Author Archives: bonnieallen12

Static and Interactive Methods of Communication

It is crazy to think finals are already over. This year has gone by very quickly and I’ve enjoyed blogging with you all this semester! I’m excited to see what you all worked on!

My research was a comparative study for static and interactive forms of technical communication. More specifically, the research aimed to explore three questions: “1) the effectiveness of my company’s current methods of technical communication, 2) how interactive forms of communication compare to static forms of communication, and 3) the positive and negative implications of interactive processes (augmented reality).” The reason for choosing this topic is because I wanted to keep my finger on the pulse for new technological trends within the technical writing community. In exploring this research, I found that augmented reality, when setup, is highly effective and outperforms traditional static forms of technical communication. In addition, it is a great training tool that can help employees “form a motoric code” by visualizing the process or outcome. While there are many benefits to AR, the process for setting up an AR system can be costly, can be difficult to maintain, and requires significant technical expertise. By diving into this research, it helped me gain a better understanding of technology that I’m not as familiar with. If it is a direction our company wants to take in the future, I will have a deeper understanding of the challenges that need to be addressed.

In all, this course has provided me with a deeper understanding of social media, blogs, and effective technical communication strategies. While I don’t regularly blog at my workplace, it is a great marketing and communication tool that can be applied to a wide variety of situations and can generate a large following depending on the author’s strategies. It can also be a great creative outlet! I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned from this course at my workplace and get more creative in the sometimes mundane world of technical writing.

Happy holidays everyone!

Addressing Audience Needs in a Digital World

One of the most critical aspects of technical communication is the ability to understand the audience. While the rise of digital media has created a more global audience, it is important to analyze the audience’s needs and tailor material accordingly. In Spilka’s book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication she states, “Technology facilitates this accommodation of documents by allowing writers to accommodate specific needs of distinct segments or members of their audience” (205). Especially in today’s digital world, it is becoming increasingly important to create documents that are broken up into different segments as we move into a fast-paced society. While a comprehensive overview may be more appropriate for certain situations, sifting through pages of material may create more work for the reader. It is also important to have a variety of format options, from web-based to print material.

One example of this from the technical writing department I work in is our comprehensive standard work guide, which documents our process for writing, editing, and publishing operator’s manuals, instruction sheets, service guides, setup guides, etc. While it may be a good resource for a technical writer to use as a quick reference or checklist, it may not be a good resource for a new hire who needs each task broken up into segments. We have a comprehensive guide available as a resourceful tool but have a folder full of single PDF files documenting instructions for specific tasks in a quick, easy format. Understanding the audience allows the creator to format content in a way that makes it easier for the user to complete the job based off their specific needs.

In addition to targeting situations to address audience needs, it is important to interact with the user. While in some cases this isn’t an option, it is important to obtain and respond to feedback. Spilka states, “Writers can use reader feedback both to enhance their understanding of readers and to improve documents” (211). As a technical writer, I don’t have many opportunities to receive feedback from the users directly. Instead I rely on surrounding departments and my own test evaluations to understand potential errors or confusion. This might mean working directly with platform managers, working in the model shop to test the process on my own, or performing out of the box installations using my own work instructions. There are also times when I have face-to-face interactions with dealers, who know our instructions sheets inside and out. Speaking with them directly allows me to understand their needs a little better, which may differ significantly from a novice user.

Finally, once the documents are improved upon and tailor to specific needs of the audience, there is a level of expectation that must be consistent across all platforms. Spilka states, “Writers need to understand the expectations their readers bring to texts, and then plan for and try to meet them – or, in some cases, consider ways to change them” (219).  When I see documents from years back, it is amazing to see how far we’ve come. As technology advances and we move toward a more digital platform, there will be a level of expectation to have the most up to date, flawless formats. There have been several occasions where certain documents have only been available in a print format, but internally, certain departments expect them to be online as a shareable file. Perhaps this will become the new normal as we move away from fixed, print documents.

Technical Communication and Content Strategy

The role of a technical communicator is no easy task. In order to write documentation for products and services, technical communicators must determine the information necessary to suite the needs of the user. This involves a complex set of roles and responsibilities that flow into an organization’s strategic pipeline. In Spilka’s book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, she maps out these roles and responsibilities, demonstrating the various perspectives of content creation and management. Spilka states, “Machines and texts stand in for people when possible for a host of reasons, most having to do with improving efficiency and lowering costs, but also minimizing risk and inconvenience to people, and enhancing people’s capacities.” The role of a technical writer can be difficult to grasp, as priorities shift depending on CM perspectives, centers of interest, and enterprises.  

