Monday, November 30, 2009

Presentation: Enabling User Interactivity

I'm happy to report my presentation on enabling user interactivity with documentation went well. I had only 15 minutes to get through 34 slides so I had to go a little faster than I wanted but my professor said he was still able to follow along. Now onto the next step: Writing the paper to go along with the presentation.

For those who would like to see the presentation slides I've embedded them below. (If you pause the slideshow you can then use the arrow controls to click through each slide one by one.) If you have any questions about anything feel free to leave a comment. I think incorporating user-generated content into documentation is the wave of the future. Technical communicators can help make that happen.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My Thanksgiving tradition

When I was around 7-years-old my mother asked me what I wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. Without batting an eye I said, "Chocolate cream pie." She said, "That's not a Thanksgiving dish!" I told her she'd asked and that's what I wanted. We've had chocolate cream pie at Thanksgiving every year since then and it's always a favorite. Now I make the pie myself. I've even introduced my in-laws to it; I don't think they've embraced it as a new tradition yet but it was definitely a hit, including the all-important associated tradition of having leftover pie for breakfast the next morning.

What's your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Presentation Day

I'm giving my presentation on user interactivity with documentation to my class this evening. Students will be doing their presentations over the next two weeks. I volunteered to go today—the first day—ostensibly to get it over with; in reality I have so much else to do that taking longer to do it wouldn't have helped me, it's just a matter of what I juggle when at this point. Going today also means I'm not expected to have my associated paper together at this point so that helps me. I think a lot of people in the class are working on their papers and presentations simultaneously; normally that's how I'd do it, too, but it just wasn't an option this time. The presentation is due today so I focused on that; the paper isn't due until December 17th. I have a lot more due between now and then so the paper will have to wait.

I ended up framing my presentation around the following questions:
  • What is user interactivity?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are some issues?
  • What are companies doing it?
  • How is it redefining documentation?
  • What are some implications for technical communicators?
I have quotes from technical communicators throughout my presentation to support my positions. Several are from Twitter: Some of the things I'm talking about are definitely hot topics right now. I think the screenshots I have of tweets are a nice touch. Hopefully the class (and professor) will think so, too!

The presentation is supposed to be 15 minutes long and I have 34 slides... Several are title slides but I'm still hoping I can get through them all fast enough without it looking like I'm rushing. And on that note, off to practice!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Three More Weeks!

Hard to believe I only have three weeks left of the semester...Well, sort of. Three more weeks of classes, that is. After that comes final exam weeks; I don't have any exams, thankfully, but I do have several final projects, two of which are due during the final exam period. So in reality only one of my classes will be done in three weeks; for that one the final project is due on the last day of class. I guess the professor doesn't want to draw things out.

In addition to finishing up projects for this semester I'm also still working on coming up with an idea for the capstone project I'll be doing next semester. Proposals are indeed due the Tuesday before Thanksgiving—at least that's what the e-mail from the professor teaching the class said. I replied and "suggested" making the due date the Tuesday after Thanksgiving might be better than the Tuesday before. He agreed that was reasonable so I, at least, will be doing my proposal over the Thanksgiving break. (Ok, what I really told him was if I had to do anything more before Thanksgiving it would be the straw that breaks this camel's back. At any rate I got an extension for this particular assignment for a class that hasn't actually started yet...) I'm still looking around and waiting for that epiphany of a project that will be really interesting and exciting to do over the semester. Next week I'm going to look at previous projects in the hope that will give me some ideas. (They're stored in a particular bookcase in my department, behind a locked door that not everyone has a key to, I've discovered. I've now talked to a professor who has a key who will make sure the door is unlocked when I plan to be there next week... And to think this is the easy part!)

