Adobe Technical Communication Enterprise Summit: Structured Authoring

This month, I was fortunate to attend the Adobe Tech Comm Enterprise Summit, a free conference on the latest trends in technical communication, held at the Adobe facility, in Boston, MA. It was a full and lively day, complete with informative presentations on trends in technical communication, from various thought leaders on structured authoring, including Scott Abel, CEO, from The Content Wrangler,  Inc., and Max Hoffman, from Globalization Partners International, Inc. Others presenters included Adobe’s own Kapil Verma, Ankur Jain, and Tom Aldous, followed by a detailed case-study on how to leverage Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 3.5 , from Accenture’s Rick Thompson.

Technical Communicators, as Content Management Consultants

As described in my earlier post, Scott Abel’s keynote suggested that technical communicators are now more management consultants for content, as opposed to creators of content. Working alongside product management, Abel called upon technical communicators to continue breaking down the cylos within their respective organizations, with the objective of optimizing every part of the content delivery process. The end result, according to Abel, is re-usable content, developed for multiple delivery channels, audiences, formats, and languages.

Key Trends in Technical Communication Today

Adobe’s Kapil Verma described key trends in technical communication
today, driving the evolution of Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 3.5:

  • Globalization, opening up new markets, in
    emerging economies
  • Multiple devices, requiring multi-screen, multi-channel
    publishing options
  • User-generated content & democratization of
    content creation
  • Increasing demand for rich media
  • Increasing demand for highly personalized content

Later that day, Thomas Aldous made a strong case that the
Adobe Tech Comm Suite, which includes both unstructured and structured
authoring versions of FrameMaker 10.0, sets technical communicators up for long-term success, as market requirements continue to evolve.

Structured Authoring: Reasons for Making the Change

Verma provided helpful guidelines, for when making the
change to structured authoring may make the most sense. Structured authoring
may be suitable for your organization, Verma advised, when you’ll be…

  • Translating doc into multiple languages
  • Transfering documentation, between systems
  • Managing dispersed content production
  • Creating and maintaining a large volume of
  • Making frequent documentation updates
  • Supporting multiple production variants
  • Publishing multiple formats
  • Following a standard documentation structure

Verma followed up these recommendation, with a meaty analysis, on how to derive the highest ROI from your migration to structured authoring.

More Information

In my next post, be on the lookout for highlights, from Ankur Jain’s presentation, on developing an enterprise social collaboration strategy.

I haven’t used the structured version of FrameMaker, or Robohelp in a few help authoring assignments, so in the comments, please feel free to add your experiences with these tools, or comparisons with other authoring tools. Past versions of FrameMaker (up thru version 9.0) have spoiled me for all other desktop publishing tools. How has making the transition to version 10.0 been for you?

And oh, before I sign off, a very Happy 25th Birthday, FrameMaker. Thanks to Adobe and all the presenters for their time and for the generous knowledge share. 

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Adobe Tech Comm Enterprise Summit, Keynote: Technical Communicators as Management Consultants, for Content

Technical communicators are now “management consultants for content,” Content Wrangler Scott Abel recently observed, at the Adobe Tech Comm Enterprise Summit, in Boston, MA. In his keynote, “Understanding the Role of Technical Communication in Enterprise Efficiency,” Abel  noted that technical communicators are now in the business of creating content (not books), which can be repurposed for multiple devices, audiences, formats, and languages.

Abel further explained how “automating enforcement of writing rules is one easy way to gain efficiency,” and how software can now encode rules to prevent authors from making the most common and costly writing mistakes.”

In Abel’s view, content creation is science, not art. For the technical communicator, Abel suggests, the art lies not in creating content, which can now be manufactured, but rather in deciding how to make content fit, in different scenarios, and in optimizing every part of the content creation process, eliminating redundancy and other waste, through the
application of structure and consistent terminology.

Abel pointed to Autodesk’s WikiHelp, which embeds videos, as an example of socially-enabled support content, and the efficiency gains of directly connecting and listening to customers, in this way.  He also pointed to the iFixit community, which provides repair information, not documents, which community members can directly edit. He further stated that every piece of generated content in these examples can be tracked and directly tied back to sales.

