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Conferences

Back from Atlanta, STC wrapup

The STC Summit was fun as always. My slides are below, but first some other observations.

David Pogue was an excellent keynote speaker. And he sang!

Attendance was lower than last year, but traffic at our booth (and others from what I heard) was up. I think this was a combination of a better location for exhibitors, shorter exhibit hours (Wednesday was cut), and perhaps more senior and more serious attendees.

The biggest change from previous years had to be the use of social media in general, but especially Twitter:

  • The #stc09 hashtag got a serious workout, the tweetup drew 50 or 60 people, and there was constant chatter about the conference online.
  • There was a complementary online event, #stcnotthere.
  • As we were leaving the conference in sketchy weather, #stuckinATL_stc09, created by @lisajoydyer, helped us chronicle the various airport delays and find each other at the airport. It made the delays almost bearable.
  • Rachel Hougton’s flickr feed captures the feel of the entire event, ranging from the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola to the honors banquet and lots of casual photos. (great job, Rachel, btw)
  • You can find a collaborative liveblog on scribblelive.

Interestingly, it seems as though fewer people blogged the event; instead, they were tweeting. However, Keith Soltys did put up day-by-day summaries on Core Dump, and Gryphon Mountain Journals has some reactions. I was unable to find any other live-blogging; if I missed you, please leave a comment.

Tom Johnson interviewed numerous people (including me) at the event. His interview with Ginny Redish is already available.

The tweeting and other social media augmented the actual event. There were people tweeting for lots of reasons: to solve problems (chairs needed), organize groups for dinner, provide sound bites from presentations, and more. The organizing committee put up a twitter feed on a monitor next to their booth and got lots of attention.

I get the impression that the tweets gave non-attendees a flavor of the event. If you were following #stc09 but not attending, did this make you more likely to consider attending in 2010?

Ironically, one of my presentations was actually about technical communication and Web 2.0 issues. I have a white paper on this topic, which is far more useful than the slides. (OK, if you insist, the slides are also available.)

My second presentation was presumptuously entitled “The State of Structure.” This presentation discusses the results of our industry survey on structured authoring, which was conducted in January and February 2009.

If you want more information, the survey report is $200 and available in our store.

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Content strategy Localization XML

Building efficient multilingual workflows

STC Intercom, April 2009

A common argument for XML-based workflows is that they automate production and localization tasks. With XML, localization can be reduced to a fraction of its original cost, but how exactly does that happen?

Sarah explores automization in localization and two technology standards used in multilingual workflows: The Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) and XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF).

Download the PDF PDF file (125 K)

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News

Structured authoring in technical communication

I am pleased to announce the publication of our newest white paper, The State of Structured Authoring in Technical Communication. In early 2009, we conducted a survey on structured authoring; this document presents the results of the survey along with our analysis.

Those who participated in the survey are entitled to a free copy of the report. If you requested a copy via email, you will receive a message within the next 2 business days with download instructions. If you requested a printed copy, those will go in the mail tomorrow.

The report is also available for purchase and immediate download. The cost is $200 for the 38-page report (plus 18 pages that reproduce the survey questions, so the file is 56 pages long).

I’m also delivering a presentation at next week’s STC Summit in Atlanta, which discusses the results of the survey. If you’re attending the conference, I hope you’ll join me on Monday, May 5, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Regency V for “The State of Structure.”

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News

DITA adoption increasing overall structured authoring adoption

I’m knee-deep in survey data analysis. With over 600 responses, our recent structured authoring survey was hugely successful–thank you. Many respondents added candid details about their experiences with structured authoring implementation–their fears, mistakes, and biggest surprises.

The survey report will be available later this month (free to participants, $200 for others), but I wanted to give you a couple of preliminary highlights:

  • About 30 percent of respondents said that they are currently using structured authoring.
  • There’s a lot of hype around DITA, but our data indicates that it’s backed up by reality. Consider this chart, which shows the top three types of structure (custom, DocBook, or DITA) implemented, being implemented, or planned.

