Monthly Archives: September 2012
I found Myers “Adapt or Die” pretty intriguing from the get go. Instantaneously, I thought, “Friss oder Stirb”. Just for the heck of it I punched it into my (online) translator and got back the phrase “It’s sink or swim”. Oookay, let’s go for a swim or let’s say a stroll down memory lane. According to the articles by Spilka and Carliner, I would like to show you how digital technology influenced my work as a technical communicator.
I think I saw Phase Two, the desktop revolution. I remember when I first started in the Technical Writing department, my coworkers had sets of manuals for each machine type, which they then photocopied and filled out (by hand) with the technical specification of the particular machine this manual was for. But one of them had already a computer and digitalized those forms, etc. But I think I remember that it was kind of complicated to create a table because the software didn’t offer these features – yet. The graphics – like e.g. for the spare parts lists – were done by a sub-contractor who did so-called explosion drawings. These graphics really showed well how each part fit in with the other ones to form for example a gear. When the company acquired computer-aided design tools, those drawings were replaced by two-dimensional drawings that didn’t fulfill the purpose as well. The engineering department created all those graphics since none of us technical writers knew how to work with CAD programs.
Of the GUI revolution, or Phase Three, I didn’t feel the impact that considerably. For the same reasons Carliner states, we used PC’s. Microsoft Word was the program of choice to do the operating instructions, to integrate sub-suppliers documentation and so forth. We never gave our manuals out to print. They were all customized and delivered in such low numbers. From the copy machine to the laser printer was just a small step for our department.
Since our department created just manuals, not websites, the impact of Phase Four, the Web1.0, was also pretty low on us technical writers. I remember, we had some requests for online documentation. So we converted our word files into PDF’s and were proud that we could connect the table of contents to the appropriate chapters. The last change I remember before I left was that we gave clients a login possibility to our website where they then had the chance to download the PDF file to their specific machine. We were pretty proud of that service. No wait, yes, we just started to integrate our documents in a small content management system, but it was very difficult to navigate and work with. So we ended up using it just for one machine type – an insignificant one. The documentation procedures for all other machine types remained the same.
Of Phase Five (Web 2.0) I just learn here in this program. It is interesting to use some of the newest technology in a safe classroom setting before purchasing it on company’s expenses and then finding out that it doesn’t quite fit the requirements. Many programs are great to use in some part of our professional lives. Others are just not practical for some work situations.
However, when reading Spilka’s and Carliner’s works, I just realized how much I already adapted throughout my working years – without ever paying attention to it. It almost happened unconsciously. I guess what I would like to say is that if we are truly interested in this profession we will find a way to adapt to new technologies, as we will find our own place, our own niche to succeed as technical communicators. Do we have to adapt to each new technology that is out there? I don’t think so. We just have to pay attention and keep ourselves updated and then pick and choose for our specific situations. Sometimes there is a different way than “Friss oder Stirb” or “Adapt or Die”. Sometimes we don’t have to adapt to each new trend out there. Sometimes we won’t die right away.
I always find it fascinating to read about the history of the technical communication profession. It is undeniable that technology—particularly the advent of personal computers and the Internet—has completely transformed the landscape for technical communicators. Saul Carliner’s chapter (Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century) in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication does a great job describing the impact of technological changes on the role of the technical communicator.
“Technology has always played a central role in technical communication. At first, it served primarily as the subject about which technical communicators wrote. As various publishing technologies emerged, the technology also became the tool that facilitated the work” (p. 45).
Advancements in technology have certainly made life much easier for technical communicators today than in past decades. Frankly, I can’t imagine the amount of rework that communicators had to put into early documents created using a typewriter, retyping content for each correction or addition. Additionally, the challenges that came along with printing and formatting in the 1970s and 1980s were considerable. Today we, as technical communicators, have fancy software that comparably makes it a breeze for us to perform our jobs, and to create an appealing and usable product that meets the needs of our audience.