To advance similar initiatives, Abel recommended evangelizing efficiency gains and marketing achievements, within your company. He further advised partnering with
product management, with the objective of breaking down silos.

Resources on Structured Authoring

For more information, Abel pointed to Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy by Ann Rockley.

At the Enterprise Summit, Adobe’s Thomas Aldous offered a compelling value proposition for Adobe Technical Communication Suite, 3.5, suggesting that it makes a lot of sense for technical communicators, even those who are currently using the unstructured FrameMaker version, to set themselves up from the start, on a multi-channel publishing platform, which offers both unstructured and structured authoring options, and which can evolve with changing and inevitable market requirements.

Your Turn:

Do you agree with Abel’s keynote, that technical communication today represents more science than art? What might be the possible exceptions? Can you recommend additional resources or tools, for structured authoring?

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On Transformational Leadership: Remembering Steve Jobs

Stay hungry; Stay foolish. ~Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging and social media fronts–attending to a number of  matters, including over-due computer tune-ups, an intensive job search, and in between, some well-earned self- and family-maintenance.

But it’s impossible to hear the news of Steve Job’s passing, without marking it here. If I ever questioned the value or purpose of blogging and social networking in my own life, I think it became clear to me last night, when I was able to vicariously share online the outpouring of sadness over Steve Jobs’ death and the admiration so many feel for the legacy he leaves behind.  Last night, I keenly felt the gift my blog and social networking presence on Twitter remain to me—by being able to avail myself so quickly to such an immediate public platform—lifting up my own voice, within such a connected, often vibrant community– in praise of such a sheer creative force. And in so doing, to do my small part to observe and carry on, all that legacy means.

It was a moment where whatever our differences, many of us came together to salute the spirit of innovation, which Steve Jobs represents. And more than that—the courage and dignity by which he faced his own failures and mortality—how he saw these conditions, as the best drivers to making our time here mean something…and as a challenge to each one of us, to continue to live up to our own personal gifts.

For me, Jobs’ life and work represent many of the themes I’ve been exploring personally  and at this blog, especially on transformational leadership, to date, mainly from a technical writer’s vantage point, but with implications for whatever paths we respectively travel.

I take as a strong inspiration, Jobs’ integrative vision:

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

Until last night, I’d never heard in its entirety Jobs’ 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University, but I ‘m glad I can refer to it, as a writer, and much more so as a person, for those times which inevitably arise for all of us, when we need the reminder to remain true to our own voices.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

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Taking Stock of Content Technology Vendors

Disclosure: In June, I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, Boston, MA, on a free press pass, which covered the preconference workshops as well as the full  three-day conference, held at the Hynes Convention Center.

In my travels on Twitter, I often encounter vendors, tweeting links related to their various businesses. Even with a background in technology, I’m often unsure how to classify these products.

For that reason alone, I’m glad I attended the “Insider’s Guide to Evaluating Architectures and Selecting Vendors,” at the recent “Enterprise 2.0 Conference” in Boston.

There, analyst Tony Byrne from the Real Story Group explained how to evaluate technologies and vendors, combining business and functional approaches.

Through the free 2011 Content Technology Vendor Map, the Real Story Group (an independent evaluation firm) visually organizes various content technology vendors, in these categories:

  • Document and Records Management
  • Web Content Management
  • Portals & Content Integration
  • Search & Information Access
  • Collaboration & Social Software
  • Digital Asset Management
  • SharePoint Ecosystem

The Real Story Group’s site does a nice job explaining what each of these categories mean. At the site, you’ll also find a downloadable .jpg of the Content Technology Vendor Map, as  well as a high resolution PDF.

If you’re interested in content technology options, here’s a good place to start taking stock.

What resources do you recommend for evaluating options, in this space?

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5 Books on My Summer Reading List

It’s summer, which for my family means time at the beach, or on a lake or pond, as much as possible. A few years back, hubby and I purchased our 34-foot motor home, vintage 1980s, in honor of my 40th birthday. It already owes us nothing, given the great trips we’ve taken in it so far, mainly to New Hampshire or to a small island close to home, North of Boston. (This is the up-side of the contracting lifestyle.)

