TCUK11 Day 3: Student, Super Heros & Farewells
First of all apologies for the delay in getting the report of day 3 of the Technical Communications UK Conference out to the masses. After the Gala Dinner last night and three days of talking, my already croaky voice went down a further octave. I’m now ready to do commercial voice over work if you need a deep gravely tone. Act quick before it recovers! OK. So what happened on day 3?
Over breakfast the usual waifs and strays dragged themselves into breakfast after a fun packed evening. Having gone to bed fairly early just a little past midnight, it transpired a select group didn’t follow my example. Indeed one individual, who will remain anonymous, can’t even remember getting into bed let alone what time it was. They did wake up alone so I suppose we should let them be, and credit to them for eating breakfast at all after what was obviously a heavy night.
The first session of the day for me was Chris Atherton and Kai Weber’s joint session on Pattern Recognition for Technical Communicators. Both Chris and Kai had prepared for their session that morning but leading a group of delegates for a run. OK the sun was shining but a 7:30am run was a step too far for me. Their session was intriguing not least by their ability to present information and images that got you thinking. Whether it was a chair that could be a painting or a dog’s bum that could represent a religious figure, it certainly got us thinking.
Chris and Kai are engaging speakers and full of energy. I was particularly drawn to Chris’s idea of rewriting the book Little Red Riding Hood in the style of a student. A former university lecturer Chris often advised students about badly written essays, a fact she put down to them not knowing how to write a good essay. All I can say is that should Chris ever publish said book, I’d be in the queue to buy it.
Next up was a session on DITA 1.2. I should own up that not only do I not use DITA but have no immediate plans to. However I was down to facilitate this session run by Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite Product Evangelist, Tom Aldous. Due to very specific and specialised nature of his talk, the audience was on the small side. DITA is not big this side of the Atlantic. However Tom gave a non-vendor specific talk. Unfortunately because of the mixed audience experience of DITA, most of the session was more on the advantages of DITA rather than DITA 1.2 per say. This was a shame but Tom made up for this later with several 1-on-1 presentations later in the day.
Documentation & Training Cooperation
Post lunch and it was Linda Urban’s talk on how documentation content can be reused for training purposes. As my team is split between Technical Writers and Technical Trainers, this was a session I was very interested in. We do share content but believe we could do much more. Linda tried and largely succeeded to concentrate on the general principles rather than the technical detail of sharing content. A wise move.
As I expected a lot of the advice given was to get out of the mindset that technical documentation must be written in a different style and therefore the source kept separate. Another takeaway was the use of terminology that is often used between the two mediums. “Users” versus “Delegates” and “User Guides” versus “Reference Guides”being two such examples. However this type of language can be easily handled by use of conditional text or variables. One other good point related to terminology was the practice of performing a needs analysis before writing a training course. Linda argued that such an assessment is often ignored when it comes to technical documentation. It can be a very useful tool for evaluating what documentation is required, if indeed any is required.
Linda said that on started one contract, she had asked to look through the training materials in order to learn the product. This was refused on the grounds that she may reuse it! This started a discussion where a delegate said he was told not to document a software application because if he did they couldn’t sell any training. However having documented the application the wheel has turned full circle. Now the documentation suite is so large and complete that users are asking for training to focus in on the areas of the application that require specific help on.
Rants and Super Heros
Lastly it was the fun packed open sessions. After the success of last year’s rant session, it was repeated this year but with the addition of an “If I Ruled the World” session. A coronary ambulance was on standby as the rant session started but it thankfully wasn’t needed, despite some excellent technical communication rants. In the other session Dom Smith posed an excellent question related to whether Technical Writers need “a tool” at all to produce results. You can read his thoughts on his blog.
Farewell for Another Year
To finish off the day we had Ellis Pratt, a seasoned conference speaker, talking on the changing role of the technical communicator. Standing in for Google’s Andy Simpson who had to pull out for family reasons at short notice, Ellis did a good job. His thoughts on the subject mirrored the theme of last year’s conference. Having originally painted a largely pessimistic picture of the industry, he ably demonstrated the need for us all to adapt. Regardless of the medium we are using the basic skill set is the same. All we need to do as professionals is look at how we can adapt to ensure we have the knowledge to met the demands placed on the industry by new technology or innovations. With Ellis’s words ringing in our ears we dispersed into the late afternoon rush hour for another year. Yes we were tired, but we were brimming with ideas and eager to put them into practice.