For those of you who read my post on my user interactivity project I'm happy to report that it's coming along. I'll be giving my presentation to the class on Thursday. I talked to my professor about my concerns and he agreed that my revised focus is a good one. That means I'm looking at how companies implement user interactivity but I'm not trying to assess how well companies incorporate user content into official documentation or how effective their efforts are, since I would need inside knowledge to determine both of those. I also talked to someone in my field about the project: Sarah O'Keefe is a leader in the technical communications industry and just happens to live and work in my area. (I initially contacted her via Twitter, believe it or not.) I met with her at her office and got valuable insight into how she views user interactivity with documentation and what companies need to do to embrace it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Bless Our Troops

I confess I've never been that close to war. I've never had a close friend or relative serve—let alone die—in a military conflict. I lived 3,000 miles away from 9/11 events and didn't know anyone personally involved. While I hope I never have to experience war or terrorism firsthand, though, I hope I can still have compassion for those who have: Those who serve and those who have lost loved ones, or even had to live without them while they're away serving our country. God bless their sacrifice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Soon it will be one year since I went back to school to get my M.S. in Technical Communication. While I'm enjoying the academic environment and definitely learning a lot, I wonder everyday if it's worth it. Of course my answer is, "I sure hope so!"

I went back to school because the opportunity presented itself and it's something I'd been thinking about for a while. Quite a while, actually: I remember in 2003 after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy being struck with the thought that those people died doing what they loved. At the time I didn't love what I was doing (far from it, actually) and I wished I could figure out what I wanted to do and pursue it. The realities of modern life made staying in my comfort zone more appealing, though, so I stayed in my job and did what I could with it until circumstances gave me the chance to change.

I can't say that becoming a technical communicator is my lifelong dream, as becoming an astronaut was for some of the Columbia flight crew. I was a technical writer early in my career and I enjoyed it, and I think I'll enjoy it even more now as the ways documentation is created and presented have progressed in the digital age. Do I need a master's degree to excel in the field? No. I don't know the statistics but I'd guess less than half of the people who call themselves technical communicators have a master's degree in technical communication. However, times and the economy have changed since I was a technical writer so I'm hoping the degree in addition to my experience will give me that "edge" with employers, bringing my resume to the top of the stack and putting me on that short list for an interview. Since I'll be graduating in December, 2010, I'll probably be looking for that perfect job at this time next year. Hopefully I'll find out then that it was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Enabling Interactivity with Users

I imagine to most of my readers today's title doesn't make much sense. I've decided I'm going to talk about some struggles I'm having with the hope that it will clear my mind. No, not personal struggles, I'm talking about struggles I'm having with a particular project for school. My struggles range from figuring out how to frame the project in the first place to determining how to go about actually doing it.

The project involves looking at how companies enable interactivity with users when it comes to documentation. (Thus this post's title.) I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to figure out how something works I often can't find the answer in the online help. (I haven't seen a printed manual in a while now so we won't even go there.) So where do I turn? To Google, of course, to search the plethora of information known as the Internet for the answer. More often than not I'm successful (though depending on the complexity of the problem it may take a few hours of searching), eventually finding the answer I need on some obscure Web page where someone somewhere had a similar problem and thankfully shared it in a public post. But what if companies—or more specifically technical communicators—harnessed the vast amount of user knowledge out there and integrated it into the official documentation for products in some way, providing users with a more central place than the untamed Internet to find the answers they need? Just think of how much better this would make users' experiences with products, knowing there was a single place they could go to solve their problems!

This may sound like Utopia but some companies are using social media tools today to engage users and interact with them. This is primarily being done in the realm of marketing and public relations but it's also spilling over to customer and technical support forums. What I'm not so sure about is whether that knowledge is being captured effectively and integrated in a manner where people with the same problem can easily find it. I don't really have the means to investigate that aspect of things with this particular project so I think I need to stop at the point of determining how companies interact with users and look at its potential value. I'd really like to close that loop (as I see it, anyway) of evaluating whether any of the user-generated knowledge is incorporated back into the documentation, but without insider knowledge I just don't know how I'm going to do that.

So that's where things stand. As I've been working on this post I've been looking on the Web and reading some articles, trying to put some structure around whatever I'm going to do. I'm also waiting to hear back from my professor regarding an e-mail I sent him yesterday on all of this. The bottom line is in two weeks (yes, two weeks) I need to have a 15-minute presentation put together that answers my questions and describes what I found. And, as with all projects I do, I'm determined to do it well. I'll let you know how it turns out.