Effectively addressing digital audiences is a critical function of being a technical writer. However, our authors this week demonstrate how difficult this task can be. Not only are audiences fragmented in a digital space (as Bernadette Longo points out in chapter 6), but there are many cultural practices and barriers that prevent us from communicating to everyone adequately (as Barry Thatcher shows in chapter 7).
Besides fragmentation and cultural barriers, I would argue that algorithms also create challenges for technical writers to adequately construct, address, and engage with digital audiences.
There are many algorithms that can make it challenging to form a digital audience. For example, Google’s algorithms can make it challenging for users to find your content. In order to rank on the first page, you have to follow rules and tackle specific key terms. I’ve learned that in order to get my articles to rank, they need to be over 1,000 words, mention the keyword more than once, link to multiple websites, have the article be linked on other websites, be published on a Google trusted site, be shared by others, have numerous pictures, and the list goes on.
If you follow these rules and algorithms, it can be quite easy to rank and gives users a means to find your content. However, these rules don’t make it easy to address audiences effectively. I have found myself spending so much time trying to meet the requirements (such as saying the keyword more than 50 times), that I wonder if I’m actually creating helpful content for users. The search results are also so competitive and manipulated that you have to write sensational headlines and more just to get noticed. I’m not saying it’s impossible to write SEO (search engine optimization) content and not have it be helpful, but it certainly presents a challenge to content writers to construct and address digital audiences effectively.
Tom Johnson, a well-known technical writer, states that writing good documentation can be challenging because it can feel like your writing to the “absent user”. That’s because documentation platforms provides little or no measurable means to track how users engage with your content. Of course, as Tom Johnson points out, there are numerous tools that can be used to gather knowledge and feedback of how users are engaging with your documentation — surveys, web analytics, plugins, etc.
Even though we have these tools, I believe Tom Johnson makes a good point that digital spaces (like documentation) don’t inherently give us many tools to understand how users engage with our content. I find this same challenge when writing a corporate blog. I know users are visiting my content due to web analytics and other marketing tools, but it can be difficult to know if the content is addressing their actual needs. In a digital space, the best means to get feedback from users is from surveys, but even this can be challenging because users are usually flooded with so many different forms of digital communication. And when users do take surveys, they can provide general, or extremely non-specific feedback.
No matter how you cut, the web (by design) does not give technical users many helpful ways to address their audiences. They must go out of their way to interact with end users and get feedback. I believe this is why technical writers have to train themselves to become more customer and UX-driven. Without these practices, technical communicators cannot be effective at their job.
Algorithms can also make it challenging for digital creators to create engaging content. For example, have you ever searched a simple question on YouTube and can only find 15 minute long videos that take forever to answer the question you searched? That’s because YouTube’s algorithm favors longer videos, which forces creators to prolong their videos to meet these arbitrary requirements. That means creators could be spending more time trying to extend their video length, rather than creating quality content that actually helps users with problems.
What to do?
While specific rules and algorithms can limit technical writers, they can be easily overcome. In the end, it’s the job of the technical writer to be aware of these rules and continue to find ways to communicate effectively despite them. It’s the reason why we are hired. We’re expected to not just know how to address audiences effectively, but know the algorithms that effect us from being able to communicate adequately.
Has the democratization of the Internet turned us all into Kafka-esque cockroaches? Andrew Keen argues yes in his debate with David Weinberger. From Keen’s perspective, the Internet has stripped away traditional filters and given a voice to the masses — and the resulting clamor shows the worst of humanity. Instead of having gatekeepers in the form of publishers and traditional media sources to groom experts and present us with the best, the unaware Internet user is bombarded by amateurs and their trash.
Image from Books by Audra. http://www.booksbyaudra.com/2016/04/18/considering-kafka/
Weinberger takes the opposing viewpoint that the traditional media filters were flawed, and the Internet offers opportunity for everyday experts and untapped talent. He’s not alone in his assessment. Philip Tetlock created the Good Judgment Project on the premise of nonprofessionals making more accurate predictions than established experts. Tournament style, the project identifies the top two percent of “superforecasters” who don’t have any particular credentials but are amateurs with a knack for making predictions. Through Web 2.0, these individuals are now able to connect and share ideas in a way that was inconceivable just twenty years ago.
