Raising awareness of the value of technical communication: Different contexts, but a common challenge

Lisa LOPES and Loïc GODEFROY
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

In spite of many attempts to enhance the value of technical communication, it remains hidden in the background. There is a wide gap between how people perceive technical communication and what it is exactly. Which tools or methods could be used to raise technical communication awareness, when technical communicators work in various professional contexts? We investigated how technical communication is perceived within a company. Then we set up a strategy to define tools that could be relevant to our work context, some of them being metrics or internal communication, for example. In the
end, these tools proved to be efficient but may not give the same results in other contexts.
If any case, the best lesson we take from this research is use what we know best: to
communicate. Just like cobblers do not make good shoes for themselves, technical communicators have a great skill they often misuse. In order to change the way we are perceived and break silos in whatever company we may be working for, it is up to us to reach out to others, using our experience. This paves the way for an emerging type of communication: Information 4.0.

Read the full article (PDF): Raising awareness of the value of technical communication

Technical communication: a two-sided coin?

Koussai HOUSSINE, Laetitia NALY, Axel PETIT
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

Technical communicators like to perceive themselves as go-betweens who use language to bring tech objects closer to the general public. Still, is technical communication (abbr. TC throughout the article) really a two-sided coin that bridges the gap between the humanities and science, the “two cultures” in Charles Percy Snow’s terms?
The aim of this paper is twofold: testing the assumption that makes technical communicators middlemen between the two cultures, and to do so, defining the features of the language of TC by general linguistic standards. A sharp analysis of the language of technical communication provides many interesting clues to define its identity.
First, a short history of technical communication since World War II helps us understand how the language of technical communication changed with economic, social and political contexts. Second, we sketch a definition of human language in order to set an accurate theoretical frame and to define the features of the language of technical communication. Third, the discussion of a series of tests completes the qualitative analyses of the first two parts. It provides evidence to support the conclusion of this paper.

Read the full article: Technical communication: a two-sided coin?

Compelling documentation: a way to improve the user experience?

Laure Bach-Barast – Laetitia Bossu – Justine Gaucherand- Sarah Lasaracina
Paris Diderot University, 2017, July 31

Abstract

Most people do not read user guides on their own initiative. When they do, it is often because they have no choice, or when they encounter a problem and need a solution. According to the general public composed of a representative sample of 105 people surveyed for our research purpose, guides are deemed plain, unattractive and people usually feel compelled to read them. Indeed, reading user manuals require a certain effort that people are not always ready or willing to make. Hence, they already have a somewhat biased view of the guide even before opening it. Thus, it might be interesting to wonder if a compelling documentation can improve user experience. User Experience implies not only the use of the product, but also the quality of documentation, if it answers questions and solves potential problems in the best, quickest, and most fluent way. User Experience is a cause-and-effect relationship between documentation and the product: the better the information, the better the use will be. However, is it possible to make documentation more compelling in the first place? How can technical writers alleviate the global reluctance to user guides? This paper provides possible solutions in order to make user manuals more compelling to users.

Read the full article (PDF): Compelling documentation: a way to improve the user experience?

Should companies combine marketing and technical content to adapt to the shift in UX expectations?

Saran Kante, Clémence Bolinga, Dina Radaoarisoa
July 2017

Abstract

Companies put customers’ needs at the center of their strategy to build a relation of trust and increase customer’s loyalty to their products. In their effort, companies become more and more prone to offer customers a linear experience from the moment they are attracted by the perspective of buying a product or service (marketing) up to after their buying act when they start using the product or service (technical communication). The quality of both marketing and technical content is crucial.
We wanted to have an insight of what experts of technical communication and marketing think of a possibility for these two services to collaborate. In order to get this information
we interviewed professionals from these two fields, we attended conferences and seminars on the subject of combining technical content with marketing content to unify customer experience.
Companies undertaking such a change should thoroughly study the transition process, the product and the profit.
One of the challenges a company would face is how to make two services that are used to working separately pool their skills to achieve a common goal which is to provide their users a high quality service. The credibility customers grant to a company depends on it.
Because the two services use their own terminology to achieve their respective goals, they would need to reach an agreement on the terms they are both going to use to produce their content.