Of course, since we’ve bought the camper, it seems at least to me that we’ve had an unusual share of rainy summers, but that can be OK, too. More time to play board games with the family, watch Scooby Doo or read with the kids, and maybe try out a new crock pot recipe.

Those rainy days in the camper are also good for curling up with a book of my own, or as the case more often is these days, with the Kindle. Since I received my Kindle as a Mother’s Day gift this spring, I’m definitely buying more books. I’m not 100% sure I’m reading more books—at least reading in the way I used to read–but that’s something I’ll explore in a different post.

Without further ado, here are the books I’m in the process of reading right now.

On My Kindle Right Now

1. The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with Your Customers to Sell More!, by Marsha Collier

I’ve followed Marsha Collier on Twitter (@MarshaCollier) for a while now, and I’ve always admired her positive online presence. I’m especially interested in ways technical writers can complement and enhance online Customer Service. Marsha’s book seems even more relevant now, with the advent of Google+, and its potential as a Customer Support platform.

2. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, by Guy Kawasaki

I’m almost done reading the book, and it’s a great introduction to the psychology of persuasion. Learn about the 3 pillars of enchantment: likeability, trustworthiness, and offering a great product. For a helpful preview of Kawasaki’s themes, see his interview with Brian Solis. Kawasaki’s insights on likeability were especially interesting to me as a technical communicator, as I explore affective user assistance.

3. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability: When Bad Design Decisions Happen to Good People, by Steve Krug

In the late-nineties, I led an information design initiative at BBN Planet (of  ARPANET fame), which later became GTE Internetworking and finally, Genuity. I simultaneously completed usability, human factors, and web design courses at Bentley College (now Bentley University). Krugg’s book complements all those interests and past experience, providing a common sense approach to web design usability, delivered in a concise and highly accessible writing style.

4. The DITA Style Guide: Best Practices for Authors, by Tony Self

According to reviewer Yvonne Kucher on Amazon, “this book is the Chicago Manual of Style for DITA.” Through real-world examples and clear recommendations, “The DITA Style Guide (published by Scriptorium Press) describes how to create consistent, semantically correct DITA content.” In today’s  job market, knowledge of DITA best practices can provide a competitive edge for technical communicators.

5. When Search Meets Web Usability, by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica

I first learned about this book from Jared Spool’s User Interface Engineering (UIE) site. For a preview of Spool’s UIE Virtual Seminar Presentation, check out the video, When Search Meets Usability: Using Information for Improved Search Engine Visibility. There, Thurow discusses the convergence of SEO with web usability, as explored more fully, in her book.

Additional Recommendations

So, there you have it. Those are the books I’m reading on my Kindle, this summer. In this post, I didn’t even get to the books I’m reading or re-reading in print, or the books on my Amazon Wish List.

As I conclude, I’m thinking that it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good novel. Any fiction recommendations? Biographies are among my favorite types of books, too. And I’m always in search of a good cookbook. Sheryl Crow’s new cookbook with Chuck White, If It Makes You Healthy: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons, looks pretty good. Are there any other recent cookbooks you’d recommend? What are you reading lately?

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Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM: A Match Made in Heaven?

Disclosure: Last week, I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference , Boston, MA, on a free press pass, which covered the pre-conference workshops on Monday, as well as the full three-day conference, held June 21 – June 23, 2011, at the Hynes Convention Center.

I’m still reviewing the numerous presentation slides and additional commentary, available from, or spinning off from, the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, held last week in Boston.

The official attendee reception, “CRM at the Social Crossroads: Dinner with Paul Greenberg,” related especially well to this blog’s themes, as it explored the convergence of Enterprise 2.0 with Social CRM.

The Difference between Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM

At the E 2.0 attendee dinner (sponsored by BroadVision), Greenberg, a CRM expert and author of CRM at the Speed of Light, offered his distinction between Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM.

Enterprise 2.0 involves all “the internal collaboration and discussion in service of greater customer insight, including segments, intelligence to better understand customers, and improved processes,” Greenberg explained.

Social CRM, on the other hand, is “a customer’s engagement with the company’s products, services, tools, and experiences,” he noted.

