Author Archives: ajnystuen

My Final Paper

For my paper, I explored how technical communicators have adapted and must continue to adapt their traditional practices and methods of writing in order to engage with their changing audience. My research questions included:

  • Is the importance of writing clearly and concisely giving way to learning to write in a voice that is engages customers on a social level?
  • Is writing decreasing in importance with the rise of video and other visuals?
  • Are these changes really fundamental to the field of technical communication? Or are they just the newest incarnation of the technical communicator’s call to write to their audience?

My paper was focused on how the technical communicator’s devotion to the needs of their audience will necessitate the modification of their communication methods as they engage in social media marketing. I looked at the stylistic differences in writing for social media versus those of traditional technical communication. I found that though writing for social media required a strong voice and differences in style, the core of how we write remained constant. Even in writing for social media, the thing that was most stressed in my research was the need for clear and concise writing. I explored the idea that the rise of video could decrease the importance of writing and found that most of the research emphasized content over flashy visuals.

Thanks everyone for making this a great semester!

Functional Ethics and Privacy

Katz and Rhodes started out their foray into ethics and technology in Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations by exploring briefly the potential hypocrisy in a nonprofit of using different terms to describe cognitively disabled people in internal communication versus external communication. This example certainly played into their arguments that communication can vary depending upon what ethical frame people are using at a given moment.

It reminded me of an article that I read which made the claim that profanity is shifting, making terms that derogate minority populations far more taboo than they ever were in the past. This lends greater weight to the idea that ethics may exist in various levels, because that company certainly had a standard that conformed to cultural norms of proper terminology, but within that framework, the standard was different when utility was more important than brand maintenance. Yet, I doubt that disrespect to that population was meant, and truly disparaging terms were not used at all, instead they used simply less accepted but simpler terms in order to get the job done.

The same thing could easily be seen in verbal communication. Most people will behave in a more formal manner with an external customer than they will with a coworker, because the expectations of behavior differ based on familiarity. For example, when I email my coworkers, even about work related things, I may include something funny or an emoticon, which would be inappropriate with a customer or even a supervisor. I really don’t think that having different frames for ethics is something that is exclusive to technology, but that we often adjust our ethical code to match our audience, at least to some extent. But it is just like in technical communication, we always have to adjust to the needs of the audience.

Like ethics, privacy and trust are interesting topics to consider in relation to emerging media. While the Paine Schofield and Joinson article Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online delves primarily into how such concepts interact in an e-commerce situation, I always think of privacy as it functions within my job. I work at a hospital, so I sort of think of internet privacy like medical records. Because of HIPAA, medical records are privileged information and so most people would not think twice about them, people just assume that they are extremely private. However, they don’t know or consider the people who handle the information that goes into their medical record, the people who ensure that information is placed correctly and is complete. Many people see medical information before it is filed or committed to the electronic medical record. But, it is still considered private information because all those people who have seen the information are not allowed to talk about it.

I feel like internet privacy is very similar. Generally, if people don’t think too deeply about it, they will assume that they have complete privacy in their online interactions, when the reality is that they have less absolute anonymity than they believe. But, because of a reputation economy that regulates privacy to some extent, there is some level of privacy, even if it is not as absolute as we would like. There is also always the potential for a breach in privacy. I think that generally, it is far easier for us to assume a safety that doesn’t exist because doing otherwise would cripple our ability to function effectively within our increasingly technology saturated world.

Beyond methodology: Looking at the cultural foundations of technology use

I have long known the great necessity for technical communicators to understand their audience. Blakeslee’s ideas that we need to focus in on a specific audience is hardly news. I even had an understanding that communication has to be adapted across cultural lines so that people from different cultures can easily understand. In order to communicate with a broader audience, you may have to adapt your methods. When I think of adapting communication for a cross-cultural audience, I think of IKEA assembly instructions. They are an excellent example, because they rely fully on pictures and remove the necessity for translation in order to be used in different countries. Apparently some people think that IKEA instructions are difficult to follow, but I think that those people would likely be even more confused by written instructions in Swedish.

However, while I know that communications methods have to be adapted in order to communicate across cultural lines, I never really put any thought into the idea that the very way that technology is used can vary between cultures. I liked the way Baron explained the phenomena in Always On by comparing how we use technology to how people in China and India eat rice differently and how English and German people drive differently, not because of how the item is intrinsically different, but because the culture is different (pp.130-131).

