Tag Archives: content

Got 20 minutes to help build our profession?

cwsurveybig20 minutes is about what it’ll take to fill out the Content Wrangler’s Industry Benchmarking survey. You probably know the Content Wrangler: he’s Scott Abel, one of the leading voices in technical communication and in the larger community of content creators.

Scott says it’ll take 10 minutes to complete the survey. But I encourage you to ponder over the questions, as I did, and give thoughtful, thorough answers.

Why? Because your answers, along with those of others, will provide a detailed portrait of what content creation looks like today: what tools and techniques we use, what challenges we face, and what we see ahead. It’ll help us understand our profession better and suggest ways to overcome those challenges.

The last such survey, in 2013, gave us just such a portrait. I’ll be interested to see how things have changed over the past 3 years.

Take the survey soon. The survey closes on 15 February, and Scott intends to publish the results around the beginning of March. Everyone who takes the survey will receive a copy of the report. (You’ll also be eligible to win a cool travel bag. But don’t do it for the travel bag. Do it for yourself and for your profession.)

Update 3 Feb: Edited the last paragraph to include the end date for the survey.

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Hey, let’s give it a name

The year’s first big winter storm is expected to hit the U.S. East Coast this weekend. You know it’s big because the Weather Channel has given it a name: Jonas.

twc_screen_shot

Screenshot from a Weather Channel video. I remember the weather being dreadful last February. Now I know who to blame: Octavia, Pandora….

A few years ago TWC started naming winter storms as if they were hurricanes — a  practice that amuses some, confuses many, and edifies practically no one. TWC’s explanation of the “science” behind naming winter storms is a technical-writing tour de force, mixing a few high-sounding facts with colorful graphs and a sprinkling of acronyms, and wrapping it all in a thick coating of earnestness.

Anyhow, I got to thinking. If TWC can give names to winter storms, why can’t we give names to the various parts of the technical writing process? Something like these…. Continue reading

IBM Verse: A new way to work, or just solving an old problem?

Have you heard? IBM is giving us a “new way to work.” It’s turned up its marketing fluff machine full blast, on behalf of software called IBM Verse.

According to the fluff, IBM wanted to create a technology platform that would make workers more efficient, by finding and connecting the myriad pieces of information they had at their disposal. To build this platform, they say, they decided to start with email.

Screen image of IBM Verse user interface

IBM Verse user interface

 

 

 

Email?

Yep. Email. If you listen to the fluff, email is the bane of every office worker’s existence. IBM’s webinars and YouTube videos describe the demoralizing and productivity-draining experience of starting each day with an overflowing inbox and never being able to catch up.

Maybe that’s how it is at IBM. But here in the rest of the world, that sales pitch is outdated.
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Tell me why I should buy

Today’s post is about content marketing — specifically, the lowest form of content marketing: political advertising.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, from the original edition of Through the Looking GlassOn three different days in the past two weeks the snail mail box has brought flyers from both candidates who are vying for a seat in our state legislature. Tweedledum’s ads all say that Tweedledee is unfit for election because he’s wrong about everything. Tweedledee’s ads say that Tweedledum is unfit because he once worked as (gasp) a lobbyist.

Here’s the thing: each candidate is so busy tearing down the other that he never says a word about why he himself might be the better choice. Continue reading

Time to Dethrone the King

file4361250458421This week brought a thought-provoking article — The Content Marketing Myths We’ve Left Behind: Do You Still Believe? — in which industry leaders challenge some long-held beliefs about content marketing.

I especially like the contribution from Scott Abel, who many of you know as the Content Wrangler. Here it is, in its entirety:
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Dethrone the king and put him to work

Content isn’t “king.” It’s a product. And, it’s about time we started managing it the same way we do physical products we manufacture and sell.
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Amen. Content isn’t, and never was, an end in itself. If you thought it was, you were setting yourself up for failure. Content is, as Scott says, a product.

So who, or what, is king? It’s our customer, our reader — the person who consumes our content. We craft our content so that we can inform, persuade, reassure, or entertain our customer. So that our customer, at the end of the transaction, feels like they’ve received something of value.

The king (content) is dead. Long live the king (our customer).

You Have a Right to Ketchup and Salt

Did you see the news story about the Florida chef who refuses to let his patrons put ketchup and salt on their burgers?