Interestingly, most of the articles that I saw about everyone being an expert through the leveling of the Internet were from about five to ten years ago. After that, it stopped being news. Now, it seems that the voice given to the masses is assumed and taken for granted. The last decade has softened it from a potential catastrophe to now just an accepted part of culture.
The twist is that the Internet is both still reliant on traditional gatekeepers and developing new types of filters. As we’ve discussed earlier in this course, the more content is created, the more significant it becomes to navigate and find the right content. Jonathan Zittrain discusses how Google and other search engines have become a de facto filter as people attempt to find material online. Zittrain talks about the tension between “neutral” search algorithms and Google’s moral responsibility to present quality, or at least accurate, sources. His talk acknowledges that most people have a knee-jerk reaction against search engines serving as a “Big Brother” and controlling what you see, but also don’t like the specific examples of overtly wrong or biased sites being at the top of search results. Even though anyone can contribute online, search engines and other tools for navigating the web still provide some basic form of filtering. The questions is how much power should we give them?
Even in light of the massive amount of user-generated content and the new ways of determining what has value, there is still a role for traditional gatekeepers to help audiences from being bombarded. This is good news for Keen who sees “professional intermediaries [as] arbiters of good taste and judgement.” For me, the example that comes to mind is Wikileaks. On one hand, it embodies the ultimate democratization of all information being released to the public online. On the other hand, nobody reads the thousands and thousands of released leaks, and the general public hears about only the top few items of interest as reported by major media outlets. The gatekeepers are still serving to prioritize the information and tell people what they care about.
Wikileaks releases unprecedented amounts of information online, but still relies on traditional filters to make sense of it. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-data
The New York Times just ran the article “WikiLeaks Isn’t Whistleblowing” that offers a scathing condemnation of the Wikileaks approach to “journalism” and argues that massive data dumps are inappropriate and counterproductive by not offering context for the information or discerning what is necessary to share. Tufecki writes, “Mass data releases, like the Podesta emails, conflate things that the public has a right to know with things we have no business knowing, with a lot of material in the middle about things we may be curious about and may be of some historical interest, but should not be released in this manner.”
Putting aside the other moral and privacy questions raised by Wikileaks, it serves as an extreme example of how the Internet enables a massive amount of content from all types of sources, while we’re still figuring out the role for filtering and gatekeeping. Keen warns that if we don’t find an answer, we’ll soon see the worst of ourselves reflected back in the Internet and discover our true cockroach nature.
Tufecki, Z. (4 Nov. 2016). Wikileaks isn’t whistleblowing. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/05/opinion/what-were-missing-while-we-obsess-over-john-podestas-email.html
Good Judgment. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016 https://www.gjopen.com/
In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold recognizes the same trend as Sherry Turkle of the historically unprecedented amount of available information through the Internet. However, Rheingold confronts the challenge of the volume and velocity of digital media with much more optimism. He sees it as a huge opportunity, if people understand the right strategies for managing it.
In his Tedx Talk “Attention: The New Currency,” Sree Sreenivasan argues that getting and keeping attention is critical for success in this world of overwhelming volume. Sreenivasan says, “It isn’t just that our attention spans are getting smaller and shorter but that there’s so much more stuff coming at us and so much more stuff competing for our attention.”
Rheingold makes the case that one way to handle the volume is increased mindfulness about what is getting our attention. He argues that the issue isn’t that multitasking is rewiring our brains, but rather that we do it without even being aware of it. The Washington Post article “Is the Internet Giving Us All ADHD?” suggests that although rates of ADHD are steadily increasing and the Internet facilitates behavior often recognized as ADHD, there is no evidence for a causal link. As the volume of information on the Internet continues to explode, we don’t need to fear possible brain damage, but rather be mindful about where we are putting our attention. Sreenivasan quotes Les Hinston, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, as saying, “The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.”
However, simply knowing where our attention is going is only the first step in managing information overload. In Chapter 2, Rheingold suggests a dashboard approach to “infotention.” Savvy users organize and manage content in a dashboard style so that they can easily access the most relevant and useful information. When you’ve decided how you want to prioritize your attention, the dashboard approach helps you organize the information that you’ve decided is worth your time.
A third strategy is relying on others as curators. Rheingold tells several cautionary tales about bogus websites and warns about the need for “crap detection.” However, being a “detective” and investigating the source for every website that you visit just makes the volume even more overwhelming. In my experience, leisure users rarely go through the trouble to research a site’s author and dig for source material. Instead, most users have the online news site that they always read, and they trust it — no further investigation necessary. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive study, but I’m curious about the percentage of time that people spend online on just a handful of favorite sites. I’m guessing that for most people, the majority of their time online is on just a couple of sites that they have deemed as passing the crap detection test.
