Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Using Rhetorical Theory to Overcome Vaccine-Skepticism

By: Sarah Ondriezek

Vaccine-skepticism is nothing new.  Objection to vaccines began popping up in the early 1800’s as a response to the English government mandate that children receive the smallpox vaccine. At the time, people raised concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine, mistrust in the government, and the importance of personal liberty. The Anti-Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were both formed in response to the smallpox vaccine, and similar groups (along with anti-vaccination journals) sprung up in the United States near the end of the 19th century.

Despite the fact that vaccines have eradicated deadly diseases for over 200 years, anti-vaccination sentiment has persisted. Proponents of the modern anti-vaccination movement have pushed back against the DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine, the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, and even vaccine additive, thimerosal.  In the last decade alone, parental refusal to childhood vaccination has caused a resurgence of measles and whooping cough.  Interestingly, the reasons given for vaccine-skepticism remain similar to those during smallpox: vaccine efficacy, potential risk of harm from vaccines, mistrust in the government (or “Big Pharma”), and personal liberty.

As the world enters its second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of a vaccine.  What has largely been lauded as an anecdote to the Sars-CoV-2 virus, has been, unsurprisingly, met with a great deal of distrust from anti-vaccination proponents. The refusal rate for COVID-19 vaccination in the United States has been estimated to be around 25%, placing the threshold for herd immunity in jeopardy and allowing the virus to continue mutating.

Coronavirus task force being formed.

Image from: Flickr

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC, and other, highly visible public health officials/organizations have worked tirelessly in the media to address the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and to dispel misinformation about the vaccine. Everyone continues to work from the same Risk Communication template – how effective is this tactic in persuading the public to accept vaccinations?

The onus to overcome anti-vaccination sentiments eventually falls to health-care providers (physicians, physician assistants, nurses, etc.), who provide face-to-face care for patients. This is an area where vaccine rhetoric experts can offer tips and guidance to help healthcare providers respond to vaccine-hesitant patients in the most effective way.

Compulsion Vs. Persuasion

Created infographic on vaccine fact and fiction.

Historically, ensuring that the public is vaccinated has been approached in two ways: compulsion or persuasion. Vaccination compulsion techniques may take the form of: government ordinance, school or work mandate, or a patient being fired from a physician practice for refusing vaccination. These methods certainly have their benefits (ensuring that everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated) but are also accompanied by public backlash and an array of ethical dilemmas. Persuading the vaccine-hesitant is no easy task, as they hold fast to their concerns and beliefs.  The difficulty in this task aside, effective persuasion provides the vaccine-skeptical patient with the tools of empowerment to choose vaccination. This method of ensuring vaccine uptake has been growing in popularity as the preferred method for overcoming vaccine-hesitancy.  In the field of communications, vaccine rhetoric, under the umbrella of the rhetoric of science and medicine, has emerged as the focused-study of using persuasion to approach vaccine-skepticism.

Vaccine Rhetoric

One of the leading experts on vaccine rhetoric, Heidi Y. Lawrence, Ph.D.. approaches vaccine rhetoric from a material rhetorical approach. In her 2018 article, When Patients Question Vaccines, Lawrence focuses on the difference between objects (matters of fact, stable, known articles) and things (matters of concern, unstable materials that require discourse to understand).

Inlay terms: healthcare providers view vaccines as objects (stable, safe, effective protection against disease that offers high reward with low risk), while vaccine-skeptics view vaccines as things (unstable, potentially dangerous, misunderstood items that are up for debate). Interestingly, there is a lot of reciprocity between objects and things. Things require a rhetorical situation and discourse to become objects; objects require debate and discourse to be understood and recognized as matters of fact.

Using a material approach to develop practical vaccine rhetoric strategies opens the door for successful communication between patient and healthcare provider (actually creating a rhetorical situation in a provider’s office).

Pulling from Lawrence’s 2018 article, and other existing research on the topic, I’ve developed a list of evidence-based tips to assist healthcare providers in addressing their vaccine-hesitant patients.