While I came away from this chapter with a new appreciation for all the technological advancements we benefit from, I also now recognize that the role of the technical communicator has become a lot more complex as well. Not only do we have more than ever to document (i.e., our potential subject matter has increased significantly), but there is an infinitely larger audience to reach.
In my current position, audience is something we constantly try to evaluate. In writing about my company’s products, it is sometimes difficult to know what level of knowledge and skill an audience has right off the bat. Some users are probably well versed in using computers and technology, others may not be. What do we assume the user already knows? This is even further complicated by language and cultural barriers. Even when a company only produces content for an audience within the United States it can be difficult to determine an appropriate reading level and vocabulary.
I have to admit, I’m thankful to be a technical communicator today, with all the technology we have available to help us do our jobs. But I certainly acknowledge that this same technology does add to the complexity that exists within the field.
Qualman’s first chapter brought on this little post.
Oh, yes. Old media vs. new media: the oft-discussed subject in the Technical Communication and MSTPC programs. Both have their pros and cons, and I think that at this point in time, each has its proper place. Since my son just celebrated his 9th birthday and we’ve been working on thank-you notes, I’ll go with this comparison:
Old media is to handwritten thank-you notes
New media is to sending thank-you e-mails.
Handwritten thank-you notes are a must for grandparents and other respected individuals. This thank-you media requires more thought, effort, and even comes at a higher monetary cost (stationery, stamps, smiley-face stickers, etc.) We are likely to send them out with correct spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Errors or missing details can’t be added once the thank-you is sent without going through the entire process again.
E-mail thank-yous, however, will suffice for close friends and other situations in which informality is acceptable. We may let punctuation and spelling slide, and e-mail is a free service, so it costs us nothing. An e-mail can come across as more of an afterthought, with generally less time and effort put into it. We could turn around and send an additional e-mail correcting errors or adding things we forgot in minutes. There is a more fleeting feeling to them, and recipients are not very likely to keep them once they are read.
Likewise, old media creates more of a record, whereas new media seems fleeting and fickle. I think of watching a story develop over the course of a day, and watching the headlines change on CNN.com. We can get very different information, depending on at what point of the day we check the website, and we understand it’s best to wait until everything is sorted out before taking the online news reports as complete and accurate. Old media (newspapers in particular) gather the information once per day, so there is really only one opportunity per day for erroneous stories. While the possibility of misinformation still certainly exists, it is not nearly as rampant, and it is not acceptable when misinformation appears in hardcopy print because we expect these outlets to verify their sources and information. They, themselves, are often considered to be more respectable organizations because their reports are more reliable.
For similar reasons, I think we are more likely to keep, for example, a newspaper clipping of our graduation announcement rather than printing out the online version of the article. We might see the article online first, but we would be prompted to go out and buy that day’s hardcopy newspaper for scrapbooking or archiving. It is my opinion that we have a lot more trust in old media than new, but we are drawn to new media because of our love of instant gratification. Humans are a pretty impatient species, and new media can give us what we want instantly. There’s a saying at my place of employment: Do you want it done now, or do you want it done right? New media does it now, but old media is more likely to do it right.
You know why we love social networking? Because we love ourselves, we naturally compare ourselves to others, and we are nosey. Also, we feel important when we self-publish.
What? That’s just me?
Boyd and Ellison
Friendster failed because it tried to tell its users what they should be, rather than allowing them to (even unknowingly) contribute to the development of the site’s features. Facebook has been more receptive to the directions in which users themselves are taking the site. A main point of social networking is to allow individuals to express and define themselves, and Friendster seems to have been hellbent on nipping that in the bud.
In Chapter 3, Qualman discusses Millennials as though they are all committed to bettering the world. Qualman seems to assume Millennials are keenly aware of world happenings, but while they are exposed to much more information than previous generations, might much of that information not be from reputable sources? In fact, in our world of instant communication, there have been embarrassing incidents of incorrect information given out by reputable sources that jumped the gun and reported results of elections (for example) prematurely. The speed with which news must be reported in order for outlets to be competitive, and the desire to create eye-catching headlines compromises the integrity of even the most trusted sources.