Beyond curating your own list of favorite sites, people turn to social curation. Just as Google uses the PageRank algorithm (Rheingold, pg. 83) to boost search results based on links from other sources, so we turn to the wisdom of the crowd to help us determine which information in the sea of possibilities should get our attention. I saw this article “Social Curation in Audience Communities” about how a Finnish newspaper deemed the participation of their readers in”liking” and sharing articles as one of the most critical factors to their success and how they used strategies to begin leveraging this social curation. The article includes the statistic that up to 75% of the online news consumed by American audiences is forwarded through email or social networking sites. You could argue that this is because of peer pressure, the desire to read what our friends are reading, or other social motivators, but I think it’s also a coping mechanism to handle the volume of information available. When there are too many options, one way to decide is to take the recommendation of others. I think it’s the same as asking your dinner date what you’re at a new restaurant and trying to pick from a huge menu.
Finally, Rheingold pushes us to go one step further: “Google itself is not the curator; we are. Every time a person references a link, they help to curate the Web.” (pg. 127). After we’ve waded through the huge amount of information and deemed what is reliable and attention-worthy, we can participate by becoming the curators. Theses 72 in the Cluetrain Mainfesto gets at this: “We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.” As a community of curators, we’re no longer just consumers of corporate rhetoric, but we are empowered to determine value for ourselves.
Three sails to staying afloat in information overload. Drawing from Coloring Son
Actually, Rheingold’s principles for being a “filter blogger” bear a surprising resemblance to what we do as technical writers. We take on a huge amount of information and distill it for what is important. Although technical writing then moves to the next step of content creation, it begins with managing and curating available information. We daily practice the skills of culling information and can appreciate the wealth of opportunities offered by the Internet without being swept away.
Dewey, C. (2015, March 25). Is the Internet giving us all ADHD?. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/03/25/is-the-internet-giving-us-all-adhd/
Sreevnivasan, S. (2015, April 20). Attention: The new currency.” Tedx Broadway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I4WkhG_GRM
Villi, M. (2012). Social curation in audience communities: UDC (user-distributed content) in the networked media ecosystem. Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. 9.2. Retrieved from http://www.participations.org/Volume%209/Issue%202/33%20Villi.pdf
- Digital literacy has different interpretations. According to Barry Thatcher (2010), it means “accessing, understanding, and appropriately using digital media in specific situations” (p. 169). While Bernadette Longo (2010) defines culture in the context of digital communities as, “ways in which people relate to each other within a particular social context” (p. 149) and technical communicators can learn about digital cultures by “studying the language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” within these communities (p.149). Ann Blakeslee (2010) delves further by explaining that digital media audiences can be targeted for a specific situation or reader; however, she explains there hasn’t been enough research to understand the unique needs of readers with digital documentation (p. 204). (Refer to #3 for digital audiences.)
- Digital media literacy is not universal. What is understood in one country is not true for another. Thatcher’s experience working with Mexican and U.S. collaborators clearly identifies that digital literacy has differing rhetorical and cultural traditions that require greater understanding for cross-cultural projects (p. 169). Technical communicators should research and collaborate with other technical communicators and translators in other countries if the another country will be one of the audiences targeted. By due diligence, Thatcher “developed a framework to compare features of human life that all cultures share regardless of their value(s)” (p. 175) rather than follow an ethnocentric methodology – an assumption that another cultures uses digital media the same way that another does (p. 170). Specifically, Mexican culture and their rhetorical traditions regarding digital media.
- Digital media audience needs are specific. The internet is vast and digital media provides many outlets for various audiences to interact with media besides reading. Consider online documentation to operate your mobile phone or troubleshoot your PC. While this documentation is available to everyone, it also has a specific audience – those seeking answers for the equipment. Ann Blakeslee (2010) explains the characteristics of digital documents have implications “how audiences perceive the documents, how they use them and what expectations they bring to them” (p. 220). It is the responsibility of technical communicators to research intended audiences as well as tertiary audiences when they are creating digital documents (media). Audiences who not only read, but use and respond to digital media. Blakeslee states that to understand audience needs in response to digital literacy more research is needed (p. 222-223).
