Category Archives: Blogs
Blog, blog, blog. . .
I have never blogged, nor found interest in blogs. Perhaps this was largely due to time constraints, but I am also sure it was due to my personal bias toward blogging, for it seemed to me that many used it to vent. I thought of blogs as more of an online personal journal.
The Writing Process
Many of my students blog, so I decided to use the following video about writing a blog as a way to connect with my audience, and show them that writers don’t just write– they follow a process.
Audience, Tone & Context
In addition, to sharing the above video about writing a blog, we also discuss audience, tone and context. Since the professor in the video is Canadian, that alone opens a discussion on audience, tone and context. So, we also evaluate the professors choices in devising this video.
After doing activities like this with my students, I realized I needed to change my attitude about blogging. My goal as a writing instructor is to get students to write– even if they are writing blogs. Most likely they will enjoy the process more since it isn’t a traditional “essay.”
I started blogging in 2008 before I started working for an online marketing business. I didn’t know really anything about writing online or blogging; however, I was interested to have my thoughts and ideas published online and to learn more about WordPress. I began with a site similar to this one and later moved on to the self-hosted WordPress.org where I selected a title and registered it with GoDaddy.com.
Part of my job with the online marketing company was to write, edit, and publish about 12 blog posts per week for business clients. I wrote about car parts, plastic surgery, divorce and dating, limousine and wine tours, travel within the United States, custom cabinets, pet memorials, pet sitting, shipping/packaging supplies, Ohio law (lawyers) and more. To improve a business’ visibility in the search engines, search engine optimization (SEO) was important, which included keywords. These keywords (1-2 blog post) are placed throughout the blog post, title, meta-title, meta-description and meta-keywords. Check out Hubspot’s “How to Search Engine Optimize Your Blog Content”.
Content was important since anything published online is permanent. Then you need to think about your blog’s “reach” according to Elise Hurley and Amy Hea (2014), “consider the ways which content is shared and distributed across social media and other media venues” (“The Rhetoric of Reach”, p. 62). Not only content, but also connecting with the audience. Be personable and imagine talking to one person about your topic. Whether a blog was one sentence or 750 words long, it was important to make a connection with the audience. This is true for business and personal blogs. How often have you read a recipe blog or a computer review that was dry and boring? Probably not too often.
With my personal blog (mostly how to be more eco-conscious), I didn’t think anyone would read it because there was already so much information online; what could I possibly add? There’s always something that you can offer – your opinion – on any topic and someone will read it. For example, Wikipedia, this is user-generated and user-edited. Anyone can start a topic on Wikipedia and others can add, clarify and provide sources of additional information to make it valid and credible. Hurley and Hea (2014) used Instructables.com as a student project to examine crowd-sourcing, the involvement of several people to do small pieces of a project. The result of crowd-sourcing is engagement though use of commenting, responding and sharing the content (p. 65).
Social media and blogging are important within the technical communication field because it provides another communication medium to connect with a larger audience and create a professional platform for future opportunities.
Hurley, E. V. and Hea, A. C. K. (2014). “The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for technical communication in the age of social media.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.
I came into this class reluctant about the whole idea of blogging. I didn’t think I would like it and thought I would have a hard time writing about topics that others would find interesting. When I first started, it was difficult for me to transition from writing in an academic tone to a more conversational tone. But over time, I became more comfortable with the medium, found my voice and actually found myself (gasp) enjoying it. Not only was it interesting to see what my classmates wrote, but the resulting comments and discussions were intriguing as well.
For the final paper I chose to explore the idea of “long tail love” online. The idea was spurred from a combination of Michael Anderson’s “Long Tail” reading, Turkle’s talk of Second Life/profiles, and Rhinegold’s “crap detection”. Additionally, hearing about the encounters of my friends in their pursuits of online dating made me curious about the subject. Deciding to give it a shot, I started doing some preliminary research and the rest is history. What I can say is that researching the subject has certainly has lead me down a rabbit hole. One lead uncovers the next as there are unlimited avenues this subject can take. Even though it won’t be for a while, the idea of “long tail love” online is even a topic I am considering for a thesis.