It is the deeper issue, the foundation, that will matter. If we don’t understand how a culture uses a technology, any communication with members of that culture is going to fail to some degree if we don’t question the assumptions that are guiding our decisions. In Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Thatcher gives the example of the differences in website construction between collective and individualistic cultures. While it makes sense that there would be differences in content, it is really interesting that the standards for an effective website are different to the point that the entire site may not be put together as a cohesive whole, but that different departments would be completely unique.

I do wonder though, how much variation there may be within a culture. For example, Thatcher showed examples of how the same information would be formatted differently for two different cultures. I actually thought that the American version of the letter was too abrupt, and preferred the version intended for the Mexican audience as it seemed more gracious.

Or even considering cell phone usage, I feel like everyone I know uses their phones differently. I know people whose whole lives are contained in their phone and they use it for everything. I know people who only have a landline, and people who are avid texters. I know people who are phone talkers and phone avoiders (that is me). And that is just among some of my closest friends. How do you define a culture’s use of technology when it can vary so severely from person to person? And how can you communicate effectively with a culture, if there is such variability in technology usage? Are basic cultural trends good enough to base a communication strategy off of?

Why I should have updated my LinkedIn page before today.

I don’t work as a technical communicator. Because of my background, my wonderful supervisors will give me projects that they have no desire to do, but which are endlessly fascinating to me because they allow me to flex my writing muscles a bit. But, as a hobby, I also spend a great deal of time applying and interviewing for Technical Communication positions. You know, because it is fun.

I have had a LinkedIn account for a long time, but I never took the time to really figure out how the system worked or to actually make my profile helpful. I have to admit that before today, I hadn’t even updated it to include the MSTPC program. Marshall and Maggiani would be ashamed of me, as I have almost no contacts in LinkedIn. Moreover, I am probably not helping myself by not using LinkedIn as a resource.

It is interesting, however that Qualman and Marshall and Maggiani seem to expect that their readers are already well established in their fields. In Socialnomics, Qualman particularly aims his advice toward people with extensive lists of accomplishments. It makes me wonder how helpful LinkedIn is for entry level job seekers. Qualman’s only real advice to those without a list of articles mentioning them seems to be to make sure that there are no stains on your name by searching for yourself and making sure that there are not compromising material related to you.

In light of the idea of having a clean online image, it is interesting to think about these tools in the context of Longo’s discussion on culture in Digital Literacy for the Technical Communicator. She explores the idea of community as it relates to an electronic environment. One of her points is that there is no such thing as an all inclusive community with complete diversity of thought, because community is necessarily predicated upon the inclusion of certain type and the exclusion of those who fail to meet the criteria required for participation within the group. Ultimately, in order to have an overarching and universal understanding, a group must sacrifice individuality.

I wonder how much this impacts the job seeker. An online image must be pristine and conform to the expectations of the prospective employer. It is interesting because you are supposed to load your LinkedIn profile with things that make you stand out, but only in a certain way. I do wonder if all our social media will ultimately do us all a disservice by forcing us to conform to a standard that leaves no room for individuality or diversity, as a prospective employer may not see your online activity as beneficial to them, even if it is not actually wrong or even compromising.

However, no matter the effect it has on us culturally, there remains the reality that LinkedIn will likely continue to become increasingly important in the job market. And it is a resource that will be immensely useful if it is managed correctly.

So, I need to go and finish updating my LinkedIn profile now.

Policies and Content Management

After reading Geoffrey Moore’s Systems of Engagement and the Future of Enterprise IT and William Hart-Davidson’s Content Management: Beyond Single-Sourcing, My only understanding of content management before now was with the idea of a content management system, as in a software program, and I had never really thought about it beyond that scope. It was interesting to read the perspective that the scope of content management is greater than I ever knew before. For example, I never really thought about the internet itself being content management, just because it is so chaotic and there is just so much there, without any real organization or obvious function for much of it.

I am currently working on a project to convert all of my department’s policies into a new format in preparation for relocating them to our organization’s new content management system for policies. This project is the only reason I really had any grasp on content management at all, and unfortunately, my grasp was very limited to what I needed to know in order to complete the project. However, as I look at the history of how our policies have evolved, just in the few years that I have worked in this organization, I can better understand the concepts of content management especially for technical communicators.