- Digital media needs to be user-centered. The shift from paper to digital documentation requires a “seismic shift” from system to user-centered. Documentation, to be useful and effective, requires consideration of its audience, their needs and digital literacy knowledge. This is difficult to acknowledge and understand since paper documentation was always one sided and did not receive much feedback from the user. However, almost all digital media requires a user-centered approach.
- Digital media literacy has its own rhetorical genre. Longo, Thatcher and Blakeslee (2010) all reference “rhetoric” or “rhetorical genre” in their articles and the importance of understanding and/or researching digital media rhetoric. Digital rhetoric, a definition evolving as much as digital media, is “the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (Eymand, 2012, Digital Rhetoric Collaborative). Longo asserts that technical communicators contribute to digital rhetoric with identifying audience inclusion or exclusion as well as understanding the “human+machine culture” (p. 147). While Thatcher says to develop cross-cultural digital literacy, technical communicators must, “adapt their communication strategies to the different rhetorical expectations of the target culture” (p. 169). Finally, Blakeslee identifies that content and context need to be continually revised so that the application meets the needs of the end-user thus changing the role of rhetoric with each type of digital medium.
The list above provides a few key takeaway points from Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Rachel Spilka (Ed) (2010) Chapters 6 – 8.
I was fascinated by the history of technical communications and the progress of technical communicators from Rachel Spilka’s (2010) Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice. Working as a technical writer with a large oil and gas corporation, I identified with several of the changes in the technical communication field from having knowledge of writing to understanding digital literacy. I was surprised that technical communicators will likely experience “reengineering” or periods of work and non-work during their careers. The future of technical communication jobs is uncertain; however, technical communicators need to assert certain digital skills and prove their value to the company/industry to maintain employment.
I have experienced many changes of roles and responsibilities with technology and writing throughout the past several years. As JoAnn Hackos explains, “the roles and responsibilities of technical communicators are changing rapidly – in some cases for the worse” (Spilka, 2010, p. ix). As technology evolves and changes, people have to learn, adapt and apply new technology to advance their expertise. Spilka (2010) states that in Part III of Digital Literacy technical communicators need to explore the answers to past theories or develop new ones to better understand how technology has transformed our work (p.14). I have not considered past technology and methods for communicating has an effect on future ones.
I haven’t been in my current position just over three years and I have experienced a dramatic change in our standard writing procedure and content management system (CMS). We started with MS Word generated documents, received hand written signature approvals, and used a file transfer protocol (FTP) to upload them to an archaic CMS system. This process (writing and receiving approvals) often took months or even years to complete and was not efficient or effective for those who needed to follow the standards every day. Two years ago we underwent a complete overhaul of our process and CMS system. Most parts of the process are auto-generated with email reminders and a CMS that uses HTML and XML files for creating standards that are compatible with multiple platforms. No more written signatures or filing papers in file folders since most of the workflow process is completed within 60 days or less. Although the system has several drawbacks and oftentimes has “bugs” that hinder our process, we’re still better than before. Management is researching the next system since technology becomes outdated as soon as it becomes popular.
We’re in the Web 2.0 era, but will digital literacy, advancing globalization, and technical communication survive the “seismic shift” that will likely lead to Web 3.0 in the near future? R. Stanley Dicks (Spilka, 2010) examines the drastic changes technical communication has been experiencing the last couple decades and it doesn’t appear to moving backward either. These dramatic changes will test our skills and value in the workplace. Dicks says to remain a valuable contributor, we’ll have to add a “strategic value” to increase company profits which comprises of having leadership skills, training and education as well as being more than a writer and editor. Technical communicators will have to be “symbolic-analytical” workers.(Check out this SlideShare about Johnson-Eilola’s research.) I’m still trying to visualize this concept, but I understand that we’ll have to know and do more than just write words. We’ll have to be the researcher, theorist, rhetorician, translator, and collaborator to prove our valuable skill sets to remain employed.
Thus far in the course, we have read about individuals using the Web to find work, love, and entertainment. Now, at last, we have read about the audience and the implications for a digital world. I feel like what we learned in this week’s readings are somewhat no-brainers because we are becoming so incredibly familiar with technology and digital literacy, but nonetheless, the authors presented many excellent points. However, when my eyes scanned the sentence that mentions, “audiences of digital documents may different from those of print documents,” I almost chuckled to myself (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 201). Blakeslee also mentions that now, nearly all texts that technical communicators design is created for digital use, which means that even if a text is in print, likely, a digital version also exists.