Looking at my own experience as a Technical Writer, I switch between these perspectives on a daily basis. For example, the foregrounds of interest change throughout the lifecycle of a project. The text-making or content creation process always begins with the user in mind. The content is then transferred over to other writers, designers, or platform managers to be dissected or edited using a markup system. The markup is then finalized with the approval of a manager or is sent back to be revised. The filtered system involves a social network of employees within the organization that work together to edit, evaluate, and produce material. The content may then be reused and distributed using various formats to suit the needs of the audience.

During the process of content creation, it is important to consider the role that culture plays into technical communication. Spilka explains that the relationship between cultures and activities is comparable to the game Apples to Apples, in that humans need to know how to make appropriate choices when confronted with a particular situation.

Spilka states, “From a cultural perspective, it is important to consider inclusion and exclusion, within this theoretical framework, by asking, “Whose goals, strategies, and ideologies are recorded? Whose are not recorded?” It is important for technical communicators to address these questions because it helps establish community rules. Community rules and guidelines help technical communicators understand the norm, allowing them to venture from it if necessary. By straying from the status quo, technical communicators can come up with new ways to address problems. In my line of work, I come across this when working in conjunction with the Industrial Design team. When testing different products and understanding the full scope of an audience, it helps to determine what needs to be included in the manual or excluded from the manual.

Reference:

Spilka, R. (Ed.). (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. Routledge. 

Introducing Technology to Technical Communication

Advancement in technology has had a significant impact on the way technical communicators create and publish content. Carliner addresses two overarching trends regarding the integration of technology into technical communication. Carliner states, “The first trend is the increasing role of computers in the production process.” It’s difficult to comprehend the publishing process before computers. At my workplace, there are a few employees who have worked at the company for over 50 years. When asked about the publishing process, they recall the days when they had to manually markup reviews and create illustrations by hand – a painstaking process that could take days or weeks. Carliner states, “The second trend is the increasing move of content to online, from a time when organizations published nearly everything in print to now, when organizations publish nearly all content online.” As society has grown more connected, the way that content is shared and interpreted has evolved. Technical communication continues to shift form static content like print instructions and visual aids to interactive platforms like virtual and augmented reality.

In addition to the efficiency of integrating technology to technical communication, documents have become more versatile. Certain platforms allow the user to publish content on a variety of different platforms from a single source. Carliner states, “[FrameMaker’s] versatility eventually extended beyond printing; it could produce print and online versions of the same document.”  This platform is also versatile in the sense that it can contain multiple versions of a document from a single file. For example, FrameMaker contains a tool called conditional text, which allows the user to easily toggle between versions of a document to view, edit, or publish. At my workplace, our primary publishing platform is FrameMaker, and the conditional text tool allows us to toggle between brands from the same source. This allows the user to organize files, save space, and work more efficiently when tackling multiple projects.

Another critical shift in technical communication is globalization. Carliner states, “Globalization led to the need to translate documents, but also to localize content (that is, adjust terminology and examples to that they use local terms like the term “lift” instead of “elevator”).” It is important to properly reflect the terminology of the local language.  At my workplace, this becomes especially important in our safety sections. While “backing up” a zero-turn mower might make sense to a US market, it would not make sense to a UK market. In this case, “reversing” would be the preferred standard terminology. Other terms that require conditional text for the UK market include spilt vs. spilled, tyre vs. tire, and centre vs. center to name a few. While translators can help mitigate these errors, it is important to be aware of these potential risks when writing content for different markets.

Spilka, R. (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

The Multitasking Myth

In Mary Chayko’s book, Superconnected, she explores the widely debated topic of multitasking. In today’s digital age, people are responding to text messages, scrolling through their feed, taking phone calls, and posting on social media while taking on other activities or tasks. Chayko explains that the term multitasking is misleading; that while the term implies individuals are performing tasks simultaneously, they typically switch between tasks instead, breaking the “flow.”

According to a University of California Irvine Study, there is a theory that it takes approximately 23 minutes and 15 seconds to focus again after breaking concentration. This is a concerning statistic given how frequently people check their phones. That is, if you check your phone only three times a day, that is over an hour of work lost. When comparing this to my personal life, I thought about multitasking at the workplace. I listen to Pandora stations and podcasts throughout the day and often reach for the phone to change stations and skip music. Perhaps I would be better off sticking to one channel or avoid such distractions entirely.

