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Conferences Opinion

The Ideal Tech Comm Association?

There’s been a ton of discussion about the various organizations, especially STC, recently. With established associations, it can be difficult to take a completely fresh look because of the constraints of structure, organization, and tradition.

So, I thought I’d ask this question: What does your ideal association for technical communicators look like?

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DITA

The PDF landscape for DITA content

published in STC Intercom, May 2010

A condensed version of Creating PDF files from DITA content.

Download the PDF PDF file (130K)


There are numerous alternatives for producing PDF output from DITA content. The approach you choose will depend on your output requirements—do you need images floating in text, sidebars, and unique layouts on each page? How often do you republish content? How much content do you publish? Do you need to create variants for different audiences? Do you provide content in multiple languages?

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Conferences Humor Webinar

Preview of coming a-QUACK-ions

duckMy presentation for the STC Summit in Dallas is finally done. The session, “Managing in an XML environment,” is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, at 4 p.m. Central time.

I hope to see you in Dallas, but if you can’t make the conference in person, I will also do a webcast version of this presentation on June 15 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. That event is free but does require registration.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the duck. In my presentation, I will be introducing a formula for measuring documentation quality. It’s based on Quality, Usability, and some other factors that spell out, you guessed it, QUACK.

And if that’s not enough to bring you to the session, I also have several other animals in my slides. Consider yourself warned.

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Opinion

But will it blend?

In choral music, “blend” refers to bringing together a diverse group of voices into a pleasing sound in which no single voice is dominant. As technical communication moves into a more collaborative approach to content, it occurs to me that both writers and musicians need to blend. Here are some choral archetypes and their writerly equivalents:

  • Soloists—singers with big, powerful voices or writers with distinctive styles—are a challenge to blend. The singers must reduce their volume to match the voices around them and sing the music without adding ornamentation. Writers must refrain from their favorite distracting rhetorical flourishes.
  • Section anchors—journeyman singers who know their parts cold and provide support to others singing the same part. Section anchors may not have the vocal quality of a soloist, but they are competent singers who are always on pitch, learn the music quickly, and follow the director. On the writing side, this is a person who writes competently, knows the product being documented, always follows the style guide, and learns quickly. In a writing group, these may be the team leaders. They are not necessarily the flashiest or the most gifted writers, but their content ranges from acceptable to excellent.
  • Supporting players—these singers lack confidence, but can learn their part and sing it, provided that they have support from a section anchor. Left to their own devices, they may drift off into another part (usually abandoning harmony to sing the melody line). But as long as someone nearby is singing their part with them, they can stay on pitch and contribute their voices. This equates to writers, often with less experience, who need support, encouragement, and editing to stay within the style guide. They need help in most aspects of the content creation process. Over time, supporting players can improve and grow into more confident section anchors both in writing and in singing.
  • Blissfully tone deaf—Fortunately, many people who are tone deaf (or simply cannot write) are aware of their limitation. But if you’ve spent any time at all in a volunteer choir, you’ve probably experienced people who make up for their lack of pitch by singing louder. In a writing context, your best bet for the tone-deaf (short of a new job!) is to give them assignments that minimize actual writing, such as creating basic reference information (not a lot of room to maneuver).

Our challenge, as writers, is that we have been accustomed to working solo, and now we must learn to blend our authorial voice into the larger group. The skills that make great soloists are not the same skills that make great contributors.

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