Also, are Millennials really that much more interested in bettering the world? Or is it just that they are in their mid-20s, fresh out of college, and it seems that anything is possible? Weren’t hippies the same way in the 1960s? Perhaps if social networking were available to hippies, they would be branded the same way Millennials are in the present time. Now they are “baby boomers” and considered to have different priorities from Generations X and Y. Of course they do! They’re at a different point in life! They’ve experienced things that demonstrate why change is difficult to make in the world, and they’ve moved on to working on the things they have control over. Qualman points to the fact that so many Generation Yers voted in the 2008 election, compared to lower numbers of Generation Xers who had voted when they were the same age. This factoid used as “proof” that Generation Yers are out to change the world fails to consider that the 2008 election was a huge deal, with more voters participating overall, due to several economic and social factors in the U.S., along with the first African American candidate.
I realize this was not the main point of this reading, but I get frustrated when any large number of people are assumed to have the same (albeit generalized) set of values.
I was also bothered by the practices Qualman brings to light, especially the quote from Allison Bahm on page 46, “I’ve started relationships and signed contracts exclusively within social networks.” Yipes! While I don’t know the exact nature of Ms. Bahm’s business, this practice would make me very nervous. The work world I live in requires everything in writing, documented, confidential and hand-signed. It is difficult for me to imagine my employer or any of our usual customers considering any SNS to be suitable for professional use, but then again, we government contractors are an anal-retentive bunch.
“Is Social Networking for You?”
I have to admit I couldn’t relate very well to “Is Social Networking for You?” The company I work for sells products to the Department of Defense rather than the general public. At this point, there is no way government buyers are allowed to source products or manufacturers through social networking. We are called out on drawings and official documents as approved sources for certain part numbers, and sometimes the customer has no choice but to buy the product from us. I suppose social networking is not “for” our company, but involvement in social networking can obviously be beneficial for those that sell products to the general population. If I hear about a product I’m interested in, I go to the company’s website to learn about it and then ask my Facebook friends if they’ve used the product in order to get reviews, much like practices that are discussed in Qualman’s chapters. It is in those companies’ best interest to have lots of information available for the consumer.
Not long ago, my wife and I were canoeing Mud Creek between the Collins Marsh and the Manitowoc River. We pulled into an eddy below the dam at the south end of the marsh to watch the carp trying to hurl themselves upstream and over the dam. Who can blame them for trying to move out of a dwelling as ingloriously named as “Mud Creek” to the more middle-class neighborhood of Collins Marsh? It’s kind of like the American Dream–upward mobility in a very literal and metaphorical way.
But they are carp. Just carp. What are the chances they can actually better themselves? What is the likelihood that a bloated carp can ever lift itself out of the only mud it has ever known and wallowed in, to find a new home in a cleaner community? And even if one did succeed, could it ever be accepted as something other than a carp? It’s a tough name to overcome.
Most of the carp we watched smacked right into the concrete wall of the dam and splatted into the muddy water of the creek. A few made it to the top of the dam, floundered around, not knowing what to do with their unexpected progress, only to be swept back down by the relentless current. Not once did we see a carp make it out of the creek and into the marsh.
Progress, but not for carp.
That’s kind of how I see myself in this situation. What do I know about blogging? Nothing. And the obstacles in my way look pretty tall and solid. Add to that the fact that once I become somewhat familiar with one web tool, I find 28 new web tools. The new technology forces the old items over the dam, dragging me further and further down stream.
Splat. Yup. Back in Mud Creek.
Dear E745er of Fall 2012,
Yes, to me blogging feels like writing a letter/email to someone – at this point. As you can tell now, I don’t have any experience whatsoever with blogging, neither reading nor writing. However, I am familiar with the technical side of writing a post, creating a page, etc. (on wordpress at least) since I have an online portfolio there. But I don’t consider that to be a blog. So, let’s say, I am an absolute BB (Blogging Beginner).