The pervasiveness of technology and the internet impacts almost every facet of our lives. It has made our lives easier, faster and better in countless ways as it affects how we work, learn, and communicate with each other. However, can these technologies help meditate the need and physical drive to find love and develop lasting relationships? And can the allure and convenience of the Internet really help us find “the one” and maintain these close ties? Or, does its ease provide protection, where in the digital realm where it is easy to present oneself in the light in which they want to be seen? To answer this question, this paper will explore online representations of the self, deception and misrepresentation, long tail love and the pros and cons of online dating and sustaining romance online. It was found that while the internet can certainly foster relationships, it can readily lead to misunderstandings as differences between face to face communication and computer-mediated communication occur. Thus, for better or worse, technology is redefining romance in our ever-connected world.
A big thank you to everyone for your intriguing posts and thought provoking comments during this semester! Have a wonderfully relaxing break and good luck with your future endeavors!
In Kenichi Ishii’s article “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” he broaches the topic mobile communications and relationships in everyday life. Specifically, one area he explores is the use of mobile communications in public areas. In general, Ishii found that mobile phone users are criticized for violating the implicit rules of public space. When thinking about these implicit rules in everyday life, it makes sense. We all have encountered times when we have witnessed loud or annoying phone conversations in public. Despite public cell phone use being something that everyone finds annoying, many people continue to do. Perhaps they do it to feel important, or less alone, but no matter the reason, for better or worse, these private conversations have an audience.
I have a coworker who frequently makes private cell phone calls at work. Even though she steps aside to a “private” area to makes these calls, there is little privacy. I’ve found out more about her mother’s health conditions, her sister’s financial problems and issues dealing with internet providers than I care to know. The first time I heard it happen I thought it was a little odd, but because it was about her mother’s health issues I figured it was situational. As it continued to happen, it was made clear that she doesn’t realize that these private conversations are very public. These are things that she normally would not share with me (or probably the majority of my coworkers), yet she seems oblivious to it. Its not that I’m trying to eavesdrop on her calls, but the one sided conversation is so apparent to anyone within ear shot.
Luckily, Psychology Today has an explanation for why we find these conversations to annoying. In part, its because cell phone conversations are generally louder than a face to face conversation. Forma and Kaplowitz found that cell phone conversations are 1.6 times louder than in person conversations– a slight difference, but noticeable nonetheless. Because its hard not to overhear, and the lack of respect this implies for the others around you is grating.
In addition to loudness, these conversations are irritating because they are intruding into our consciousness. Lauren Emberson, a psychologist from Cornell University found that when you hear a live conversation, you know what everyone is saying because it’s all there for you to hear. In contrast, when you hear a cell phone conversation, you don’t know what the other person is saying, so your brain tries to piece it all together. Because this takes more mental energy than simply hearing both sides of the conversation, it leaves less energy to allocate to whatever else you might be doing.
When is it Okay or Not Okay to Use Cell Phones
A study from the Pew Research Center found about three-quarters of all adults, including those who do not use cellphones, say that it is “generally OK” to use cellphones in unavoidably public areas, such as when walking down the street, while on public transportation or while waiting in line. In contrast, they found that younger generations are more accepting of cell phone use in public. While the definition of “cell phone use” in this study was not clearly defined, it generally is presumed that it means holding a conversation rather than texting.
For instance, only half of young adults found it okay to use cell phones in restaurants, this activity was frowned upon by older generations. Places where cell phone use is considered unacceptable in both groups include family dinner, movie theaters or worship services.
Enough is Enough: Cell Phone Crashing
Greg Benson had enough of annoying people talking loudly in public and decided to take things into his own hands. To fill a void in a layover in an airport he came up with the idea of “cell phone crashing”. In “crashing” the prankster sits next to someone talking on their phone, and then proceed to fill in the gaps left in the one-sided conversation. When one person said “What should we have for dinner?” into the phone, he responded, “I don’t know. Steak and potatoes sound good.” pretending to talk on his own phone. The whole process is filmed with a camera hidden from afar as the hilarity ensues. While the video may give you a few laughs, it may also help you reconsider how public your cell phone conversations in public really are.
