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Moving On to a New Adventure

August 27, 2012

I haven’t entirely left this blog. There will be times when I will have stories to share, but for the time being, I am investing my time and effort into my new site:

www.jamiegillenwater.com

I am in the process of opening a technical communication and training company. My goal is to help companies communicate complex information simply.

If you know of any companies that need a professional trainer, technical writer, or document designer, please let me know. I would be happy to help them!

In the meantime, you can follow my professional updates there or wait for my occasional personal updates here. Thank you for your support in my blogging efforts!

In A Perfect World …

June 30, 2012

… there wouldn’t be a need for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

And I don’t mean this as in-a-perfect-world-there-would-be-no-sickness kind of way. I mean this in a there-should-be-no-need-for-this-act-because-people-should-be-better-than-this kind of way.

Let me explain.

First, I’m not usually a political person, but the most recent issues have become of increasing interest to me.

Second, I hear views from both politic sides on a regular basis. On Facebook, I am friends with more Republicans. This is primarily because of my geographic location. Everyone knows that South Carolina leans far right. And because I don’t add people to Facebook that I haven’t met, most of my friends are from my small town in the South. On Twitter, I follow more outspoken Democrats. I have connected with these friends through conferences and other friends on Twitter. I feel fortunate to have these contrasting views shared with me on a daily basis. It challenges me to consider both sides. I can see the good and bad of both aspects.

Third, I attend a church that promotes the idea that God is Love. We believe that we should serve Jesus by serving others. The Bible tells us that we should care for the least of these, for those who need us most, for those who cannot help themselves.

In an ideal world, Christians and people from other loving faiths and other generous individuals would help those who will be benefiting from this act. If an individual was sick and unable to pay for their medical bills, they could reach out to friends and family. They could reach out to the church. They could reach out to nonprofits in the area to meet their needs. (And the nonprofits would have shelves full of supplies to meet those needs.)

Unfortunately, Christians are not fulfilling their mission. We are not showing the love that Jesus demanded of us. If anything, we are showing hate. I often hear Christians talk down about those who need government benefits. I hear people who say that they should just work harder. They should have saved more. They should have taken better care of themselves.

An unexpected medical condition can happen to anyone. What about the man who has worked at the same company for 35 years, but got cancer and couldn’t perform his work? He’s now out of a job without insurance to pay for his disease. What about the woman who was working two part time jobs, but doesn’t have affordable insurance available through her employer? She can’t continue working when due to an illness that tears at her joints on a daily basis.

I don’t believe the government should regulate every aspect of our lives, but the government should aim to make our country a successful country where each individual has a reasonable chance. I won’t try to argue what our founding fathers did or did not want for this country, because I don’t know what they would want. And neither do you.

But I will say that if we as individuals were more willing to help those who need it, and if those who asked for help weren’t shamed for doing so, then the ACA wouldn’t be necessary.

I know I don’t give as much as I could, and writing this post has been a personal challenge for me. I hope to help those that I can when they need it. And I hope you have been challenged as well.

I know some of us are more fortunate than others. And I know some of us help in other ways. But I also know that most of us could give more than we do.

For coverage on the Supreme Court’s decision, visit http://www.scotusblog.com/. (Their live coverage of the Court’s decision was exceptional, followed by a round up of various views and commentary.)

To find out how the healthcare act will directly affect you, check out the Washington Post‘s online tool to determine your coverage and costs.

A Pleasure Doing Business—Stephen P. Anderson

June 22, 2012

Stephen Anderson‘s session was a perfect way to close out the Summit. Stephen discusses how technical communicators can use psychology to improve their customers’ experiences with software, documentation, and products. In his session, he focused on a few possibilities, which are explained in his Mental Notes card deck. Here are just a few of his ideas:

  • Set collection: Once a user has completed a portion of tasks, let them know how close they are to completing all of the tasks. Use a progress mechanic to show sequencing, appropriate challenges, and status.
  • Delighters: Use plain language and humor to be effective in your communication. For a great example of how to include delighters, watch Virgin America’s FAA required safety video. Make users happy to complete tasks for the reward of something fun and enjoyable at the end of each task.
  • Scarcity: When something is not easily available, people want it. We feel our freedom is threatened when something might not be available. If you limit how often users can rate, then they value those ratings more and carefully share those ratings.

If you want to know about other ways to encourage good use of tools and technology, hear Stephen speak at an event or get his cards.

Pattern Recognition for Technical Communicators—Kai Weber

June 22, 2012

Kai Weber Talks about Pattern Recognition

I had the pleasure of listening to Kai Weber share his thoughts on pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is a natural part of human perception. We receive a sensation and organize it without consciously considering the sensation. We learn patterns by examples or rules. Humans are addicted to meaning. We search for meaning in patterns.

Kai thinks, “If we are going to recognize patterns naturally, we might as well do it smartly.” Pattern recognition can make sense of unknown subject matter, overcome writer’s block, chunk topics, find reuse opportunities, help your reader navigate.