However, after reading the works concerning blog literacy, it was just outpouring out of me, means, I wrote like 1000 words within a heartbeat, which I don’t even remember when that happened to me the last time. Normally, I really have to work for each 100 words I have to write. Anyways, in the following you just find my most important thoughts. But apparently something hit home.
To get started and acquainted to blogging, I would begin with reading others’ blogs. Alex Reid’s article provided a list of the top 25 blogs as of 2010. In the next week I will check some of those out and actually see for myself why they are considered to be so successful. Actually, I am wondering, how many of those would be still on that list today in our fast-paced time.
Blogging also is not like something been written in stone or even printed. I guess what I try to say is that a blog doesn’t necessary have the life span of a book or even a magazine, but it can. There are no parameters anymore about how long would a blog last.
Also, Alex Reid lets us remember in his definition of a blog that all the content published on the web, (even emails and chat) is stored on some servers somewhere in this world and can be reactivated in decades and centuries to come. Even though you might have wrote a blog for a specific audience, you can never be sure who your audience will be in the future, when they will read it and how they might interpret it. How can you be sure that your message will be understood the way you wanted it to be. But then again, Shakespeare comes to mind. Do you think he envisioned that centuries later his works are still being read?
Here’s another aspect of blogging: Since we don’t have to go through the hubs of finding a publisher and getting our works being edited, it seems everybody can write and publish – no education, no costs necessary. What I would like to ask the community of this blog (mmh, I guess I am adapting already to the ‘new’ medium), how do we find out about the credibility of the author? To answer this question myself: It is up to us. As always in life, we have to decide what to believe and whom to trust. My dad used to say, “Just because it is printed, doesn’t mean it is true”. That still applies. Just rephrase it a little. As professionals, as students in this program I consider us being lucky, since we have the education to distinguish between the different sources.
Does this sound all pretty negative, at least standoffish? Ok, let’s see, what are the good points? Because of the publishing format, a blog can be read, reviewed and commented on almost instantly. A real interaction with your audience is possible which is unique in my eyes. During my work, I always enjoyed working directly with customers, to see how they use the manuals produced for their specific needs. So this is definitely a plus. Also, I can reach people not only in my immediate physical setting, but also around the world. What is scary on one hand (not knowing who actually reads your blog) can be a real opportunity. You might reach people you thought you would have never access to. I guess, like always in life, it is all about the perspective on things. You can focus on the negatives or on the positives. Here is my promise: I will give my best to leave my fears behind, to actually overcome them and move forward into embracing the many facets of the digital age. But I know I will have to push myself.
I’m currently (informally) leading a team of people that reside in: England, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, America, and Finland. None of the typical communication tools (email, webex, IM) could do what I needed them to do. So, I set up a SharePoint community site for the team that has a blog. I wanted to create a less formal environment for people to get comfortable with each other and loosen up.
The project that we’re working on requires people to be creative and take risks and that just doesn’t happen unless people feel safe. Sharing new ideas–especially in a corporate environment with many cultures–is scary. And, while all the corporate messages say that we need to be more innovative, we don’t really reward people for taking chances or slowing down to think about the future. I guess it is one thing to say you value creativity and another thing to demonstrate that.
It reminds me of the Ken Robinson TED video that Alex Reid referred to in his article, Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web. Robinson believes that while our schools are trying to maximize students’ potential, they are really killing creativity and valuing the wrong things.
I know that he is talking about schools, but I think it’s true in companies too. It is in mine. Maybe our schools have been so successful in quashing the creativity out of us that we can’t innovate to save our lives.
My hope was that blogging would help foster the right environment and rekindle that creativity, but I think I’m just doing it wrong. I want to keep it loose, but somehow my posts end up reading like legal disclaimers. I just don’t know what will fly. Blogs are informal, but companies are not. What is the right tone?