So, what do you think? Should mobile devices be banned in certain areas? Or is this an infringement on our rights?
A major theme that resounded through the readings was the need for the organization, understanding and usability of content online. Through the use of creative design, implementation and use, technical communicators can work in conjunction with designers and help find solutions to these problems. Above all, usability and ease are the two most important factors in web design.
The famous phrase “form follows function” was coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in his 1924 book Autobiography of an Idea. There are two ways this phrase can be interpreted:
1). Aesthetics should be secondary to function
2). Beauty results from the purity in form.
Modernist architecture was based around this idea, as ornaments or decorative elements to a building were considered superfluous. In other words, the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. With this purpose, this movement became the guiding force for numerous architectural movements and schools of design.
However, one can ask, does this same principle hold true in a cyber environment?
In the early years of web design, oftentimes there was no rhyme or reason to the designs used by untrained technical communicators. Oftentimes, they would disregard principles of effective page design in an attempt to differentiate document design for print from online. In the wild west of web design, an innovative form took precedent over function. However, as time progressed, these freedoms gave way to a new wave of design fueled by purpose, content and user needs.
Today, we take these things for granted and expect certain standards for orienting ourselves in virtual space. Because there isn’t a one size fits all approach, the way in which designers create these spaces is intriguing.
Should they follow Sullivan’s advice of “form follows function”? Or would some creative flair benefit a site and make it more usable? This poses a challenge for designers because while usability is key, it is discouraged to gravitate towards either extreme.
On one end of the spectrum you have your very basic, bland web design. It presents the users with the usable components without any frills. An example of this is the Craigslist site with its basic blue links on a blank white page. It is clear that function is the most important aspect of this site, and little concern is given to aesthetics.
On the other hand, a site that either has too much going on also renders itself unusable. In the example for Yvette’s Fashion it is clear that the overwhelming amount of information, flashy colors, images and tiny text make it almost impossible to navigate, let alone read.
Gentlemen bear with me, but in a way this analogy of design and usability could be compared to women’s footwear. On end you have your very basic and ubiquitous white tennis shoes. While they may not look fancy, they are comfortable, provide the right amount of support and quickly can accomplish the job of getting the user from one place to the next. They are simple and style plays little role in its usability.
In contrast, there is the glammed up eight-inch stiletto. While they aren’t practical, the over the top nature of them definitely catches your attention. Additionally, while they also will enable the wearer to navigate from one place to the next, it is at a much slower and cumbersome pace. While both forms of footwear are aimed toward different users and server similar functions, the usability differs. In other words, usability is impacted by design.
Likewise, design elements contribute to the ambience of web sites and help prepare the user to understand the context for its use. In Digital Literacy for Technical Communications, Slavo states,“Readers recognize designed elements of the document before interpreting the context”. In other words, visual design carries its message in its physical presentation.
For instance, even a simple change in the web design can make a difference and affect usability. In Louis Lazar’s article, Design is Only as Deep as it is Usable, he examines the homepage for Facebook with a simple omission of color:
While the plain version is still functional, it is less inviting. Additionally, the contrast between the blue and white makes the boxes easier to find and therefore use. Overall, this example proves that design can aid in the function of a web site.
In sum, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to the design and organization of web content. Because there is no hard and fast rule, function can’t overlook aesthetics and vice versa. “Eye candy is important, but it isn’t everything, and that for a design to be truly beautiful, it has to be functional, have purpose and contribute in some way to the website’s intuitiveness, usefulness and branding” (Smash Magazine). Rather, a balance of the two is needed as they work hand in hand to produce content that is both intuitive and appropriate for the audience. Through this, both ease and usability can be accomplished and good web design can prevail.