It is interesting to think of the changes in how we have managed our library of policies and procedures over the years. When I first started my job, our departmental policies and procedures were contained in a few giant three-ring binders. They were theoretically alphabetized, however there was no rhyme or reason for what word was chosen to represent the policy, so it could be extremely difficult to find the one policy that you needed. Furthermore, those binders only contained the policies for our workgroup, so if you needed to know about a policy for a different workgroup within the department, you would have to go to their work area and locate their binders to find the policy. It was a rather cumbersome process. Hart-Davidson referred to this type of information storage as a “content silo” (p.131) which is an extremely apt image. The content was just dumped in and even though people tried to make it accessible, it really was not.

Eventually, our policies were published electronically on our organization’s intranet site which helped a great deal, however there is only a very remedial search capability which more often than not is unable to locate the document that you need. Because of this, I am ecstatic to be moving policies into a content management system. It will allow all of the information to be in one place, to be searchable, to ensure that it is current. It makes my nerdy little policy-loving heart happy.

This just illustrates Hart-Davidson’s four goals of content management (p. 130). The movement from hard copy to a content management system allowed us to move from restricted access to more public access to the documents. It also subsequently allows people throughout the organization to adapt our policies for their own use. It is interesting, because most of the policies in our organization are written by whoever does the job and as Hart-Davidson pointed out, using a content management system isn’t going to improve the writing (p. 141), but it does at least allow access and for us, the process of reformatting all our policies requires us to look at them more critically than ever before.

These are a few of my favorite things/marketing tactics

Scrabble is my favorite game in the world, because of Scrabulous. I had never played Scrabble before, but a friend invited me to play Scrabulous on Facebook and I was hooked. Scrabulous was the only game I ever played on Facebook and I remember the day it just disappeared without any explanation. I never actually knew about the legal battles surrounding it. I never knew that it wasn’t run by Hasbro. I was just disappointed that I couldn’t play it anymore. So instead, my friends and I bought secondhand copies of the original Scrabble game from Goodwill and started playing in person.

mcMac - normal: Srabulous is going away.Burby - surprised: But they have Amazing new features coming.mcMac - curious: Hasbro is shutting them down.Burby - scared: But that's my favorite game!! ARGH!!mcMac - normal: Perhaps the amazing new feature will be disappearing.Burby - surprised: No! Maybe Hasbro has bought them out?!mcMac - surprised: Focus Burby! This is the real world.Burby - normal: Doh! Oh well. That was my only reason for staying on FB.

After reading Qualman’s account in Socialnomics of Hasbro’s litigious reaction to the game, I am finding myself not wanting to support the company, which may be a little vindictive of me since it was early in the days of social media, and companies have really all had to adjust how they approach marketing. Social media simply has changed how we interact in most spheres, and it isn’t entirely fair to hold a company’s slow transition against them. But really, who wants to have anything to do with a company that punishes people for helping to promote their product?

As Qualman pointed out, Hasbro would have done better had they followed the examples of other companies and had endeavored to “beg, borrow and make better.” Hasbro could have taken a different tactic and been more successful. Companies need to adjust their thinking to understand that advertising happens differently through social media and their response needs to be about incorporating the efforts of their customers rather than attempting to control them.

It is interesting how even as companies are having to adjust their methods of advertising, they really don’t actually change. Qualman points out the rediscovered joys of product placement in his examination of ESPN’s fantasy football podcast. Basically, instead of commercials fully devoted to the product, it is becoming necessary to incorporate advertising into content that the customer actually wants to experience. It reminds me of eighties movies, where product placement was so blatant, though not obtrusive because it was incorporated into the content. Who can think of the movie ET without thinking about Reese’s Pieces?

Qualman posits that we may see a similar kind of product placement in E-books. Then not only would the story mention that the protagonist enjoys Diet Coke, but that it would have a link to take you to a website. I am happy to see that this idea has not come to fruition. While I think that advertising within enjoyable content is something that can be done well, there comes a point where I don’t want to be bothered by clunky advertising. If it infects my e-books, I think I will likely go back to buying giant mountains of books from Goodwill. Perhaps other people would not find it annoying, but the fact that this form of advertising has yet to transpire suggests that perhaps I am not alone in thinking that there needs to be a point where advertising stops.