Rhetorical triangle

List of Tips- The 5 R’s

  1. Refute claims swiftly and directly – offer a counterargument that directly refutes the claim.  If a patient says, “I don’t want to vaccinate, because vaccines cause autism,” respond only to that claim.  Offer that there is no evidence to support the claim, and that the doctor who originally touted this had his medical license revoked.
  2. Resist the urge to be pedantic or patriarchal – keep in mind that the patient views the vaccine as a ‘thing’ and not an ‘object.’ Instead, be open, understanding, and use this space to bridge the gap between ‘thing’ and ‘object.’
  3. Recommendation of healthcare provider – includes the prevention benefits of a specific vaccine and personal endorsement of vaccine. For instance, when recommending the HPV vaccine, the prevention benefit can be stated as, “The vaccine prevents various types of cancer.”
  4. Respond & identify with a patient – a person’s concerns are very real to them and should not be dismissed. Listening carefully to concerns, using empathy, and identifying with opposing viewpoints opens up space for a dialogue that is respectful and built on mutual understanding. Sometimes, this is all a patient needs to be open to persuasion.
  5. Remember to use Rhetorical Appeals – Logos, Pathos, and Ethos (see diagram above) should be used in every patient interaction.


The best way to combat vaccine-skepticism is by applying a rhetorical framework based on expert research in the field of vaccine rhetoric. While a great deal of information exists to combat anti-vaccine rhetoric on the internet and in mass communication theory, the first-line response typically comes from a healthcare provider. We must arm our physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses with the right tools to overcome anti-vax disinformation and rhetoric.

Is There an Issue With Quarantine Compliance?: A Brief Look Into Young Adult Perspectives on Quarantine

Image of crowded Pittsburgh bar

Image from: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

It is no surprise that every person, every being around the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and has presented an opportunity for us to come together as a worldly community in hopes to combat this crisis.


However, despite this notion of keeping society safe, there are outliers in the population that have gone against the COVID-19 mandates and operated as if there was no quarantine in place at all. The compliance could have been considered at a minimal in this selection of individuals. What is even more striking about this, is that the majority of this select group of outliers were from the younger generation. To be more specific, ages 18 to 24. During the ‘hotspot’ of COVID-19 transmission, individuals ages 18 to 24 were causing 14% of the virus’s transmission. This was the highest percentage in comparison to all other age groups. Why did these individuals consistently act out against the mandates that our public health system put in place? What kind of mindset did these individuals have to knowingly go against the safety of others? What made the young adult age bracket so susceptible to quarantine non-compliance? These questions are ones that I wish to dive into a bit further. I want to show the mental barriers that might be affecting young adults and how there might be a conflict within communication efforts and how these individuals are receiving information of quarantine compliance.


Cartoon that plays on the concept of groupthink

Image from: Patient Safe Network

One critical element to explaining the mental barriers that young adults might be encountering with quarantine non-compliance would be the theory of groupthink. Groupthink is, from Irving Janis, “a communication process that sometimes develops when members of a group begin thinking similarly, greatly reducing the probability that the group will reach an effective decision” (Janis 1982). This theory presents individuals acting as one cohesive unit and makes their group seem more invincible than they truly are. James Rose conducted a study on this exact mentality and concluded on the three major types of Groupthink that he saw in individuals. The three vary in different facets but all focus on making decisions and actions based on the group:

• Type 1, overestimation of the group (the illusion of invulnerability and belief in group’s inherent morality)

• Type 2, closed-mindedness (collective rationalization and stereotypes of out-groups)

• Type 3, pressure toward uniformity (self-censorship, illusion unanimity, direct pressure on dissenters and self-appointed mind guards) (Rose 2011)

I believe that many young adults are acting alongside this theory, specifically within type 1. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but videos such as this one show this mentality of invulnerability and acting in a manner that wants nothing but her select group to find enjoyment.


Going beyond the theory, there have been studies that have produced hard data on the very same assertion that I am making. One said the study was from a research group in Switzerland that analyzed youth and young adults and to identify low compliance rates with public health mandates at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. They administered a survey that produced data to explain what mandates were being followed or not followed within certain situations. The study revealed that with every recording of hygiene non-compliance issue was followed by another form of noncompliance such as not covering one’s mouth when sneezing usually meant they also did not wash their hands after using the restroom (Nivette 2020). In addition to this they also the noncompliance connected to respondents that had the characteristic of “antisocial potential” (Nivette 2020). “Antisocial potential” being a low acceptance of moral rules, legal cynicism, and low self-control in general. One interesting aspect of this is they were able to make a clarification and divide on what is making young adults act out in this fashion. They concluded that hygiene and social distancing behaviors are in part driven by different mechanisms (Nivette 2020). What this means is that hygiene noncompliance is committed by a different mechanical reason to social distancing or other quarantine compliance. Hygiene noncompliance was specifically committed due to a lack of information within the individual or their upbringing hindered them from the following compliance. Social distancing and other quarantine noncompliance were committed due to a rebellious/ anti-authoritative mentality where the individual did not want to be told to stay inside.