When technical communicators create texts explicitly for use on the Web, they need to keep several factors in mind. They need to know how readers will engage in the texts, the frequency readers will use the documents, the scenario in which readers will use the text, and the expectations readers have. As a result, designing texts for the Web is a complicated process. In digital texts, users have a greater opportunity to engage their readers. For example, readers of an online text have the ability to leave comments on a text and provide a technical communicator with immediate feedback.
As a K-12 educator, I envision the increase for digital literacy within the next decade. In the future, it will be nearly impossible to survive in the world without digital literacy skills. The need to read and write digital texts will continue to grow as desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops become obligatory in school and workplace settings. So, what specific skills will readers need to be deemed “digitally literate?”
First, basic reading and writing skills are necessary to begin becoming digitally literate. A reader must have the ability to read scholarly information of higher reading levels and to construct highly effective pieces of writing in a digital setting. Next, familiarity with various technologies is also an important digital literacy skill. A reader must be able to use the Web, word processors, and other programs to design and publish information. Additionally, the ability to search and locate through various technological tools is vital to becoming digitally literate. Readers need must be able to use computers, mobile phones, etc. to their advantage. Readers must also be able to evaluate digital sources and determine their credibility. As I mentioned last week, with so many “voices” on the Web, it is critical for a digitally literate reader to be able to decipher which texts he/she can trust. Furthermore, digitally literate must be able to determine what not to read. With information so readily available, readers usually do not have the time to read everything, so they must have the skill to determine relevance.
In my opinion, readers of digital texts need even more skills than do traditional readers. For most of us now, the transition from traditional to digital is complicated. However, since the children of today are born with a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, digital literacy skills will continue to develop and change, as new technologies develop in the future.
Savage’s analogy of metis and the deployment of digital tools really struck a chord with me. I look back to summer evenings spent sailing with my dad on Lake DuBay, and I understand the point he was trying to make. The goal of sailing and of deploying digital tools isn’t to master anything; that isn’t possible. It is to be responsive to several factors that can change quickly and sometimes all at the same time. My Dad’s C-scow was a fun boat to sail, but it was a highly temperamental boat to race.
For those who may not know, scows are wide and flat bottomed sailboats. They are slow when sailed flat, but they become much faster when they are leaned up on edge. The waterline changes from wide and flat to very narrow and long, which drastically reduces the surface in contact with the water. When everything is going well, it is fast and exciting. Racing the boat is a matter of weighing risk and reacting quickly. You can always lean the boat less and sail it less aggressively, which will allow for more time to respond to changing conditions. Or, you can lean it far, sail very quickly, and sacrifice some of your time to react to changing conditions.
What does all of that have to do with deploying digital tools? Some of it is preparation, making sure you have done the testing needed to make sure everything works and understand how it works. Next, you need to have a team or crew that you can trust to handle their job if anything changes. The final portion is learning to pay attention to the signs in front of you. There are a lot of variables in both that can change, so paying close attention to everything around you is key to reacting to those changes. If you don’t notice a problem, it is unlikely that you will react soon enough or in the right way to be useful.
Each of us must exercise critical digital literacy to succeed in this ever changing digital world. We must understand more than just the context of our work. We must also have a strong grasp of the tools available to us and how best to use them. This was part of what prompted our switch over to HTML based documentation. The majority of employees work from home, so information needs to be accessible and able to be retrieved quickly. They also frequently have several programs open at once. HTML files are much smaller sized, and they open from a browser rather than Microsoft Word. This reduces the resources needed to open access and use the documentation.
The readings discussed single sourcing, which is another thing my team is working toward. We have established common wording guides to for frequently used portions of text or steps in processes that are program specific. This helps save time and drive consistency throughout our documentation, which can be difficult with eight different writers sharing the workload. We also have editors who help raise the quality of the documents and unify the voice.
Evolution. Paradigm shift. Keeping up. Catching up. Transformation.