While Spilka and her contributors for Digital Literary for Technical Communication drove me crazy by repetition large chucks of text ( see pages 11, 13, 16 regarding who the target audience for her book is) and having a chapter summarizing all the other chapters, there are a couple of things that I learned, besides understanding that if I have to read any more of this book, I will either need a couple of aspirins or a bottle of vodka. These two things that I found most important were evolving and that technical writers must play well with others.
Yes, everyone should already know that technology is constantly evolving, and so its delivery methods and how technical communicators craft their messages need to evolve too. Without evolving, technical writers will fail to gain all the skills necessary for the latest publishing tools, such as FrameMaker and RoboHelp, to help their users and to continue building a positive reputation for whatever company is providing the products and resources. An example of this need for evolving ones skills is in the chapter titled, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work,” Dicks writes,
The nature of work for many technical communicators is changing so
rapidly that many now perform an entire task set that they did not even
know about five years ago (p. 51).
But evolving to keep up with the changing technology should be common sense, and Saul Carliner provides a chapter on history (just to show how fast technology has changed when companies, seeking higher profits use user input to create the desires of the customer – custom corporate software, better online help, easier desktop publishing, etc. By evolving, companies and people have saved money and time, which is usually one of the main goals of nearly everyone. And as for me, my goals are to learn FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Illustrator, because I missed out on getting my resume read by hiring managers in the technical communications field because I did not have experience in those tools. I, too, must evolve.
Must play well with others.
Life would be great if everyone played nice and worked well together, and working well with others is an important soft skill that many people lack, especially for those technical communicators who have been working alone for so long. But in today’s technical communicators’ work places, it is necessary to work with others to gather information and for review. As Spilka states,
[W]hat seems most critical and meaningful is how we can contribute to
social, team, or collaborative efforts toward the greater good of large
scale projects…Our work is also more like than before to be
international scope (p. 5).
Thus, to be a desirable technical communicator, one of the main skills is knowing how to work in a team. By helping co-workers in a timely manner, work can be fun, enjoyable, and a success. As a valued part of the team, the technical writer may learn additional skills and be wanted for further projects, which new skills may be needed, so it would be a great opportunity to evolve again. That is why I would suggest to anyone in this field to always take a chance to learn something new. Take on a more challenging project to increase your knowledge and skills.
All in all, so far, I learned from this book that one must not be afraid of the latest technologies, and they should evolve by trying to learn how the latest technologies can benefit themselves and their work places. Besides learning the forever-changing technology tools, methods, theories, and etc., it is also important to know how to work with others, as most projects will involve many people who will be working on the same project, and the technical communicator will need to gather information, and give and receive feedback on the project, so that the project is a success. And if the project turns out not to be successful, have a drink, think about what could have been done to have made it successful, and then try it again next time. With that, you are evolving. Start your evolution now.
Dicks, R. (2010). The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 51). New York, NY: Routledge.
Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and Technical Communication (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.
Spilka, R. (2010). Introduction In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”― Tim Duncan
My only experience blogging was during college while I was a marketing intern at RNR Realty. Among other things, I was responsible for doing a bi-weekly blog post using WordPress to promote their business and generate leads. The majority of posts pertained to real estate, home buying or home improvement, and the content was largely up to me to decide. Additionally, each month, I would pick an area around the Twin Cities to use as our “Neighborhood Feature” and write about the areas highlights, attractions and housing markets. Unknowingly at the time, I incorporated several of Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” into my work.
Despite being short lived, my foray into blogging was beneficial in that with practice and over time I was able to improve and my “good” and become “better”. The question now is how can my prior experiences coupled with the readings from this class enable my “better” to become “best”?
When I first began my internship I was largely writing for myself and wrote to topics that were of interest to me. However, a few weeks in I discovered my audience and I did not share similar interests. While I found sustainable housing, up-cycled furniture and Frank Lloyd Wright homes intriguing, my audience clearly felt otherwise. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t writing for myself; I was writing for RNR Realty, and if I wanted my numbers up, I needed to re-vamp my strategy. As a result, I had to dig a little deeper and try to get a better handle on my audience.
To that end, I started to run the analytical reports at the end of each week so I was able to see my viewers and where they came from. Because RNR Realty represented residential, commercial and international buyers and sellers, the audience stemmed from a diverse background. Yet, when I ran the demographics of past customers as well as people who followed the company on social media, certain patterns began to emerge. I discovered that most of them were first time homebuyers with credit issues- many of whom had young children or pets. With this deeper understanding of my audience I was able to tailor my posts to these specific interests and increase my numbers. While my internship and subsequent blogging for RNR Realty came to an end, a new chapter of blogging through the MSTPC program with UW Stout has just begun.
In Alex Reid’s “Why we blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” he recalls Malcom Gladwell’s observation that “it takes over some 10,000 hours of dedication to a craft or profession to become an ‘expert’”. Thus, expert status of anything, including blogging, takes an immense amount of time, repetition and perseverance. However time isn’t all that it takes to become a good blogger. Moreover, the supplemental articles point to other areas of interest that can improve bloggers including Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, the appropriate length for a blog post and finding the perfect balance between academic and conversational tone.
Obviously there is more to good blogging than the points mentioned above, however I think these are great additions that can aid my own (or any blogger’s) “better” to become their “best.
As a favor to my brother, I write a small blog to promote his business’s products: food industry-related items like cuptake towers and cake pop holders. I call it a “small” blog because I don’t follow many of the blogging best practices, mainly because neither one of us is very serious about it, we don’t have a lot of extra time and I don’t do it for pay. I write a blog post every quarter, which I guess is consistent, according to “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners.” But it certainly isn’t often enough to maintain any followers.
Problem No. 2 is that I’m no expert on the subjects of which I write about: fancy cupcakes and cake pops. Since our audience is people who are experts on fancy cupcakes and cake pops, we should have an expert voice. I did try recruiting top bakers in the field to write blog posts about their businesses, favorite recipes, etc., but although some agreed to do it, no one ever followed through–despite my nagging. So, while I know who are audience members are (Tip No. 2), and I did try to get ideas from the audience (Tip No. 1), it didn’t happen as I envisioned it. That’s how I ended up writing the blog myself, and I don’t think I sound very authentic.
I have to mention that our audience is made up largely of very busy small-business owners (bakeries, cake makers), so I’m not sure how much time they have to peruse a blog when they’re trying to order a cupcake tree for an upcoming event.
And that brings me to Problem No. 1: I don’t really write very much at all. Basically, I asked some baker bloggers if I could repost some content from their own blogs, and one or two agreed as long as I give them credit and link to their site, which I always do. Sometimes I find a cool recipe or project online and link to it. I write a nice, creative, enthusiastic introduction, but I don’t bring a lot of added value to the content. I am not writing for myself (Tip No. 3).
The blog is part of the business’s Web site, which is connected to a Facebook account, but that’s the only marketing we do (vs. Tip No. 4). We’re hoping to use lots of keywords to help us get found online, and I do have to say that our Facebook page is getting more and more likes and views than ever. However, I’m not sure how much the two are related, if at all, because we haven’t looked at the blog analytics for awhile. We also didn’t want to bother monitoring comments, so it’s not interactive at all (so many comments now are from spambots, etc.).
So that’s the status of my small blog and why it’s not thriving but simply existing. I learned a few things from the Top 16 tips, though. For example, I’m going to start issuing a call to action, something I’d never done before except on Facebook (Tip. No. 6). Seems obvious, but I’d never thought of it.
Actually, I think a lot of blogs are like mine: poorly maintained and underperforming due to benign neglect. I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve seen in which the writer obviously started with enthusiasm but then just couldn’t maintain the momentum–either due to lack of time or lack of engaging content. One of them I saw was for a deck-maintenance business. The owner started out writing things like “Just did another deck,” but that got pretty repetitious, and apparently, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He stopped writing after a few weeks. That blog should obviously be taken down.
One other problem I’ve seen with a lot of blogs is that the writer just does not have a unique voice or anything new to say about a topic covered by tons of other blogs. How many blogs about wedding dresses with pictures of elegantly dressed people in front of old barns and decrepit cars does one need?
I also think that many bloggers just aren’t very well informed, nor good writers. Not just anyone can write a good blog; you have to have something to say and the ability to say it in a compelling way. Now, I’m not talking about the guy who wrote a blog to document his wife’s health, as in the article, “Why We Blog.” Like CaringBridge entries, that blog probably saved that guy a lot of time and helped keep people connected with what’s going on. I’m talking about poor writers who could accomplish their goals just as well on Facebook. Blogs have their place, but I don’t think everyone has the skills to write a good one.
My post was about a lot of things not to do–but, in my experience, the most valuable advice comes from one who’s been there and learned a few things. These things likely won’t save my blog because I just don’t have a strong motivator to do it. But I do know that, going forward, if I’m going to write a blog, I’ll be more ready to step up to the plate.
After reading through Rheingold’s book Net Smart, I have been many things. I have been confused, I have been enlightened, I have had my ‘aha’ moments and I have even been inspired. Closing in on the end of Chapter five, a disturbing question crept into my mind. What is the goal? Perhaps a question more to the point is-what should my goal be?
Rheingold has covered getting online, navigating information, how to participate and contribute online, creating social capital, gaining attention, and the inner workings of social networks. What am I supposed to do with this? Rheingold writes books and contributes to the online community for monetary compensation. He may be helping the greater good by sharing (adding value), but in the end, he does it because it allows him to make a living. Should I be blogging and tweeting in order to drive traffic to my blog in order to make a living? In order to keep the scope of this blog focused, I will use an example situation.
I have a passion for land stewardship e.g. cultivating crops, timber stand improvement, wildlife habitat improvement, soil health, and native flora and fauna enrichment. If I decide to blog about this topic, I will definitely be in the long tail…I have a feeling more towards the tip. I understand the principles of developing relationships inside this community and creating social capital. Am I doing something wrong by stopping there? Would being a bridge within that community be enough? Should I still be linked to and follow people in the tech world, politics, and the business world? Would only investing in my passion erode my online health?
I could go on with a hundred questions along those lines. The obvious answer would be “whatever makes you happy”, but I don’t think that is it. Can the concepts laid out in the book be a guide to an overall more enriched life? Is that the goal? In the end, I understand the ideas presented in the book, but I am questioning the application.
Did this book change your idea of online navigation and interaction? Will it change the way you participate within online groups? Most important, what will you do with the information that Rheingold has discussed?
Content managers face the twin pressures of simultaneously reducing the total investment a company must make to produce content and increasing the quality, quantity, and sustainable value of that content. – William Hart Davidson
There it is, black and white, plain as day; the centerpiece of the modern business structure. We must create more with less while making our creations higher quality than those before them. Logically, it makes no sense. How can you create more things with less materials and resources?
Magic, of course.
Thankfully technical communicators are not only trained in various technical disciplines, but the Arcane Arts as well. Some of their specialties include time travel (yes, travel, not management) and The Impossible.
From the beginning, Hart-Davidson’s article struck a chord within me. Primarily, I liked that he got right down to the heart of the matter: the expectation to do more with less.
It boggles my mind that companies truly believe that this model works and that their employees are getting their degrees in magic on the side to keep up with the workflow. Newsflash: Everyone does not get a letter to Hogwarts. I would know since I’m still waiting.
I recently started a new job at a startup ecommerce web design company and I already feel the pressure of this expectation. I’m supposed to split my mind in three different ways simultaneously and accomplish several tasks at once. These tasks vary in nature and focus, but somehow I manage to get them all done. I just internally worry about the quality of my work, but not for long, because the fast pace always forces me to keep moving forward and not dwelling on what has already passed.
I don’t foresee this issue getting any better with time, but worse. I can understand the need to be competitive, but realistic expectations goals need to be set. Like I said before, not everyone was lucky enough to get their Hogwarts letters to study magic.