Image of young adults working with a healthcare professional

Image from: AMCHP

So, what does this say about information communication? I believe that this separation between groupthink type 1 noncompliance and hygiene noncompliance is where the issue lies. Yes, as the data and statistics show, there is a percentage of young adults that are acting on their own accord in a rebellious persona and might be impossible to change. However, there is an equal number of young adults that simply do not understand or have the resources to follow quarantine mandates. The Committee on Improving the Health, Safety, and Well-Being of Young Adults describes this and the overall public health perspectives and activities that programs use to target the young adult audience. For instance, they concluded that the use of a ‘developmental perspective’ when transmitting information to young adults proved to be the most effective (Bonnie 2015). By this, they mean that socially patterned exposures (such as properly integrated media-based marketing campaigns) during sensitive life stages would shift a young adult to follow compliance. This can be correlated to quarantine compliance and how public health officials are currently addressing young adults. Maybe a greater focus on developmental perspectives would encourage more young adults to buy into quarantine mandates.


As I mentioned earlier, this pandemic has been so unrelenting on everyone across the globe. I do not want this article to seem like I am placing blame on young adults in any way shape or form. I merely want to explain why these tendencies are prevalent within young adults and how health care officials might be able to go forth and properly inform them to make the correct decisions within this time of hardships.

Taking the First Step on Mars: Reality or is it Just Movie Magic

Image of Mars from space

Image from: Marcela Karner

Picture this, in the not-so-distant future, the spacecraft Ares III has just landed on the red planet of Mars allowing the crew to take the first steps on the planet’s surface. The astronauts are able to create a livable habitat for themselves as they discover the great unknown of the final frontier. While this is simply the starting plotline to the movie “The Martian”, it can very well be an event in our future. Space exploration topics have been wildly discussed around the astronautic community that offers various questions as to if it is even possible. Space colonization in particular is one that presents intrigue and controversy.

In this article, I wish to explain and explore the possibility of colonizing the planet of Mars. This is such a volatile topic that has so many considerations and possibilities that it can be hard to truly understand its possibility.  Despite this, I feel that this subject needs to be more fleshed out and explained to find the validity and possibility behind this enormous feat for mankind.

To start I wish to go over the current stigma and status on the colonization of Mars. As mentioned, this is a hot topic among professionals and the public eye. The main arguments from these two groups are:

  1. Survival of human species
  2. Exploring the potential of life on Mars to sustain humans
  3. Using space technology to positively contribute to our quality of life
  4. Developing as a species
  5. Gaining political and economic leadership

The main arguments (survival of the human species, development as a species, and political and economic leadership) are the three that I wish to expand upon as they are the primary points that astronomers feel are the most necessary towards Mars colonization.

Mars rover collected image

Image from: Clifton Chu

Survival of the Human Species:

Looking at the survival of the human species, this can be taken into numerous different directions. Do we have the technology to survive? Could we survive in a different environment compared to Earth? How will we ever get there? These are all applicable questions that, ironically, are not even comparable to the main question to if it ethically acceptable to colonize another planet? There are two main ethical considerations that come into play with populating Mars:

  1. Respect to humans
  2. Respect to Mars itself

The ethical consideration in respect to humans questions if it is appropriate to place a human on the surface of Mars. There is a complete risk of placing individuals in a position where civilization needs to be rebuilt. Thankfully, there have already been contingency plans that span every detail that a human would encounter on Mars ranging from physical barriers of agriculture, medical needs, power, and even psychological needs. Developments have already been mapped out on how to create a functioning agricultural system, medical options to fight common space ailments that astronauts have faced such as osteoporosis, solar panel inventions to allow for consistent power to structures, and programs created by the NASA Human Research Program to train individuals mentally before being sent into space.

The more pressing of the ethical considerations, respect to Mars holds a more tangible barrier to colonizing Mars. Putting a colony on Mars would taint the untouched surface. We would be putting our mark, our bodily being, our bacteria in an environment that has never encountered anything like us prior. This could be detrimental to the ecosystem already present on the planet. Microbial decontamination (an infection that is free of risk) of living on Earth is not a problem whatsoever. However, on Mars, we could infect any type of organism that is on the planet, creating the possibility of inadvertently killing the ecosystem. Sadly, this is a concern that still needs further testing as it is almost impossible to know until we have a live experiment. While this is a major deterrent to colonizing Mars, there are clear plans already in order that make it ethically acceptable to colonize the planet.

Fictionalized image of a potential colony on Mars

Image from: Wikimedia Commons

Development as a Species:

With the development as a species, there is an underlying question of to what is next for humanity regarding evolution? What is the next step to our advancement as a species? To many critics of Mars colonization, they would say mankind was meant to stay on Earth. They make the point that is no need to continue to other planets when we have a perfectly fine option here on Earth. While this is true to an extent, many space expansionists believe that colonizing Mars would thrust our species into a higher level of evolution. One of the most prominent of these expansionists is Elon Musk. He has been quoted saying that making life multi-planetary is “one of the important steps in evolution of life.” Our species has already made the jump from microbial to an organism. From living in water to land. Space is the clear succession for our development as a species.

Without necessary resources, it’s hard to develop anything substantial. It goes without saying that resource acquisition would be necessary for the development of a Mars colony. As mentioned, colonizing Mars would progress our species to the next steps of evolution; however, this won’t even be feasible if we don’t have the proper resources to fully reach that point. Thankfully, there have been plans to get the proper resources delivered allowing for humans to truly develop within a Mars colony. NASA JPL and Minor Planet Center have already evaluated a mining strategy using the surrounding asteroids around Mars that would be able to supplement the precious resources that we use here on Earth. While further exploration and developments would need to be made to adapt resource management that we use on Earth, this is a promising step showing that development can happen.

Now to address the true resource that needs to be prominent for our species to develop properly on Mars. Water. While it has not been observed on the surface of the planet, sources of water have been recorded to be located underneath its surface. It has already been discovered that underneath the surface of Mars, there are collections of sub-surface lakes plentiful with water. This shows more than just a finite amount, but there is the possibility for precipitation to formulate on the planet. Of course, these lakes would need to be excavated and artificially reproduced; however, it is there and it is accessible. This is a critical point that adds validity to how we can survive as a colony. It shows that humanity would be able to develop properly and be able to reach that higher level of evolution that we are destined to reach. Development as a species is absolutely necessary to take into account when determining the validity of colonizing Mars. With the plans already in motion and the further experiments that are in the works, it is only a matter of time before this becomes reality.

Spacecraft taking off from Kennedy Space Center

Image from: NASA

Political and Economic Leadership:

Finally, I want to touch on the political and economic leadership argument. If we do create a colony on Mars, there will be countless logistical details that absolutely need to be addressed for society to thrive. Just because we colonize Mars does not mean that there is no order. Currently, there is only one globally agreed document titled the Outer Space Treaty that does govern international cooperation within space. This treaty is the first space law that goes over the exploration of space and how said exploration should benefit the interests of all countries. Even more important, it makes a prominent assertion that the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. These are all great starting points for space exploration, but it does not quite go over the colonization of a planet. Colonizing Mars would require an expansion to this treaty marking prominent points of consistent peace, possibilities of economic growth, and respect to the planet.

There is an old saying about the United States that it is a “melting pot” of various individuals from a variety of backgrounds. If mankind were to colonize Mars, it would be the most diverse melting pot ever envisioned. Different countries would be sending individuals to the planet’s surface and create colonies in respect to said countries. This creates an issue as to the possibility of war or confrontations occurring between colonies. The Braun-Tsiolkovsky and Clarke-Sagan paradigms tackle this issue of security and war within the context of interstellar exploration. By this, these paradigms encounter the problem with security in keeping Mars’ colonies safe and the possibilities of wars breaking out on the planet’s surface. They bring up the realization that if we have already weaponized Earth, this is bound to happen to Mars unless we, as humans, work as a collective unit (or have on hegemonic power of all countries rather than split up powers). These paradigms would need to be further expanded upon when creating a tangible law system so peace and collectivity can flourish among all individuals. A Mars colony would be more than just an ulterior destination to live, it is a shelter that we can rely on if Earth ever becomes compromised. When starting a new civilization, these factors come into play and are crucial to truly achieving a haven for mankind.

One Giant Leap for Mankind:

Mars has been a constant question within the astrological community as to if it is practical to eventually live on this planet. As shown, many arguments are present questioning the validity of this notion. So many logistical barriers are in place that could prevent civilization from ever being placed on the surface of Mars. Despite this, there are clear plans that make the survival of the human species possible and ethically acceptable. Just as important, our species would be able to properly develop and evolve to a greater level through plentiful resource allocation. Finally, with adequate planning and understanding, society would be able to formulate and thrive beyond any expectations. These arguments surrounding creating a colony on Mars might be intimidating to face, but as I have laid out, they can be addressed properly leaving only implementation left to conquer.

The opportunity to experience and observe the unknown of space is right in front of us, and all we need to do is take that step towards unveiling the mysteries of our solar system. Colonizing Mars is a bold and dangerous feat. However, the opportunity to show what else our galaxy has to offer to makes up for this danger as it would project our society into a position of higher learning. Neil Armstrong famously said, “one step from a man, one giant leap for mankind”. We have a chance to go beyond this leap; this can turn into a complete ascension to the future projecting us further than ever imaged all from one step on the surface of Mars.

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.









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.






Collaboration and People Skills

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Future of Jobs report predicts that by 2022 there will be an increased demand for many job roles. Many of the roles identified are ideal career paths for those with communications and technical writing backgrounds.

The roles listed include:

  • Social Media Specialists
  • Customer Service Workers
  • Sales and Marketing Professionals
  • Training and Development
  • People and Culture
  • Organizational Development Specialists
  • Innovation Managers


The research for the report focuses on the changing workforce in Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution. As a result, many of the roles in the report are based on and enhanced by the use of technology. The report predicts that the roles featuring ‘distinctively human skills’ will be in higher demand as technology, business, and economics changes in the fourth industrial revolution.

These human skills include:

  • Creativity
  • Originality and initiative
  • Critical thinking
  • Persuasion and negotiation
  • Attention to detail
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility and complex problem solving
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Leadership
  • Service orientation

These skills are those necessary for successful collaboration in organizations. People working together or collaborating is one of the biggest factors contributing to the success of a business. These human skills increase the ability to collaborate with each other to benefit the organization. It is the technological skills and human skills working together that will fuel a new idea, campaign, product or business.



Miriam-Webster defines collaborate as, to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. The definition is accurate but does not convey the process of collaboration nor what makes a successful collaboration. It is more than team work, cooperation, and coordination. Collaboration is a human activity where problem-solving comes into play.

Dave Mattson of Sandler Training offers these 6 benefits of collaboration in the workplace:

  • Fosters creativity and learning
  • Blends complementary strengths
  • Builds trust
  • Teaches conflict resolution skills
  • Promotes a wider sense of ownership
  • Encourages healthy risk-taking.


Effective Collaboration

The measure of effective collaboration is that the result of the group’s efforts is greater than the results the individual people could achieve on their own. Characteristically, teams who have the human skills for collaboration outperform teams lacking these skills.

An environment that fosters collaboration must be supported by organization and nurtured as an attribute of the culture. Collaboration then comes down to the team, the process, and the purpose. We have all heard the phrase, ‘there is no I in team’. Collaboration is not an activity for individuals, it happens in teams. The team members then work together to complete a shared process. Lastly, for true collaboration to happen the people must have a shared goal.


The Future

In this fourth industrial revolution, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the developing innovations, but the human skills may be the way companies offer a uniqueness to the equation and set themselves apart from their competitors. As these qualities become more desirable to companies and Human Resources begin to identify candidates who possess these qualities, we as communicators and technical writers must strive to embody these qualities.










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.



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


March 4th: Happy National Grammar Day

It’s March 4th, that means it is National Grammar Day. Some of us may wish every day was a grammar holiday, but we can take National Grammar Day as a step towards better composition of phrases, clauses, and words.

The holiday was initiated by Martha Brockenbrough, the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar and was designated as a holiday by President George W. Bush in 2008. National Grammar Day in 2019 is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, the author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and the creator of the Grammar Pop app.

Here are some suggestions for celebrating today:

Here is some of the tweets for today:

However, you choose to celebrate, be sure to use #NationalGrammarDay on your social media.  If you miss celebrating the day, there, their, they’re……maybe next year.


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.


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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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