As Kai described the importance of pattern recognition in his presentation, he showed examples to make the meaning clear to the audience.

As technical communicators, we should consider pattern recognition in space, time, and object characteristics. It takes longer for users to recognize a pattern if the occurrences are separated through space and time.

There are two ways we process patterns:
  1. Top-up processing is applying known rules and concepts to contextualize elements.
  2. Bottom-up processing begins by experience and organizing elements. Users match similarities, then segment into groups.
TOCs are designed to be top-down, while search and index are bottom-up pattern recognition.

Users often use document bottom up. They don’t care about the building plan, only the information that relates to them. In order to assist our users, we need to take this into consideration while creating our documents and planning the navigation for the final product.

The Best of the Best

June 21, 2012

Every year, we recognize the best of the best in our industry. We recognize those who have contributed greatly to our field and to the Society for Technical Communication with the Associate Fellow and Fellow honors. We recognize our leading communities for their efforts to promote the field of technical communications. We recognize professors for their research and advancement in the academic arena.

I was happy that the Carolina chapter was honored as a Community of Excellence. And our communications manager, Lori Meyer, received the Associate Fellow honor, which is not easily achieved.

Courtesy of the Society for Technical Communication

In addition to spending time honoring those great members, we enjoy a beautiful dinner with wonderful company. Our table had the most fun discussing everything from surviving a zombie apocalypse to “doggles,” goggles made specifically for dogs while they hang their heads out of the window of the car. We continued our chats to include fishing and wrestling.

Photo by Ben Woelk

After the formal events for the evening, we all took advantage of our fashionable attire to attend impromptu after parties and continue socializing into the early morning hours.

Virtual vs. Local Teams: Communication Success & Failure—Kathy Moore

June 21, 2012

Kathy Moore shared ideas about the different challenges between working with colleagues locally and globally using virtual technologies. Because I work in a global company, this applies to my daily work.

Employers often assign tech-savvy workers to virtual teams, but online ubiquity does not guarantee communications success on virtual teams. Too often, we try to make up for the lack of distance and trouble understanding accents by replacing talking with e-mails. But many virtual team members feel inundated with e-mails.

While it delays communication a little, Kathy emphasized the importance of the separation of our work lives and personal lives. She suggested everyone create a personal policy about how quickly they will respond to communications and when they will not check their e-mail, phones, etc.

Many managers make suggestions rather than make a command. While this is clear to those of us who are used to the business culture in United States, others from different culture don’t realize this is an action assigned. It is important that actions are directly communicated.

Because virtual teams are an intensified version of a team. It often requires more time and effort than expected to lead a virtual team. Kathy suggested team members be theatrical and go over the top to communicate. She stressed that it is important that the message is the focus, not the medium. At times team members will make their message shorter to fit an e-mail, rather than choosing a different delivery method to ensure the message is received as it is intended.

There is less natural negotiating with asynchronous communication. Team members can deliver a package because they have time to revise most communication. There are pros and cons with this communication.

Another challenge with virtual (and local) teams is to include introverts in calls and meetings. Allow hesitant speakers time to gather their thoughts to share with the group.

Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Change—James Conklin

June 20, 2012

Change is something that technical communicators face in their work on a regular basis. We rarely document old processes or technology. Often, we pulling together the final changes just before a product release. It is our responsibility to make change as easy as possible for our users, coworkers, and potential customers.

James Conklin addressed this issue in great depth with a case study from the Value-Added Project in the early 1990s. James wanted to find out what contributions technical communicators could make above and beyond writing.

In one of his early focus groups, a technical writer said, “But you know, at the end of the day, what I like to do, I like to write my little manual.” I don’t know if a technical writer with that mentality would survive in today’s economy. Technical communicators are much more than writers now. Above and beyond an understanding of grammar and technology, we must know design, single-sourcing, and project management.

James showed us that we tend to look at resistance through lens. We face stubborn hearts, stubborn minds, or stubborn behaviors. We resist change in an effort to protect ourselves. Some resist change because we fear the change will make us appear incompetent.

From his experience, James showed us that there are various reason for resistance, often not for the sake of resistance alone. People want to know how they will benefit from the change. There are often unspoken reasons for their commitment to outdated methods. There might be external pressures for them to stick with what they know. James challenged us by asking, “Were these people resisting change or were they trying to preserve existing value?”

When people don’t make changes or continue to make mistakes with a new process, we attribute their errors based on who they are. We might call them “lazy” or “stupid.” Yet, when we personally make mistakes we often attribute our own errors based on the situation. You’ll hear, “It wasn’t my fault” or “Well, I couldn’t because …”

James suggested that we take time for a conversation before making a change. We must determine if the resistors and proponents of a change are actually more aligned than they might realize. Management must create an environment where we can have these honest conversations and ask these deeper questions without a fear of being fired or punished in the work environment.

James’s session forced me to look at the way I have handled changes in the past. As a project leader, I have made the assumption that people are resistant to change for no reason. It is important that I examine all of the concerns and potential lost value in future projects.