degree review for graduation
  • press enter
  • press file
  • press save
  • home
  • to do list
  • backspace
  • delete
  • save
  • stop listening

This is a technology worth exploring. As communicators and technical writers we must keep our skills fresh and always evaluate new technology to add to our tool set.

A New Year and a Unique Process for Defining a Content Strategy

Ah, the start of a new year. It brings so many possibilities because it is the best time for a fresh start. With a fresh start you want to have a different perspective and a  different set of goals for the year. I am someone who likes to make lists and live by the list. I am a planner. Planning gives me a clear sense of where I am going and allows me to break my supporting activities into smaller reachable goals.

For this blog post, I want to discuss planning for content. Content could mean a marketing plan, a twitter campaign, documentation for a product release, or in my case, planning effective content for the readership of this blog. I will define the process in a manner that it could be applied to any campaign you may be working on related to communication or technical writing.

While researching the components of a successful content campaign, I found a link to a list of 2018-2019 monthly messaging themes for the University of Washington Marketing and Communications department. These themes are defined at the university level and are used by all marketing and communications at the university.

“As part of our efforts to maximize the effectiveness of our marketing and communications projects across the University of Washington, we will be utilizing monthly message themes again during the 2018-19 academic year.”

The page contains a grid of month, theme, and strategic communications. Each month, July through June is a row in the grid. Each month a different them is selected. The theme is accompanied with an accompanying hashtag for use on social media channels.

The lesson I learned from this link is that when designing a campaign, be sure to determine whether your business or organization has a defined strategy. If there is a strategy, following it for your campaign will ensure you are in line with organization goals and will save you the time of defining the whole plan yourself. You will only have to alight your specific campaign plan to the organization plan.

I cannot find a predefined messaging theme for Chatham University. At publication, I am waiting for a response from the Office of University Communications. Below is the grid I started for this blog. I have only added the months for this spring semester.

Month Theme
January Unique and Wonderful
February Think Innovation
March Keep Reaching
April Looking to the Future

 

Each week, I post a new article. The articles I post for January will all have a title and information related to some unique and wonderful aspect of communication and/or technical writing. Breaking this down into a monthly message is helping me find direction in what information I would like to include.

Another Internet search lead me to Follow These 3 Steps for Content Framework to Save Your Marketing Plan. This article describes growing a content tree. The roots are your messages, the branches are themes and the leaves are individual topics.

Resource: Yvonne Lyons

Using the graphic, I am able to drill-down and further define the content for the blog. The messages for this blog are defined by the departments it supports; Communications and Technical Writing. All messages contain some element of best practices, disciplines of communication and technical writing, and promotion of these programs at Chatham University.

Now that I have the plan complete I believe:

  1. I can come up with topics more easily.
  2. The topics I choose will be more interesting for readers.

This blog post fits right in with the January theme.

Unique and Wonderful – A New Year and a New Process for Defining a Content Strategy