It seems that even having a phone in proximity can be troublesome. If an individual avoids responding to texts and phone calls at work, but sees their notification screen light up, they are in a constant state of anticipation. Though the physical act of checking the phone is eliminated, the proximity of the phone still has the power to break concentration. Chayko states, “In general, people who attempt to multitask regularly and chronically suffer cognitive and behavioral deficits. They have difficulty recalling information and are slower at processing information.” While the brain absorbs and processes all the new information, I could see how it would be more difficult to retain information and perform the task at hand. While it is important to take breaks every now and then, the amount of time lost from phone use can add up significantly, even if it’s just checking notifications.

As we continue to move forward into the techno-social word, we will evolve and adapt with the opportunities for instant connection. Chayko quotes Ulla Foehr who states, “In this media-heavy world, it is likely that brains that are more adept at media multitasking will be passed along and these changes will be naturally selected.” As we evolve with technology, it will be interesting to see what is produced over the next few years and what will become of the human-machine relationship.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Expression of the Self

In Mary Chayko’s book, Superconnected, she touches on the self, which she describes as “the person that you are, physically, psychologically, and socially.” The self can be broken down into three categories – the actual self, the ideal self and the ought self. The actual self is what you are, the ideal self is the type of person you feel you should be and the ought self is the type of traits you might possess someday. Through social interaction, our self and identity changes over time.

To some degree, the mobile phone has become an extension of ourselves. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow us to choose how we present ourselves. We showcase our lifestyle and personality, often capturing the most positive aspects of our lives. Chayko reflects on Erving Goffman’s concept that we are “performers,” as we behave in the way we believe certain roles should act.  When presented with a platform of digital selves, we compare and transform the idea of our own sense of self, acting out such roles.

Similar to the way a child might pretend to be a teacher or a doctor, the people we interact with and follow on social media influence our behavior and tap into our desires. An example I can think of that involve all the selves pertain to my interest in running. I’ve been a runner my whole life and often post pictures from races or send updates about my time and routes with other runners (real self). I start following people or pages that embody my interest in running whether it be Olympic athletes, bloggers, or local runners in my community (ideal self). Inspired by other ideal selves, I may decide to tackle a new running goal or switch up how I have been practicing (ought self). In addition, certain platforms or influencers might inspire me to buy certain running apparel like watches, shoes, or clothing.

Social media platforms make it possible for the actual and ideal selves to intersect. Chayko states, “It may seem strange to think of social life as a show, but think of how you might behave if there were no audiences whatsoever for your behavior – if you lived entirely alone and did not encounter others on a daily basis.” Although this may be an extreme scenario, it’s an interesting concept. Would I still behave the way I do now or continue the same hobbies? Is my behavior reflective of my actual self or is it rooted in the idea of showcasing an ideal self?

In the current digital world where influencers are on the rise, the question that comes into to play is whether or not people are being their true authentic selves. Chayko states, “People imagine, play, perform. They try things out and see how other react.” People will continually shape their digital self and experiment according to certain reactions.  While it’s important to present your actual self, social media allows us to explore a wide range of interests and hobbies and shape our identity through segmented selves.

Chayko, M. (2016). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

Intimate Connection in the Digital Age

In Mary Chayko’s book, SuperConnected, she touches on reality, presence, and proximity. Chayko states, “It is sometimes hard to understand how community, social presence, emotionality, and intimacy can be experienced when physical cues are absent or diminished in digital environments. If we can’t see someone’s face (which is often the case online) or touch a hand or meet up for a date, can we really become intimately connected?”

While reflecting on this question, I thought about the photoblog, Humans of New York (HONY), a collection of street portraits and interviews with New York residents. The seemingly ordinary photographs of these residents are combined with captions that share intimate details about their lives. From happy to sad, to surprising, or uplifting, the captions have a “chicken soup for the soul” storytelling style that evoke a variety of emotions. In the case of HONY, social media users are mere observers to these strangers’ experiences. And although the residents pictured in the photographs are strangers, viewers have connected with and perhaps even related to the subjects’ struggles, joys, and other compelling stories.

There is something to be said about sharing intimate details through a digital medium, especially when it’s with a stranger. Chayko states, “This is similar to the “meeting on the train” phenomenon, in which people confide secrets to a total stranger whom they do not expect to ever see again simply because the setting lends itself to the sharing of intimacies.” This phenomenon has been the reason for the success of other projects such as PostSecret, a space where strangers send in anonymous secrets. Unlike HONY, viewers don’t have access to any identifying information.