Marketing in this Shiny New World

Sometimes when I read things for class, I start to panic as I realize how woefully inadequate I am to the task of being the perfect technical communicator. When I read about all the ways that I need to market myself and all the areas in which I need to be competent in order to be competitive, I begin to have a minor panic attack. Okay, I am using the tiniest bit of hyperbole. Just a little.

But nonetheless, it can be a bit overwhelming to read things like R. Stanley Dicks’ “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work in Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. The chapter focuses on describing the way that digital literacy has impacted the work lives of technical communicators, which seems innocuous; however the chapter also reads as a cautionary tale of how one must be awesome in order to save their job from being outsourced or seen as unimportant. We must change as the technology and the economy and the markets change.

It is the only way to keep technical communicators marketable. Likewise, Qualman points out in Chapter 6 of Socialnomics that corporations are also having to change for the same reasons. It is interesting, though, that while Spilka promotes adding a variety of things to a technical communicator’s skill set, Qualman’s advice to corporations is the rather the opposite. Qualman contends that the marketability of organizations rests in their ability to pare down their message from claiming to be the best at everything to being the best at something specific.

It is strange to see such seemingly different recommendations in reaction to the same changes. However, I think that below the surface, both Qualman and Dicks are attempting to get at the same point. Because of changes in technology, we have to be smarter and more strategic about how we do our work, whether as an individual or as a corporation.

As a technical communicator, we may have to add skills, yes. But more importantly we need to know how to market them to the organizations for which we work, to help them see that there is one area that we meet a need in the corporation that can’t be met by someone who has not had the same training. So while we may in fact have to supplement our skills, this too is following Qualman’s advice, because even on an individual basis, we need to be able to show our worth in 140 characters, so that managers and organizations at large can’t overlook our contributions.

It is really just a change in marketing for us all. We, as usual, have to know our audience and speak to it in a way that is easily understandable. I think that means that a technical communicator needs to understand how technology and social media has changed not only how customers approach a corporation or a corporation approaches its customers, but also how a corporation understands its employees. Because, let’s face it, we all know that the changes in technology have fundamentally changed how we understand and interact with the world. We can expect that it has likewise affected every relationship we have as well, even if it is between a technical communicator and an organization.

Technology changes…I guess I should too…

It is an interesting thing to read a book which upholds your job as being technologically backward. I currently work as a Health Information Specialist at a large local hospital, so I laughed a bit when I read the introduction in Spilka’a Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. I have watched as my department has struggled to move forward technologically, moving from a mostly paper-based system to a mostly electronic system. Consequently, I understand better than most what it is like to adapt to new technology on a professional and corporate level.  I have gotten to see a complete overhaul of our technology over just a couple of years. So it makes it interesting to consider how drastically technology has affected and changed technical communication over the years.

Even though I do like technology and social media, I have largely seen it as a waste of time. But, when I consider the improvement that technology has made in my job, I can start to agree more with Qualman’s position in Socialnomics that technology (specifically social media) makes us more efficient. While I believe that social media can absolutely be a great waste of time, it can also benefit us. There are certainly things that social media can streamline. For example, this summer when I needed to move, I just asked for volunteers on facebook and ten people volunteered, many of whom were not people that I would have thought that I could ask for help.  Had it been necessary for me to email people or ask personally, I would have probably had one or two people to help.

I have never experienced social media being quite as marvelously helpful as Qualman portrayed it, but perhaps that would come if I gave in and fully assimilated into the culture by getting a smart phone and actually tried to engage. Instead, I just add a fourth option to Qualman’s list of things to do in a checkout line…I carry a book everywhere and can usually rock out a chapter or two before I get to the cashier. It is a kindle now, so at least I can pretend that I am not that old fashioned. However, while I have never experienced the connectivity that Qualman demonstrates, apparently social media has been helping me in ways I never even knew.

I never knew that social media informed search engines so much. Nor have I considered how it has changed people’s search habits. It never occurred to me to look up a facebook page before going to a company’s website. But I think that is symptomatic of the same urge that has me reading in the checkout lane. I want the most information I can get at one time and generally the website will have what I need.

However, I think that Qualman is right that information finds us these days. I may not go searching for an article to read, but I will often read what pops up in my newsfeed as being recommended by a good friend. So, even if my habits are a little old-fashioned, it is funny to think that I, like the healthcare industry, am being propelled forward technologically, even if it is slightly against my will.