Internal Transformation as Important as External

Together, Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM make up “Social Business,” which,Greenberg described as “greater than the sum of its parts:”

When combined in a way that there is a whole greater than the sum of its parts – it is what is now being called “social business” and in a few years will be called “business,” the same way “social CRM” will be “CRM.”

What makes social business greater than the sum of its parts is also why it needs both parts to work seamlessly inside out and outside in. Customers and the need to acquire and retain customers are driving it.

What Happens without the Internal Culture in Place

In his talk at the E20 dinner, Greenberg asserted that for social CRM to be successful, the internal culture must be in place.

To illustrate his point, he mentioned Comcast Cares, a real-time customer service channel, which Frank Eliason successfully spearheaded on Twitter. However, Greenberg observed, Comcast viewed (and funded) Comcast Cares as a public relations promotion–not as a fundamentally different way of engaging with customers, across all parts of the organization.

Greenberg warns that without the accompanying internal transformation, the initiative is more of short-term tactical success than a long-term strategic solution.

A Call for Transformation

‘Til now, I’ve been exploring convergence mainly as a metaphor for a whole-brained approach to creativity and leadership. In a more specific way, I’ve been examining approaches to content convergence, in my role as a technical communicator.

Transformation continues to be an important objective for me, both personally and professionally.

That’s why, listening to Greenberg describe the ongoing need for transformation in large enterprises–and his belief that both Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM processes must work in tandem–really felt a lot like coming home for me.

Which Comes First? The Chicken or the Egg?

Again and again, I see analysts in the social media space debate which comes first or is more important–Enterprise 2.0 or Social CRM–including all the processes which extend from each. Moderator Richard Hughes from BroadVision posed this question to Greenberg, in the familiar “chicken or the egg” format.

I loved the way Hughes posed the question because it highlights to me the somewhat futile nature of the question. My feeling is the answer of which comes first doesn’t matter so much as the need to have both sides of the equation working together, as Greenberg expressed in the ZDNet article, “…the inside out and the outside in. The back office and the customer-facing. The internal and the external…:”

[What’s] apparent is that Social CRM and E20 are now married, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health and are combining into a coherent whole that is being labeled “social business.”

Your thoughts? Are Social CRM and E20 a match made in heaven? Do you agree that they need to work in tandem?

Comment, 6/14/22:

On Which Comes First, in 2022: Here are some links, about upcoming bipartisan legislation, under draft review, to strengthen data privacy. Though I am catching up on quite a lot of missed time, in the world of technology, even my more lay impression, these days, indicates a shift toward greater privacy. These links are not endorsements, but are what I’m reading right now, to try to come up-to-speed, on the latest technology trends, and a better reflection, than my 2011 blog post, of current discussions. I also include links from some of my prior go-to-sources, which again, are not endorsements, but reflect the discussion, going on, right now, and where I am starting to catch up. As the STC Intercom article notes, the Internet is a changed place, since in 2020 “organizations across the world were breached by the SolarWinds cyberattack” (Coreil, 2021). Here’s why this is a very big deal:

Over 18,000 of the 300,000-plus SolarWinds customers of network software were affected, including the United States (U.S.) Treasury and U.S. Commerce Department, National Institute of Health, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security, as of the writing of this article (Jankowicz and Davis, 2020). The need for organizations to clearly communicate cybersecurity threats, analyses, and cybersecurity concepts in a meaningful way is critical, now more than ever, to facilitate knowledge sharing across industries, governments, and borders.

Coreil, A. (2021, July 21). Technical Communication & Cybersecurity. https://Www.Stc.Org/Intercom. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from

Be careful out there!

Related Links

Here is an additional resource, from a nonprofit global information privacy community and resource, which I started following on LinkedIn, during the last year or so. As of 6 / 2022, the site describes the differences, between privacy and security, and helps clarify for me, some of the issues I encountered, writing this blog, trying to bring folks from very diverse professional backgrounds, together. The IAPP defines privacy and security as related, but not the same concepts.

International Association of Privacy Professionals, What does privacy mean?

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

E 2.0 Conference: The Evolution of the Networked Organization

Disclosure: Last week, I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference , Boston, MA, on a free press pass, which covered the pre-conference workshops on Monday, as well as the full three-day conference, held June 21 – June 23, at the Hynes Convention Center.