PostSecret’s voyeuristic display of messages relates to Chayko’s “lights off” comparison. While intimacies are more easily shared in the dark, people lower their inhibitions and feel more comfortable sharing personal information when the visual face-to-face confrontation is eliminated. This platform transcends ordinary interaction as people write in to divulge their deepest confessions. In this case, it seems social media has created new avenues for connectedness, even on an intimate level. The relatability and sense of connectedness that comes from such platforms can be therapeutic to both the subject and its users.

While I’ve only shared two examples, the number of similar projects has escalated significantly since the popularity of blogs and other forms of digital media. It is amazing to see how much people are willing to share online in order to connect with others or enhance their online presence. Even more interest yet, is the fact that our brain interprets these digital images in the same way as our physical experiences.

Chayko mentions that in response to these digital images or events, “the brain’s cognitive and perceptual systems prepare the body for the situations that are confronted, and, physiologically, the body and brain respond.” People have developed a unique relationship with technology and react to such posts, videos, and images with physiological responses that would deem the digital experience to be real. While the face-to-face interaction is absent, the emotional impact remains.

Technology will never be able to replace the importance of face-to-face interaction, but it can certainly enhance relationships and make it easier to connect with a wide variety of social groups, regardless of proximity. Whether it’s a late-night text, a phone call, or off-the-cuff confession, the digital environment has allowed us to form meaningful relationships and become more intimately connected.

References:
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

Let’s Build Something

Over the course of the past several years, the web has evolved into a user-generated space, known as web 2.0. According to Rheingold, Wellman’s response to the single most important change with the shift to digital socializing is “the shift from group-centered to network-centered life.” The group-centered life is limited to a group of people that know each other, whereas the network-centered life provides a platform where people can connect and share knowledge, regardless of location or whether they know each other.

One example of a user-generated space is Youtube’s DIY channels. From life hacks, to woodworking projects, and crafts, DIY culture has dominated the internet, allowing people to take on new challenges and hobbies. Back in March, when Covid started its initial peak, I was quarantining with a friend who was eager to tackle a full bathroom renovation. My friend has a knack for fixing things, while I on the other hand, can’t seem to get to square one. Nonetheless, in attempt to contribute to the renovations, I resorted to Youtube.

In Wolf’s article, DIY videos on Youtube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms, Wolfe touches on the idea of “identity making,” where people become more confident about the possibilities of what they can achieve. As a novice renovator, I resorted to Youtube’s DIY channels for some guidance. I started with small tasks but eventually moved up to bigger projects like gutting the bathroom, laying down floor tile, installing new features, and even assisted with plumbing. Feeling a sudden boost of confidence, I was reminded of an article I found years back (2008) about a mother of four who moved away from her abusive husband to build a new home in a safe place for her kids. With just enough money for supplies, her and her family built a new home from scratch just from watching Youtube videos. I was always amazed by this article (link below), and more amazed now considering the platform wasn’t nearly what it is today. While DIY culture continues to sweep the internet, it’s important to be aware accuracy and credibility.  

Like the students in Wolfe’s article, I approached some of the platforms with skepticism. Being completely new to renovating, I evaluated the videos’ credibility. Oddly enough, I was more critical of the professional videos, as I felt more at ease with the raw, unscripted videos. Given my lack of experience, I felt more capable of completing the projects by watching those videos. The professional videos, although potentially more credible, either required high-end tools or cut out the gritty, realistic aspects of the job.

While browsing a wide variety of other platforms in attempt to find relevant sources, I noticed my browsing selections determined my recommendations. For example, while looking at different tile schemes on Pinterest, my recommendations suddenly filled with patterns of all colors and varieties. While in this case, the algorithmic manipulation was positive, the algorithm can be misleading. Wolfe quotes Eskami who states, “Many individuals are unaware that their online experiences are algorithmically curated, often attributing how and when content is presented to the actions of other users rather then the platform itself.” While social media tailors to an individual’s interest, it traps the individual in their own bubble. A case to this point is browsing history related to politics. If the algorithm only shares content the user will like, the user will not view any outside opinions to counter or question their own beliefs or “narrowing their information worlds.”

Despite some of the downsides, the ability to connect to informational resources and achieve new hobbies or projects is quite remarkable. Social media has created a space for people to link up, form communities, and share knowledge in a much more engaging way. And while I may never be able to build a house from scratch, I can at least say I have a bathroom renovation under my belt.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press. 

https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6787/5517

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-four-cara-brookins-builds-her-family-a-house-by-watching-youtube-tutorials/

Social Media – Behind the Scenes

Before diving into our assigned readings, I turned on the television and browsed Netflix’s previews to check out their new releases. I stumbled upon a preview titled, The Social Dilemma – a documentary that explores the dangers of social networking. In the documentary, tech designers weigh in on their own manipulative strategies, and the problematic social media use that ensues. Although I already had a broad sense of social media’s impact, I didn’t realize the extent of its manipulation.