Read the full article (PDF): Should companies combine marketing and technical content to adapt to the shift in UX expectations?

Technical innovation: what impact on quality in technical writing?

Deepa HANS, Cécile LEANG, Anne RIVIÈRE
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

Nowadays, innovation is considered as a race for companies. Companies need to win this race in order to stay ahead of the game. In this frantic pursuit of innovation, it is important to keep in mind that innovation for innovation’s sake is pointless. To bring value to companies, innovation must lead to quality improvement and cost reduction. Like any other profession, technical writers are compelled to innovate in order to stay relevant. The most obvious expression of innovation lies in the introduction of new tools in the documentation process.
This article explores the impact of technical innovation on the documentation process and product. To be valuable, technical innovation needs to enhance the quality of the process or the product. This article aims at answering the following question: to what extent does technical innovation impact the quality of the documentation process and product? To a lesser extent, we also analyze the role of innovation-driven companies in fostering innovation for technical writers.
In addition to reading articles on innovation, quality and the relationship between the two, we also carried out a survey aimed at technical writers. From the results, we found out that while technical innovation improves both the documentation process and product, the most significant impact may actually come from rethinking information flows and team organization.

Read the full article (PDF): Technical innovation: what impact on quality in technical writing?

CDMM Research: A seminar with Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald

Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald are leading professors and experts, with multiple-decade experience in the fields of technical communication and information. In 2016, they joined forces to create a consortium, aiming to promote “information 4.0”, a reading grid to the accelerating evolution of information.

Students of CDMM Master 2 have been familiarized with Ray and Andy’s presentations at Paris’ 2017 Documation Data Intelligence Forum, and they met again on May 31st, to discuss information 4.0 and elaborate around it, in the context of their technical communication, information architecture and content management program.

CDMM: What is information 4.0?

Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald: Our research revolves around the general theoretical question of the role of information in the context of technological progress.

On a practical level, information 4.0 aims at ensuring we take this evolution into account.

In other words, it provides help to anticipate the evolution of the technical communication industry, and it outlines reasons why this industry needs to evolve.

For example, software developers think around functions or groups of functions, while users are concerned only with the tasks they have to carry out. The role of technical communicators can therefore be broadly described as translating an approach by function into a logic of tasks: it is obviously much wider than designing user manuals.

Information 4.0 also takes into account and capitalizes on the rapid growth of chatbots, augmented reality (AR) devices and applications, the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Is AI truly intelligent?

As of today, even the most powerful AI, such as the ones that beat chess or go masters, only simulate intelligence: they do not begin to approach consciousness, which is a prerequisite to “human-style” intelligence.

Current AI can accumulate data and use it in the most relevant way, in relation to a particular task or series of tasks, however complex, but they cannot learn: they are not able to perform a task they have not been designed to perform, nor to take initiative outside of their functional envelopes.

However, AI is already very useful, notably to carry out repetitive actions, better than humans – for a cost that is quickly soaring.

What are the risks of AI?

The main risk of AI is for humans to give up control over tedious and recurring tasks, without a possibility to go back – just because we might soon forget how to perform them. In general terms, AI obviously raises numerous governance, interoperability, and ethical issues. To maintain control over AI, its very concept and the questions it poses must be well understood, and the aim of each AI solution has to be precisely defined. For example, don’t pretend you are trying to build an intelligent city if what you are actually working on is a bandwidth wide enough to accommodate three interoperating networks…

How do you see technical writing evolving?

It is evolving quickly and deeply, around the issues we have already been talking about, which will become ever more present.

The emergence of the agile method of code maintenance is a good example of ongoing changes: pseudo-real time adaptation is an actual goal for many companies. Information is becoming obsolete much faster already, which emphasizes the need for contextualization and interactivity, notably with regards to the development of IoT and machine-to-machine communication.