My favorite keynote from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston last week was “Managing People and Process, across a Networked Organization,” by Jim Grubb, Vice President of Corporate Communications Architecture at Cisco Systems Inc. (For more information about Jim Grubb, check out  Cisco at Enterprise 2.0 2011.)

The keynote was especially relevant to me, because the organizational issues Grubb described about how to structure the large enterprise are similar to the organizational issues technical communicators often face, when deciding how to structure information. In each case, we are moving away from traditional hierarchical structures towards a networked model, which places participants (whether that means our colleagues, customers, or ourselves), at the center of the organization.

Seven Ways to Organize Companies

In his fifteen minute talk, Grubb concisely outlined the evolution of organizational structures in companies, from the start-up to the networked model. According to Grubb, here are the seven ways companies organize themselves:

  1. Start-up/No Organization: When everyone is sitting in the same room, there isn’t much need to have leads or distinct organizational divisions.
  2. Functional: As the company grows, it makes sense to start organizing by function (Sales, Engineering, Marketing, and so on), so that those who are doing similar work are grouped together. However, as companies continue to expand in this functional model, they soon start losing sight of their customers.
  3. Customer Segment: The next phase of growth involves organizing by customer segment (in Cisco’s case, by Enterprise, Service Providers, and Commercial). Organizing by customer segment starts to be inefficient, when for example, there’s a separate router (or in the case of  readers here, a separate router manual, with redundant information), for each customer segment.
  4. Lines of Business/Product Type: To streamline, companies start organizing by lines of business or product types.
  5. Geography: The next evolution involves organizing by geography.
  6. Matrix: Companies start trying to organize for more than one objective, by for example placing customer, across the top of one axis, and geography or product- type, along the side…This matrix-ed approach may solve two of the business problems companies are trying to solve for, but not for the other axises.
  7. Networked: In a networked organization, companies strive to operate continuously and dynamically across all the axises. According to Grubb, “Your org chart becomes a people chart, bringing the right people together to focus on a business problem…Through technology, we now have the flexibility to do this…We are no longer forced into a given hierarchy…Moving forward, we now can allow people to self-organize and dynamically move between virtual organizations…Through the technology, networked organizations allow each participant to be at the center of the hierarchy…”

Examples of a Networked Organization, In Motion

In a networked organization, Grubb explained that information workers don’t “do” in the traditional sense we apply “doing” to work. Instead, Grubb explained, information workers create intellectual capital by collaborating, talking, thinking, making decisions, passing on those decisions, and so on, all through human interaction.

The ability to record and index these real-time human interactions and make them available to the entire network–eliminating the barriers of time and space–is the goal of unified communications. Grubb offered posting voicemail or WebEx meetings for the entire virtual community, as examples of re-purposing synchronous, real-time components of collaboration as asynchronous communications, available to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Profiling members of the community becomes very important in the networked organization, so you can find the right people to work together, on any given virtual community.

Challenges for Networked Organizations

Grubb noted that despite the benefits of networked organizations,  traditional hierarchical models are much easier to measure and reward. Changing process requires new mechanisms for accountability and reward structures as well. For example, at Cisco, measuring the success of each geography/country now involves factoring in the success of each customer segment across that geography. For virtual teams to be successful, there needs to be the technology, process, and culture in place to establish and reward these kinds of collaborative behaviors, Grubb concluded.

Parallels for Technical Communicators

The evolution that Cisco’s Jim Grubb described for the networked organization directly parallels the evolution of structured documentation standards.

With structured authoring, we are striving toward putting our customers at the center of the information hierarchy–allowing them to dynamically view tagged information, in whatever ways work best for that person.

The projected benefits are greater efficiency over the documentation process and ultimately a more personalized experience for our customers.

The key challenges that face the networked organization–technology, process, and culture–are often the same collaborative challenges facing technical communicators within the large enterprise, and require similar incentives for a successful outcome.

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Hear All About It: Enterprise 2.0 Conference (Boston 2011)

Disclosure: This week, I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference , Boston, MA, on a free press pass, which covered the pre-conference workshops on Monday, as well as the full three-day conference, held June 21 – June 23, at the Hynes Convention Center.