These are the key themes that jumped out at me from this week’s readings. What do they all mean for us as technical communication professionals? They mean that we are adaptable. Or, we try to be, anyway! I know many of us have expressed that we feel we are “sufficient” with newer technologies, like social media, but not experts. I know I definitely have felt like I can barely keep up. Every day there’s a new app or new website to check out, and a billion new Facebook posts and Tweets to read. After the readings this week, though, I am starting to feel a little better because I think our profession has gone through a huge change, especially in the last decade or so. And, as a result, it is one of the most diverse, multi-disciplined professions out there. Before I explain further what I mean, let me tell a little story to help set the stage…
When I was a senior in high school, I was all set to graduate mid-year. I had all of my required credits and I was ready to get out of the small town I had called home for 18 years and move onto bigger and better things. My high school guidance counselor convinced me to enroll in a couple of classes at the local two-year college so that I would technically still be in high school but would be able to get away a few afternoons a week by going to classes at the college. I ended up taking a Visual Basic programming class. Very challenging, but also very rewarding. In fact, after I graduated high school, I fully intended to go into something technology-related. Upon enrolling at UW-La Crosse, I was a computer science major. Well, that lasted all of two minutes when I realized how much calculus and math I would have to take. Yuck.
So, I ended up majoring in communication studies as I felt like I was “good with people” and had decent writing and speaking skills. At the time, I thought it was at the opposite end of the spectrum from computer science. What I didn’t realize, until just recently, is that a communications degree actually calls upon multiple disciplines, including technology, so it was the best of both worlds. And this continues to be the case many years later, more than ever. Like we read in Chapter 1 from Spilka (2010), traditional job titles of “writers” or “editors” have evolved into “software engineers” because the advent of technology required that the disciplines meld together (p. 24, Table 1.1).
This blending of disciplines – communications, writing, editing, designing, technology, and content management – has meant that we have to be a Jack of all trades. We’ve had to take on more responsibilities, learn new methodologies and technologies, consider new audiences and even reinvent our craft at times. Here are the principal areas where I think we’ve had to adapt and grow:
- We’ve had to become better communicators and relationship managers.
- Due to fewer face-to-face interactions, we have had to learn different ways to communicate and forge relationships. For example, my clients are scattered throughout the entire country. I do not make in-person visits, so all of my interactions are via phone, email or webinars. Despite this, I have developed some incredible, loyal relationships because I’ve learned how to use these different communication mediums to my advantage.
- The next generation relies more heavily on technology, many forms of which we are not as familiar with. This forces us to go outside our comfort zone in order to learn ways to reach this different type of audience.
- We’ve had to expand our toolboxes.
- First, we’ve had to learn new devices and various options AMONG those devices – computers (PC vs. Mac) and then laptops; cell phones and then smartphones (Droid vs. Apple); there have also been pagers, tablets, digital cameras, MP3 players, and other electronic devices.
- Second, there are so many different types of software and programs we’ve had to learn – PowerPoint, Publisher, Flash, WordPress, PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, etc.
- Third, there’s the Internet and all of the online capabilities – search engines, social media, social networking, discussion boards, blogs, wikis.
- Last, there are so many different options available for crafting our technical communications. I’m referring to fonts, graphics & images, design layouts, software options, videos, color schemes, hyperlinks, content & language. Because of this…
- We’ve had to become better writers/designers/communicators.
- In addition to understanding all of the tools available to us for creating our work, we have to be aware of all the new routes available for delivering our messages. We have to be aware of them and know which ones to use, and when to use them. There are traditional forms like print documents, but now there’s also texting, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and blogs. As described by Baron (2008), do we use asynchronous or synchronous routes of communication? (p. 14). Meaning, do we need them to see the information immediately, in real time, or can it wait until they open the message? Also, are we communicating one-on-one, or do we need to send a message to a large audience.
- Finally, we’ve had to become better information gatherers.
- With so many resources available – blogs, wikis, traditional websites and news sources – we have to be selective and know how to recognize credible sources.
There was a question raised at a 2007 technical writing conference: “What if technical communication were to merge into other disciplines and lose its identity as a field?” (Spilka, 2010, p. 5).
I think, we, as technical communicators, only make ourselves more valuable by being multi-disciplined. Being well-versed and knowledgeable in many areas – having a broad digital literacy – gives us more opportunities to work in different fields. Being too specialized makes you obsolete!
Thatcher stated that technical communicators should possess 4 competencies when dealing with intercultural digital literacy:
- Understand the rhetorical characteristics of the digital medium itself
- Match those characteristics to the demand, constraints, purposes, and audience expectations of the situation in their culture
- Assess how the situation varies in the target culture
- Adapt their communication strategies to the different rhetorical expectations for the target culture