In the span of five to ten years, from writing instructions, procedures or manuals, the role of the technical writer will continue to evolve towards information retrieval, sorting, filtering and distribution, in relevance to the needs of the target audience. As very important vectors of information, you need to embrace this evolution to prepare for it.

You have been stressing the need for information contextualization. Can you elaborate on this?

Context is key, indeed. Information is only valid in a certain context, and contexts change in an increasingly fast manner. Hence, in some companies, personas are designed, only to be used for a single hour. Other contexts are already tracked and even materialized by RFID beacons, which directly link information to its potential user; the aim is to offer information, rather than deliver it.

Imagine you are in Cairo. Your need for information will change considerably, depending on the fact you are a tourist, a local, or an Egyptologist. Ideally, offered contextualized information addresses your specific needs – which raise the issue of context granularity, a whole other challenge in itself.

In that respect, adopting the molecular information approach we are advocating with our information 4.0 logic can be helpful.

What is molecular information?

We believe breaking down information into molecules facilitates information reuse.

Molecules of information are autonomous, self-sufficient, fundamental blocks of content. In that logic, the sense and nature of a document depends on the way its information molecules are assembled.

However, just like in the field of chemistry, in that of information, mixing molecules can carry surprising outcomes. It can even be dangerous. That is why information molecules need to be precisely organized, defined, and tagged to ensure their sensible use and to avoid meaningless or erroneous documentation.

Bearing this paramount rule in mind, information molecules can prove a powerful tool in tackling the issues of contextualization and context granularity. Molecules can indeed be used in a great variety of contexts, providing they are governed by a clear and precise editorial policy.

As a summary, what is your vision of the current work of a corporate information specialist?

In a context where, as we saw, the value of information becomes increasingly doubtful, an information specialist’s main task is definitely to maintain and increase the value of the company’s information base.

Information is, indeed, one of the most precious intangible assets of any company. It needs to be retrievable, organized and up to date.

Information specialists therefore have to force their way into scrum and marketing meetings, for example: wherever they are located in the organization chart, they literally stand at the center of any firm that values its history, its products and services, and its customers.

Finally, information specialists need to adapt to the idea of a world where, in the foreseeable future, software will be able to read users’ facial expressions, and to respond to them.

CDMM research: 6 questions to Noz Urbina

In April, CDMM students had the pleasure to interview Noz Urbina for their research projects. Noz Urbina  (Urbina Consulting) is a globally recognized leader in content strategy, customer journey mapping, and adaptive content modelling. He is co-author of the book “Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits” and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Masters Programme in content strategy.

This year, several of CDMM students’ research projects focus on enjoyable customer experience and the relationships between marketing and technical communication. The students tapped into Noz’s expertise in that field to move their projects forward.

1- How can we make technical communication more enjoyable to users?

Make it invisible! Those who are old enough to remember Microsoft Clippy know that if you make technical help too pro-active, it can become really annoying. Today, however, we have smarter  devices that can better detect context to deliver information – but this information needs to be relevant: Don’t shove an encyclopedia under people’s noses, even if it has a search box! People want answers they can action – not better tech docs. Be open to any medium, paradigm or method that can better convey those answers into people’s minds.

Make sure you distinguish doing time from learning time. For doing-time content, you can use 3D diagrams and explodes to make your content more engaging, but don’t pull users away into a game. For learning-time content, where there are things to memorize, you can use gamification, narratives and visual metaphors. If you can engage pleasure or pain, then people will memorize better. For that reason, games are a good, enjoyable choice to support learning. There’s more to docs than just looking up quick facts or tasks. Technical communication should help users self-educate when appropriate.

In both cases, consider tone and voice: while tone may vary depending on context, the voice you use for the brand should be consistent across the experience.

2- How can we make technical communication more enjoyable to us as professionals?