My past experience with blogging has been limited to reading many, but authoring few. I enjoy the world of blogs very much: whether it be I am in need of a recipe (ThePioneerWoman.com), a pick-me-up (Incourage.me) or possibly just a laugh (Pinterest.com). Okay the last one isn’t a blog, and contains much more than just humor, but you get the gist: I like online content. Period. I like that it is small, bite-sized chunks of information on any topic you can think to enter into the search bar. What isn’t to like?
I also enjoyed learning via blogging with Dr. Pignetti’s Rhetorical Theory class this past spring. For me it was a very engaging way to learn and exercise newly forming thoughts on the subject matter. The interaction between students and their differing points-of-view made it all the more interesting.
This leads me into our reading Learning With Weblogs: Enhancing Cognitive and Social Knowledge Construction. The research preformed by Du and Wagner suggested that blogging enhanced the research subject’s learning in multiple ways. Included below are those I have personally witnessed:
- Students were more actively participating in their learning, which suggests better retention.
- The professor was able to more quickly identify students who were in need of additional help understanding subject matter and quickly respond.
- Students engage with other students via comments and from there grows a social aspect to learning.
Although blogging may not replace classrooms anytime too soon, (despite the predictions of Epic 2020) I certainly feel they have added to my learning experience. In addition, with plans to build on and include social media skills in my professional future, my résumé is also feeling the love.
I’ll end with a picture, just for the sake of saying I posted one… and yes, I found it on Pinterest.
The only blogging I have done is for Dr. Pignetti’s Rhetorical Theory course this past Spring. I didn’t do very well because I was overscheduled and didn’t put as much time into it as I would have liked. My classmates produced some very professional-looking, well-rounded posts, and mine were just blah. I’m going to use the first part of my post to make sure I can figure out how to post photos and videos.
Ok, so I kind of figured out how to add a photo. That’s my son, Tucker and our dog, Trooper. Pretty dadburn cute, eh?
And now to try a video…
This is taking longer. My video is on Facebook and it won’t let me download it from there… Calling for backup (husband)… Backup is not helping. Too bad, because it was going to be a cutesy video of Tucker at the pigeon park in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I’ll go to my tried-and-true, although not very nice, video:
It’s only funny because the guy wasn’t permanently injured. And because anyone who watches gymnastics is secretly hoping something like this happens.
And I just realized the caption in my above photo has left the building. *sigh* Pick your battles, girl. Pick your battles.
In regard to our readings, I can relate to Heidi Glick’s article, Four Generations of Editors. I am 33 years old. My boss/stepdad/educational benefactor/person who generally runs my life is 71 years old. He moved my family from Stevens Point eight years ago so I could work for him and put me through college. Some days I have no idea why he did this, when it seems I can’t do anything right in his eyes. He drives me absolutely nucking futs with what he thinks is important, and I’m sure he’s wondering what he has to do to get me to do things correctly. It’s not just our age and the “times” in which we’ve grown up, which is the article’s main focus. We butt heads most strongly when it comes to correspondence between our company and our customers. Government contracting is not about “customer service” in the traditional sense. It’s about delivering exactly what the contract calls for – no more, no less. I completely understand this, in that we are not dealing with the general public and our pricing is carefully determined so that we are competitive yet still turn a profit. However, he insists on writing letters that come across as very “snippy,” with overwrought legalese that I can’t imagine any recipient taking the time to figure out the actual message, and a demeaning tone. He considers this the best way to get the recipient to respond in our favor, he has been doing it this way for 40 years, and he’s not going to change. I prefer a more friendly, “we’re all on the same team, so let’s work together to get this done” approach to customer correspondence, which he sees as weak and ineffective. I suppose we are editors, two generations apart. In the end, he is the owner of the company, and my job is to do things the way he wants them. Deep down I know he doesn’t completely disagree with everything I do, or he wouldn’t let me get anywhere near our company’s correspondence.
Also, it’s funny that the article specifically mentions double-spacing between sentences as antiquated. As you can probably tell, I still use two spaces between sentences, and I’m not going to change it. I think I sound like someone familiar…