According to Steve Wylie, the General Manager of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference at TechWeb, the event attracted approx. 1600 participants, from lines of business, marketing, and IT, as well as senior executives.

Enterprise 2.0: Supporting Critical Functions & Driving Revenue

The event site describes the annual Enterprise 2.0 Conference as focusing on “how to use technology to support a variety of critical functions such as HR, People & Performance, Sales, Customer Support, and Product Development to increase productivity, improve collaboration, and drive revenue.”

Many participants at the event shared an interest in how enterprise-class collaboration and productivity tools can help organizations solve business problems and create new opportunities (see Enterprise 2.0: It’s Still About Improving Business Performance).

In-Depth Workshops

The pre-conference workshops on Monday examined key Enterprise 2.0 topics, including detailed analysis of customer engagement, innovation management, and the latest collaboration tools and platforms.

Visionary Leaders

On Tue. and Wed., the keynotes featured a cross-section of industry thought leaders, representing companies such as Jive Software, Microsoft, IBM, Avaya, Adobe, and Cisco. (To view the recorded keynotes, visit Information Week’s Brainyard–the community for social business.)

Tue. night, BroadVision, Inc., a cloud-based social business solution provider leader, sponsored the official attendee party with CRM expert Paul Greenberg, for a discussion on “CRM at the Social Crossroads.” In his talk, Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, described the convergence of Enterprise 2.0 with Social CRM, as part of the trend increasingly known as “Social Business.”

Diverse Conference Tracks

Conference tracks included an impressive range of Enterprise 2.0 topics: Analytics and Metrics, Architecture, Business Leadership, Community Management (Engaging External Audiences), Community Management (Inside the Enterprise), Governance, Risk, & Compliance, Mobile Enterprise, People, Culture & Internal Communications (HR), Sales and Marketing, Social Apps and Platforms, Technology Leadership, and Video & Unified Communications.

Expo Pavilion: Top Vendors (Large and Small)

There was also the opportunity to meet top vendors of collaboration technologies in the Enterprise 2.0 Expo Pavilion, where Microsoft and Cisco hosted receptions, Tue. and Wed. nights, respectively, and where participants could learn how the latest technologies are reinforcing collaborative cultures and helping to change internal processes.

Recognizing Innovation: Enterprise 2.0 Launch Pad

Another conference highlight occurred right after the Tue. morning keynotes, when Saba Social Learning, was announced as the winner of the “2011 Launch Pad Award.”

General Impressions

I was happy to cover the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, a second year in a row. For me, the event represents a comprehensive and timely look at the benefits, risks, and changes required in emerging Enterprise 2.0 organizations. The speakers were high caliber, the vendors among the top-most in the industry, and the atmosphere was consistently collegial. The post-conference resources (including slide presentations available at the E 2.0 event site) and related E 2.0 coverage at the Barnyard community are just as thorough and well-organized.

Moving Forward

As Steve Wylie notes in his recent Barnyard column, the spirit at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston was celebratory, recognizing all the ways that Enterprise 2.0 has come of age. However, to take the necessary next steps, Wylie suggests lots more must be done:

While great progress is being made in understanding the value of a socially connected, collaborating enterprise, the reality is that most enterprises are just beginning to peel back the organizational layers of operational inefficiency and outdated technology that hold them back.

Their challenges will require equal parts organizational readiness, workable technology solutions, and the resilience to see these initiatives through.

In the meantime, stay on the lookout here, for posts detailing what I learned at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference (Boston 2011), especially ways organizations need to change or are in the process of changing, to continue making E 2.0 a reality.

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Nine Ways to Engage Customers in Technical Documentation

Persuasion involves making compelling appeals to both our emotions and logic. Most people don’t consider technical writers natural persuaders, but the discipline of technical communication actually falls under the umbrella of Rhetoric, in most college programs for technical communication.

With its factual subject matter and informative style, technical communication appeals mostly to our logical sides. What many are surprised to learn is there have always been subtle ways that technical writers also appeal to our emotions.

Examples of emotional persuasion at work in technical documentation include the way technical writers directly address customers as “you,” the parallel writing structures, and the sense of trust technical documentation instills, through the credible presentation of detailed information.