Technical communicators generally don’t enjoy putting specs into words, and sadly that’s often what they’re doing. Technical communication is a multidisciplinary activity that requires communicators to get into the mindset of users. Creating technical content becomes more enjoyable when you know that you are solving real people’s real problems. Customer journey mapping is a way to make the experience more enjoyable for users and technical communicators alike. Ideally, bring together support, sales, marketing and other people outside your silo around a customer journey map to review how customers accomplish their objectives out in the field. Identify emotional hot spots and ask “is it content or is it bad design?” to identify where content can help in the journey. When content is not the problem, capture that feedback and give it back to the people who can make a difference. A customer journey map enables you to go have more useful conversations about content because you’re talking about the customer view, not your own. Take the opportunity to get into the users’ shoes for a while.

3- Can semantic structure make technical content more enjoyable?

Semantic structure makes content easier to personalize. Semantics is the study of meaning. When we use semantic metadata, that makes content more flexible and adaptive, so that it can be handled by a computer. Personalisation makes content more enjoyable because it focuses the delivery on what’s most relevant. Semantic metadata can also help more relevant content get found by search engines, which helps it solve more people’s problems. This makes the whole endeavor more satisfying.

4- What advice could we give a technical communication department to be more efficient?

You could tell that technical communication department to focus their efforts on 3 points:

  • Customer journey mapping lets you plan what you want to kill, that is, stop making stuff just because you’ve always done it. Maintaining unnecessary or bloated content wastes time and makes consumption faster and easier.
  • Semantic analysis, that is, information typing and content analysis, helps you do better reuse. For example, you can decide to split up a piece of information that is trying to do too much and reuse a part of it. You don’t have to be stick to DITA types for information typing: for example, having a type of information for narrative enables reuse of content that creates a human connection, while keeping consistency in voice. This is often helpful for training or other cross-silo reuse scenarios. Check out Rob Hanna from Precision Content’s work for more details about information typing.
  • Metadata alignment. For example, you can use tools like PoolParty (an ontology management system) to align metadata inside and outside of the technical communication department and drive personalisation or contextual-content.

5- What is the most important thing technical communicators can learn from marketers?

Technical communicators can learn several things from marketers:

  • Relationship building – as opposed to focusing only on speed in delivery and cost efficiency
  • Web design – as opposed to document design
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) – as opposed to focusing only on navigation optimization
  • Analytics and measurement – check the ROI, use, and engagement that your content is achieving

6- What do marketing and technical communication have in common?

Marketing and Tech Pubs are the two parts of the organization that understand words, and that manage customer-facing communication.

They have similar requirements:

  • Call centers rely on technical communication a lot. Marketing are starting to look into call centers because it’s one of the only places when the brand gets to actually speak to users post-sale.
  • Field services and support read the documentation, but they don’t talk. Marketing and Tech Pubs both need them to be carriers of messages to market, and also channels of valuable incoming feedback.

Marketing and Tech Pubs need to align their terminology and context to define who delivers which message, to whom, when and how. Marketing will need to industrialize their content management and scale their processes for the unknown, using skills that tech pubs developed years ago out of their famous necessity for reuse and efficiency. Digital transformation, communication and content are the fastest development areas in the world right now. This is the type of alchemy that happens at the Intelligent Content Conference. People like Jeff Eaton, Rachel Lovinger, Joe Pairman, Ann Rockley, Andrea Ames, or Cruce Saunders are good resources to explore the common points between marketing and technical communication.
Thank you Noz for taking the time to answer our questions and moving our research projects forward!

5th International Conference on Technical Communication – Beyond Silos (2017)

Patricia Minacori, Marie Girard
Research Laboratory Clillac- Arp, EILA Department, at Paris Diderot University
Technical Writers Without Borders

5th International Conference on Technical Communication

Beyond Silos

Friday 3 February 2017, 10.00-17.00
Paris Diderot University Lecture Theater Buffon
15 rue Hélène Brion, 75013 Paris, FRANCE.

This year’s theme was about collaboration between technical documentation teams and their partners in engineering, training, support, user experience, marketing, translation, change management, and so on. Collaboration beyond silos implies tools and methodologies that support new ways of working, innovation, as well as changes in the role of technical communicators.