Privacy and Publicity: The two sides of social media

In my interactions with social media, I have developed exactly one hard and fast rule. I never post anything online that I would be embarrassed by anyone seeing, from my mom to a complete stranger. For me, this isn’t a hard resolution to follow. My neurotic aversion to alcohol has helped tremendously in that endeavor, saving me from the inevitable incriminating Facebook pictures that have haunted so many people who posted them in the naiveté of the early years. But in my case, my choices on Facebook reflect the choices that I make in real life.

Socialnomics by Eric Qualman claims that for many, the reverse is true. That social media actually prevents bad behavior. In some ways, I agree that people are more aware of the damaging possibilities of instant internet access. However, I would propose that social media has adapted in order to reduce the need for users to adapt their lives in this way.

Always On by Naomi S. Baron details the lack of concern that Facebook users had in 2005-2006 for their privacy. I do believe that in the ensuing years, Facebook users have become far savvier about protecting their information. For example, currently users can block anyone from seeing their posts, even if they are friends. Thus a parent who is simply Facebook friends with their teenaged child may not actually be seeing a true representation of their child’s online activities and consequently that child may feel freer to engage in less pleasing behavior with at least perceived immunity.

Therefore some of the social control of Facebook is diminished, although it certainly is not removed entirely, as it does not hide content that others post or control other sites. I think that while people may now think twice about posting that compromising photo online, the knowledge of the consequences of being in that compromising position may not reach beyond the choice of whether or not to post the photo.

While I would argue that social media doesn’t prevent behavior as much on a personal level as Qualman claims, I do think that social media absolutely prevents and corrects poor behavior at a corporate level. While privacy benefits individuals, having a very public presence benefits corporations.

As Qualman points out, companies that use social media to solve customer problems end up improving their brand and their reputation right in front of an army of people who may not have otherwise known about that company’s effective customer service until they saw a problem solved quickly via Twitter.

I never knew that companies were using social media in this way, but it makes so much more sense to market yourself by publicly exhibiting good customer service in front of people rather than using the rhetoric of traditional marketing to try to convince people of a company’s good customer service. Corporations that don’t address the concerns of their customers in this way are missing out on a great opportunity to not only address problems, but to boost their brand overall.

Social media can so easily improve or damage a reputation, whether on an individual or corporate level, and we have to make choices knowing that because it can affect our futures.

Whispering into the world: blogging for my own amusement

Long ago, in the times when Facebook was only available to college students, I began my journey with social media. In addition to Facebook, I had a blog of my very own, originally a Xanga because that was the cool blog to have in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I wrote silly stories, funny anecdotes and terrible poetry for the general consumption of the ten people who knew that I wrote it.

I loved it. I loved having that tiny voice in a big loud world. At least at first, I followed the then unknown advice of Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” to write for yourself. Writing for myself was the only thing I did right, I think. Contrary to Cooper’s advice, I did not bother to try to get people to read what I wrote, but in fact I actively chose not to market my blog. I also really didn’t think too intensely about my audience, which I now find rather appalling after taking so many technical communication classes.

When I look back at what I wrote, I see the bad writing and the grammatical errors, but I think that I can also see how blogging shaped my voice in a way that academic writing couldn’t. The article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” by Alex Reid points out how a writer’s voice can be sublimated to success in the context of academia and I can see clearly how blogging built my voice as I was allowed to be myself (or whoever I chose to be) rather than having to be whoever I needed to be in order to succeed with each teacher.

After awhile, blogging started being increasingly about getting likes and comments from my largely non-existent audience and the whole process became wearying as my capacity for being consistently amusing diminished. So I ceased to blog.

In the subsequent years, my experience with blogs has been contained to reading them. I have read only a few blogs consistently. In fact, I can think of only two that I have spent any real time reading, Hyperbole and a Half (a hilarious blog which is basically like electronic picture books for adults) and Beneath the Crust (an interesting blog about faith and life written by a clinical neuro-psychologist that I know). I will read an article occasionally when they are recommended or shared by others, but I don’t follow many closely anymore.

Although I have had some experience with blogging and have taken many courses that required weekly posts, English 745 will be my first experience actually blogging within an academic context. It should be interesting.