Here are some traditional ways technical writers motivate customers to stay engaged with the text, complete steps, and refer back to the instructions, the next time they’re stuck.

1. Credibility

The accuracy and completeness of technical content—whether print or online– is the most important factor in convincing customers to follow the instructions or  refer to the instructions again. It doesn’t matter how pleasing content is presented or how well-written it is. If the steps are inaccurate or incomplete, your content—and product—loses credibility.

2. Visual Design Cues

Headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists help customers more easily scan the text. These navigational cues also create a mental hierarchy—in classic rhetoric what’s known as a schema— that structures the way readers think about our products. This technique is especially useful when explaining or understanding how products work, or grouping similar concepts, including tasks and roles. Templates and checklists reinforce these schemas–what in instructional design are known as learning scaffolds.

3. Entry Points

Convincing customers that they’ll find the information they’re seeking is one of the most important challenges technical writers face. Navigational aids—such as traditional TOCs, headings, online breadcrumb trails, print cross-references, online links, indexes, and other metadata—all reassure readers that the information they’re looking for is present and findable—and that the content is worth referring to, in the first place.

4. Concise Writing

In an increasingly visual, online world, concise writing–the hallmark of a task-based writing approach—is more important than ever to keeping distracted readers’ attention and encouraging customers to complete required actions.

5. Active Voice

Addressing the audience directly as “you” (with active verbs), not only ensures more concise writing, it also sets up a conversational and lively tone.

6. Parallelism

In Effective Rhetoric, Effective Writing: Parallelism in Technical Communication, Helen Fawcett shows how the repetition of parallel structures—as applies to headings, transitional elements, steps, and sentence parts—helps effectively group and present similar information, as well as create a sense of rhythm.

7. Visuals

Technical writers use tables, charts, graphs, and illustrations to present or reinforce information. Visual techniques apply even more so, for today’s social-media savvy customers, who prefer to process pictures, sounds, and video rather than text.

8. Consistent, Plain Language

Using the most concise terms consistently across all your media ensures that customers understand the underlying concepts and apply them, appropriately. Introducing different terms for the same concepts only frustrates readers and complicates translation for global audiences.

9. Professional Editing and Layout

In a “good enough,” real-time publishing world, the bar for professional-level documentation is lower than it used to be. It’s still worth remembering that writing, typographical, or other formatting issues can detract from our customers’ overall impression of a document’s usefulness, as well as its actual usability. Both factors affect how much customers want to use your documents.

Your Tips or Comments

How do you motivate customers to engage with the product documentation? Are digital media, audience-generated content, and personalization replacing, changing, or reinforcing the traditional ways we encourage customers to refer to and engage with our content?

As marketers incorporate a more informative, logical style of writing into their
content, how relevant will technical writers remain, if we don’t incorporate
more emotional appeals, directly into the user assistance? Wouldn’t this style
of writing be more natural to our customers?

Is there any way to reconcile a more affective approach to technical documentation, with content re-use and globalization requirements? or must by definition, these approaches remain incompatible?

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Show Me the Manual

“So, you think technical writing isn’t persuasive?”

That’s what the Director of Graduate Writing Programs philosophically asked us, as first year technical writing students.

After some debate, she finally offered, “Your main job as technical writers is to convince your audience to read the instructions and to complete the task, at hand…”

I’ve remembered my instructor’s words, all these years.

Given how reluctant most customers are to admit defeat and to turn to the documentation in the first place, I’d say that good technical writers are among the most skilled rhetoricians there are.

Convincing others to complete a desired series of steps—or more subtlely, to accept a given structural metaphor about the way your product works (often known as frameworks, platforms, solutions, features, and functions in heavy-duty technical manuals)—that’s persuasion.

Emotion accounts for most of our day-to-day decisions, but it’s logic that accounts for long-term change.

Perhaps that’s why, in my experience, technical writers are most often naturally allied with sales, especially in business to business.

In these settings–with a much longer buying cycle–I’ve never ever met someone from sales who didn’t value the technical documentation. Come acquisition and merger time, believe me, that B2B audience wants the details.

Product documentation signs deals.

When it comes to sales that equate to thousands of dollars and beyond—show me the manual.

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog