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?

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?

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

 

 

SMEs and technical writers: a win-win relationship

Manon Chaix, Caroline Halap, Aurélie Jugie

July 2014

Abstract

This paper focuses on the relationship between subject matter experts and technical writers, in the context of two software companies and an optical systems manufacturer. More specifically, this paper intends to highlight the added value of an efficient collaboration for the technical writer, the SME, and beyond, for the companies they work for as well as for the end-user of the documentation. First, we will analyze the respective education, skills, competences and work goals of SMEs and technical writers. Secondly, we will show how technical writers and SMEs work together on a daily basis and can become partners to create high quality documentation by mutualizing SMEs’ technical knowledge and technical writers’ content design skills. Finally, we will identify the benefits of a win-win relationship between SMEs and technical writers for the end-user of the documentation.

Read the full article (PDF): SMEs and technical writers: a win-win relationship

Technical writers and translators: a win-win relationship?

Fanny Bellaïche, Juliette Massardier and Marielle Morizot

August 2014

Abstract

Traditionally, technical communication leverages both technical writing and translation expertise. As both professions share some common skills and objectives, the activities of technical writers and translators are sometimes mixed up. However, they remain two clearly separated occupations and thus complement each other. Based on our working and academic experience as technical writers and translators, we are particularly aware of the importance of a balanced collaboration to align the documentation process with the requirements of today’s industry practice. Current research on the relationship between technical writers and translators mainly focuses on the study of their competences . This paper intends to go beyond the mere analysis of competences and to explore some best practices in order to bridge the gap between both professions: more specifically, to which extent can we consider the translator as a useful resource to improve the writing process? Firstly, we examine why technical writers and translators often collaborate to deliver efficient documentation in their respective fields of expertise. Secondly, we try to understand how technical writers and translators develop shared tools, such as style guides, in order to take advantage of each other’s work. Finally, we show that enhancing this relationship is not the only way to deliver professional  documentation.

Read the full article (PDF): Technical writers and translators: a win-win relationship?

The stakes of collaborative writing

Simon Saint-Georges, Chloé Jaouen

July 2013

Abstract

The arrival of Web 2.0 has changed the ways of working, especially for writers. A wide range of tools now exists, enabling different people to participate in the writing of one single document and introducing new methods of work within teams. These new work methods rely on tools that are constantly evolving. While some companies remain skeptical, others are already embracing these new practices.
Either way, our position of apprentice makes us ideal observers concerning the choices made by our companies and the difficulties that the adoption of these new work methods raises. Such a change can be a real challenge, and selecting the right options to fit one particular situation can be a difficult task.
We will first present the results of our research on the current state of the art in collaborative writing and how and why companies tend to use more and more collaborative writing methods.
We will then explain the situation in the two companies that we work for, Atlas Copco (industrial tooling and equipment) and CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, the French space agency), two companies which are heading in opposite directions in terms of collaborative writing. We will observe the practices, tools, processes and work dynamics involved in writing for both companies.
Finally, based on what we found and observed in the first two parts, we will compare theory and reality concerning collaborative writing in companies.

Read the full article (PDF): The stakes of collaborative writing

Following the Sun: Facing the challenges of distance collaboration

Christopher Dolloff, Anouck Le Lijour

September 2013

Abstract

In the recent years, globalization and virtualization have led companies to embrace multiculturalism and long-distance collaboration. Whether it is for greater customer proximity, reliable business continuity, or purely economic reasons, more and more firms now hire staff abroad, and thus face new challenges induced by the collaboration of dispersed teams.

This study focuses on long-distance collaboration in the field of technical writing, and aims at determining which methods are the most effective to work at a distance. To begin with, it explores the factors behind the evolution of working conditions for technical writers, leading to the development of distance teamwork in the profession. Through case studies, it then analyzes and criticizes the various processes, methodologies, communication techniques and tools implemented by four companies to support long-distance collaboration between technical writers and their peers, or technical writers and developers.

The main purpose of this article is to identify best practices that help build  community and therefore increase productivity, and to suggest methods for  improving distance collaboration.

Read the full article (PDF): Following the Sun: Facing the challenges of distance collaboration