10h00-10h10 Opening

Patricia Minacori, Marie Girard

10h10-10h30  M2 CDMM research projects [PDF]

Marie Girard and M2 CDMM students

10h30-10h50 Connecting silos through design thinking: radical collaboration in the Wearables Research Collaboratory [PDF]

Ann Hill Duin et al, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

10h50-11h10 Increasing student access to client information in the service learning technical communication classroom: results of three client contract strategies. [PDF]

Sarah Gunning, Towson University, Baltimore, MD, USA

11h10-11h30 Creating collaborations: an interdisciplinary pedagogy for professional and technical writing students [PDF]

Rhonda Stanton and Leslie Seawright, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO, USA

11h30-12h15 Discussions
12h15-14h00 Lunch break
14h00-14h20 Intersection of technical communication and marketing genres: spanning silos through product documentation [Recording]

Scott A. Mogull, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA

14h20-14h40 Breaking silos by building highly coupled cross-functional teams [PDF]

Fanny Bischoff, IBM  

14h40-15h00 Content for Industry 4.0 : content is software is content [PDF]

Ray Gallon, Transformation Society

15h00-15h20 Break
15h20-15h40 Intra-organizational communication without barriers: a case study of a technical communications team within a large organization [PDF]

Fabrizia Poli, Docunet

15h40-16h00 Les bienfaits d’une collaboration réussie  entre communicateurs techniques et traducteurs [PDF]

Vincent Bidaux

16h00-17h00 Discussion

 

 

Brainstorming the future of technical communication

M2 CDMM students have been busy this semester, identifying ideas for their research projects. They had a very creative 3-12-3 brainstorm on the future of technical communication, and the result is amazing!

This mind map (PDF) gathers all the ideas that were raised in the session (in French).

We’re now looking forward to hearing them present their research projects at Paris Diderot’s 5th conference on technical communication on Feb 3rd, 2017. Check out the conference program.

Hot off the press: Master 2 CDMM 2016 research papers!

Technical communication and education are at the heart of deep changes in industry and business. In 2016, M2 CDMM students have looked into the nature of these changes and given us insights into the future of technical communication.

Students have investigated the impact of digital transformation on technical communication and education:

They questioned innovative learning solutions and their application at an enterprise-wide scale:

They looked at the role of technical communicators in visual design and accessibility:

Well done Armelle Bursi-Amba, Erika Caboul, Gaylord Chesnay, Nicolas Chleffer, Sarah Consentino, Paul Desreux, Alexandre Dias Da Silva, Manon Di Vozzo, Aline Ea, Jennifer Frederic, Romain Gaullier, Victoria Genin, MarcAlexandre Jacques, Tiphaine Monange, Blandine Paulet, Vincent Perrot, Sutarni Riesenmey, Matthieu Roche, Manoela Santidrian, Caroline Vaissiere, and Austeja Varvuolyte!

Digitalization in professional learning and education

Jennifer Frederic, Blandine Paulet, Manon Di Vozzo, Austeja Varvuolyte

Paris Diderot University, July 2016

Abstract

Nowadays, new technologies play a fundamental role in industrialized  societies and have become essential in everyday life. They also have a growing impact  on education and training, insofar as they have revolutionized the way people learn. However, some areas of knowledge seem to be incompatible with this new learning path. Therefore, we asked ourselves if every area of knowledge is suited for digital broadcast, and whether or not traditional education can be replaced with digital teaching methods. This article questions the influence of technology on education and comments on how electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers can help the learning process. Our findings confirm that new technologies have an increasing impact on education and training strategies both in the professional and educational field: e-learning represents a significant share of training solutions in large companies, and digital trainings help increase productivity as they are more accessible and contribute to saving time.

However, the efficiency of IT is limited in practical fields in which virtual training is impossible, as they require manual practice or application in everyday life.

Read the full article (PDF): Digitalization in professional learning and education

Adapting Personal Learning Environments to the Workplace?

Erika CABOUL, Nicolas CHLEFFER, Caroline VAISSIERE

Paris Diderot University, July 2016

Abstract

Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) have emerged in the higher educational field with the development of web 2.0 applications and tools. Their main features allow them to be particularly user-centric. They also rely on customization and collaborative  learning. As they cater to the learner needs – lifelong and ubiquitous access, PLEs stand at the border of formal and informal education spheres. They nevertheless raise technological and privacy issues that make them somewhat difficult to implement in the workplace. Moreover, business factors and corporate stakes are to be considered when trying to foster community-learning activities within a standardized and controlled environment such as that of the existing Learning Management System (LMS). However, some experiments have been conducted at companies level, leading to promising results for the future.

Read the full article (PDF): Adapting Personal Learning Environments to the Workplace?

Gamification in e-learning: a game-changer?

Gaylord CHESNAY, Sutarni RIESENMEY, Matthieu ROCHE

Paris Diderot University, September 2016

Abstract

According to the Oxford dictionary, gamification “is the application of typical elements of game playing”, such as point scoring, competition with others or rules of play, to other areas of activity to encourage engagement. Gamification is a critical methodology in education and yet, many consider its implementation as a mere source of entertainment. Our modern society has been drastically influenced by the technological revolution that began in the late 1990’s. New forms of training have emerged, in the shape of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or e-learning courses hosted on Learning Management Systems (LMS).

This article explores the use of gamification in e-learning for professional training. It aims to shed some light on the underlying causes, the needs, and the reasons behind its implementation. It also analyses the motives that provoke skepticism on some people’s part and why some companies are therefore reluctant to invest in this type of training.

In addition to readings from experts, we interviewed specialists, and we conducted our own research comparing a gamified e-learning deliverable with its standard equivalent and analyzed their completion rates. We discovered that the learners who followed the standard course were not totally put off by the lack of game elements.

Read the full article (PDF): Gamification in e-learning: a game-changer?

Infographics: A toolbox for technical writers?

Armelle BURSI-AMBA, Aline EA, Romain GAULLIER, Manoela SANTIDRIAN

Paris Diderot University, 01/07/2016

Abstract

Over the last few years, visual elements have grown in importance and sophistication in technical writing. According to scientific literature, the inclusion of visual elements in technical documentation has resulted in a greater accessibility. Yet, technical writers tend to use visual elements not only to present numbers and help users to understand the meaning of those numbers, but also to explain a procedure, a concept, a reference, or another topic. The impact of this trend aroused our interest for infographics. Infographics is the abbreviation for information graphics. This visual representation of  information or data is used to convey information, and this information can be presented in a literal or more metaphorical way. As delivering a message in technical writing is not an easy task, implementing infographics in this context is particularly convenient. This article explores the compatibility between technical writing and infographics, and the limits of infographics implementation in technical writing. The difficulties of establishing a unique definition of infographics, and the differences between infographics and data visualization are also discussed in this article.

Read the full article (PDF): Infographics: A toolbox for technical writers?

What is the role of technical writers in fostering accessibility?

Victoria Genin, MarcAlexandre Jacques, Tiphaine Monange

Paris Diderot University, July 1st 2016

Abstract

With the creation of international standards and the rise of public awareness, web and software accessibility have become a topical issue. Yet, it seems like accessibility is still rarely taken into account by technical companies who prefer to focus on innovation.

Part of the usability and accessibility of a software is based on its documentation. As technical writers, we wondered which role technical writers have to play in fostering accessibility.

The information used in this article was drawn from three main sources. In addition to reading articles written by accessibility researchers, we carried out two surveys to study the scope of accessibility in the creation and navigation of user interfaces: the first one was sent to disabled users and the second one to professionals. We also interviewed a highly experienced technical writer trained in accessibility. The results led us to conclude that technical writers definitely have a key role to play in fostering accessibility standards – either by increasing their cooperation with developers or by implementing accessibility solutions themselves.

Read the full article (PDF): What is the role of technical writers in fostering accessibility?