The documentary quoted Edward Tufte, who stated, “there are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software” (Rhodes, 2020). A tech designer then gives an example that addresses the difference between social media platforms and bicycles. He explains that social media platforms are not comparable to bicycles because bicycles are tools. Bicycles are tools because the user decides when they want to use it, whereas social media demands something from the user, seducing the user using powerful algorithms.

As I read the first three chapters of Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, I was surprised by the similarities between the chapters and the documentary. More specifically, I was interested in the overarching theme of awareness. Rheingold quotes Matt Richtel, proposing that checking social media is “play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement – a dopamine squirt – that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored” (Rheingold, 2012). When a simple reminder or notification appears on a screen, especially when social media employs features that refresh content or push display notifications without showing the content itself, the temptation to check out what’s new is perpetual – and half the time, users aren’t aware of the control it has over them. The reading suggests that in a world of disruptive abundance and habitual multitasking, it is important to at least be aware of what we pay attention to and how we use our time. Rheingold states, “establish a new habit that connects—however thinly at first—your goals to your moment-by-moment stream of attention” (Rheingold, 2012). By being aware of your own thought process and attentional habits, it’s easier to establish a healthy relationship with social media and prevent the impulse response.

Another example addressing awareness is one I personally fall victim to daily. I’ll be scrolling through stations on Pandora and arrive at a song I enjoy – so much so, that I press the little “thumbs up” icon at the bottom of the screen. The songs following then echoes the song I just liked, whether it be more songs from the same artist or songs of a similar style. In Chris Anderson’s article, The Long Tail, Anderson states, “Great Long Tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown” (Anderson, 2004). Even if you are aware of what is happening, it is the same “what’s next” rabbit hole that applies to both social networking and music platforms that guide and manipulate user selections while businesses profit – tactics that feed off of behavioral instincts.

While everyone has a different relationship with social media, there’s no denying its pervasiveness in society. Whether you consider it a tool that forms connections and establishes communities of interest, or a platform capable of manipulation (or both), the readings and documentary establish the importance of awareness and “everything in moderation” mentality.

Larissa Rhodes. (2020). The Social Dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/

Anderson, C. (2004, December 13). The Long Tail.
https://www.porchlightbooks.com/blog/changethis/2004/the-long-tail

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.

Social Media & Technical Communication

As social media continues to permeate into our daily lives, it’s hard not to wonder if its evolving influence will mean the end of good writing. From strict character limits, to text speak and hashtags, social media has created a space for quick information – disrupting the standard writing process. The students from the reading express their concerns about the “immediacy of social media” and “carelessness about the craft of writing” (60). While it seems they have a point, social media’s ties to technical communication may have a more positive impact than one might think.

communication bulb

Social media has transformed the way consumers engage with technical communication by turning readers into active participants. While technical communication serves to inform the reader, social media opens a dialogue between the author and reader. The reading touches on two concepts that help bridge the gap between social media and technical communication – reach and crowd sourcing. Hurley and Hea (2014) quote Pearson’s definition of reach as “the ability to form relationships, address user interests, and determine long-term effects of networking,” and crowdsourcing as “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditional have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization” (57). Applying these two communicative strategies allows the author to think critically about how the content will both inform and engage readers. In this context, social media channels can be an effective and meaningful form of technical communication.

In terms of reach, it is the author’s responsibility to prepare content that will inform readers, address their needs, and keep them interested. As the author continues to engage with readers, the author’s online presence grows, establishing credibility. In return, the reader can voice their opinions and provide feedback, allowing an opportunity for the author to refine their work. This type of collaboration is aimed toward a specific communicative goal that creates a space for “acquiring knowledge through interaction” (61). As a technical writer, I see this process every day. The engineering department implements a new product feature, they select a group to perform user testing, and the field testers report back on their findings. Engineering then evaluates the needs of the collective audience to determine the pros and cons of the new feature. Social media channels work in a similar way and can make it even easier for the author, considering they can reach audiences faster and more efficiently. From how-to videos, to blog posts, and other training material, engagement with consumers on a digital platform allows the readers to establish a relationship with a given brand or product, creating brand loyalty and product insight.

Source: Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.