If you’re older than 10, says chef Xavier Duclos, you have no business adding any flavoring to the dishes I’ve prepared. I’m the chef. You have to trust my judgment. And that’s that.

burgerIf I were a customer of Mr. Duclos’, I’d beg to differ. Having plunked down $12.95 for one of his burgers (that’s the going rate, according to his menu), I’d say that I’d bought the right to season my food as I liked.

Mr. Duclos has heard that argument, and he rejects it. At best he and I would agree to disagree.

At the same time, I understand where Mr. Duclos is coming from. Continue reading

What’s Lurking in Your Content?

Fellow technical writers, admit it. You’ve all done it. You’re writing along, and you come to a spot where you need to insert place-holder text. Your creative juices are flowing, and a simple lorem ipsum just won’t do.

So you insert something clever. Lyrics from your favorite Stones song. Lines from the Dead Parrot sketch. Maybe even a rant about what a dopey product you’re describing.

Then you delete it forthwith. Because if you don’t, those little place-holders have a way of lurking unnoticed until one day they find their way into print.

Cover for the Hello Kitty Dictionary

Image source: mirror.co.uk

Don’t believe me? Check out this horrifying story of what a mother recently found in, of all things, the Hello Kitty Dictionary. At the entry for necklace were two definitions: a piece of jewelry, and a brutal method for killing people.

Improbable as it sounds, the story appears to be true: it was cited by a number of different online sources. Even if it’s a fake, it’s a good object lesson for all of us who publish content.

Reportedly the publisher, Harper Collins, reacted promptly by pulling all copies from the shelves and destroying them.

But I have to wonder: how did that ever make it to print in the first place?

About the author: Larry Kunz lives in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of his block. If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up daisies.

Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances

Though it’s probably the most low-key reality show on television, HGTV’s House Hunters has uncovered an overwhelming, and heretofore unknown, passion lurking deep in the American psyche.

Photo of a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliancesThe show follows a set formula. A real estate agent asks the home buyers how much money they have to spend and what features they want. Then we watch as they tour three homes, commenting pro and con on each one. After the buyers choose one of the homes, we visit with them post-move and hear them tell us how happy they are with their choice.

The overwhelming passion expresses itself in the features they want. Every buyer, to a man (or woman), wants the kitchen to have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Things that look great but are pricey and don’t make the kitchen any more functional or easier to cook in.

Anyway, I got to thinking: What are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances of technical communication? What are the things that every company, every client, wants to see in their technical and marketing communication projects — regardless of cost or actual business value?

And what should be on everyone’s wish list — but too often isn’t considered? Continue reading

The heart and mind of technical communication

I’ve seen the future. I turned my calendar to today’s date, and there it was.

And when I saw the future, do you know what I realized?

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of Technical Communication had better learn structured authoring.

I invite you to look into the future too. Just observe what’s going on today. Here’s what you’ll see:

  • Content comes from all over the organization — and sometimes from customers and others as well. Gone are the days when all of the technical content came from the Tech Pubs department. With all of that collaboration going on, we need to have formats in which everyone can contribute content so that it’s easy to mash up together.
  • People read content on all kinds of devices: tablets, smartphones, desktop PCs. If the content can’t at least be adapted to the screens where it’s displayed, it’s of no use. The industry leaders are going beyond adaptive content: they provide content that’s responsive (it changes format to fit the screen) and smart. Smart content changes based on the readers’ attributes: the product features they’ve purchased, their geographical location, and their preferences.
  • Our employers demand content that affects the bottom line. One way to provide bottom-line value is through efficiency: content is developed once and then reused in many different contexts without the need for reformatting.

StructureNone of these scenarios would be possible without structured authoring. Structured authoring allows each piece of content to be tagged for a particular display format or for a particular user attribute, and it allows content to be reused.

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Are you ready for the future of content?

Guess what’s become a hot topic in the content strategy blogs? Good writing.

Brittany Huber laments that there’s so much bad writing out there, and offers some keys for finding the “really good stuff.” For Brittany, the good stuff is clear, scannable, accurate, and inventive.

Meanwhile Kathy Wagner sounds a call for well-written content, saying that good content engages, persuades, and just plain feels good. Kathy points out that “[a]udiences are typically affected in a positive way by one of two things: a truly compelling story, or well-crafted writing.”

quill penAs a writer I’m thrilled. This is right in my sweet spot. Despite what I’ve said about “good enough” being the new measure of quality, I’m delighted to hear content professionals reassure me that craftsmanship still has value.

So if everyone’s in favor of good writing, why aren’t there oceans and oceans of good content out there?

Continue reading