DITA accounts for the vast majority of structure implementations--past, present, and futureDITA dominates the chart. But it looks as though DITA is additive. That is, it’s not cannibalizing the numbers for DocBook or custom structures. Those numbers are relatively flat. Instead, it looks as though DITA is increasing the total number of implementations.

If you are attending the STC Summit this year, I’m doing a presentation on the survey results on Monday, May 4, at 1:30 p.m., called “The State of Structure.”

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News

What do Tech Writers Want?

Answer? I don’t know, but The Content Wrangler is conducting a survey to find out. Here’s the announcement:

2009 is a touch economic year for most of us. Companies are cutting back on nice-to-have purchases and focusing in on what’s necessary. This survey conducted by The Content Wrangler aims to help us better understand your training needs for 2009 and to identify the types of classes you need. We plan to use this information to help training providers create relevant public and on-site training programs that address your needs and to gain an understanding of the current state of training program interest in our industry today.

In case you need further motivation, there is also a random drawing for some goodies. The survey has only five questions, so it should be quick.

Take the survey

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Conferences

Life in the desert

Last week, I attended the annual DocTrain West event, which was held this year in Palm Springs, California.

Weather in Palm Springs was spectacular as always with highs in the 80s during the day. Some of my more northerly friends seemed a bit shell-shocked by the sudden change from snow and slush to sun and sand. (North Carolina was 40 degrees when I left, so that was a nice change for me as well.)

Scott Abel did his usual fine job of organizing and somehow being omnipresent.

I promised to post my session slides. The closing keynote was mostly images and is probably not that useful without audio, so I’m going to point you to an article that covers similar ground (What do Movable Type and XML Have in Common, PDF link).

I have embedded the slides from my DITA to PDF session below.

I have also posted the InDesign template file and the XSL we built to preprocess the DITA XML into something that InDesign likes on our wiki. Note that running the XSL requires a working configuration of the DITA Open Toolkit. For more information, refer to the DITA to InDesign page on our wiki.

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News

How to Get a Job

[update to correct bad links]

This is the best advice for job seekers I’ve ever seen. India Amos writes about her pile of resumes:

And do you want to know what’s the most striking thing about most of these hopefuls? They are completely wasting their time. And mine, of course, but mostly their own. Because they’re not only not going to get a job with me, they’re not going to get a job with anyone unless that person is as slovenly and illiterate as these applicants.

She proceeds to offer some excellent advice in numerous categories. Here are some excerpts from a lengthy list about formatting:

  • Learn to use style sheets, so that you can make your heading styles consistent. If you choose to ignore my request for a PDF résumé, try to make sure your Word attachment doesn’t demonstrate to me what a slob you are, formatting everything locally and aligning text using spaces instead of tabs.
  • Don’t Capitalize Everything. I Cannot Emphasize This Enough. It Makes You Look Like a 419 Scammer.
  • Violet 9pt Arial is probably not a good choice for anything.

Hehe. (sob)

Related to this: How Not to Get a Job (Palimpsest, December 2007)

Of course, in today’s economy, lots of people need jobs. So here is some long-promised advice on how to get a job:

  1. Apply for jobs where your skillset is relevant. In this job market, with tons of job seekers, you are unlikely to get the “stretch” position. So, look for positions that are equivalent to your last position, that you are uniquely qualified for, or that you are slightly overqualified for. For instance, let’s say you are a technical writer with five years of experience and “the usual” complement of technical skills. What is your unique qualification? If you speak some Japanese, look for Japanese companies where your language skills might be useful. If your undergraduate degree is in music, look for a company that makes music software or products related to music. In other words, look for a position where your outside interests are also relevant. But, at a minimum, apply only for positions that you are reasonably qualified for. It’s tempting, especially when you really need a job Right Now, to take the firehose approach and spray resumes everywhere. It doesn’t work. Focus your job search and send out a smaller number of really good applications.
  2. Do your homework. Before contacting the company, investigate. Read their web site, read any recent news coverage. Look them up on LinkedIn and see if you know anyone in the organization. (You are on LinkedIn, right?) Use the information you find to make your application more relevant. If you get an interview, do more homework before the interview.
  3. When you apply for the job, follow the #!%$#!%#! instructions. If asked for PDF, provide PDF. If asked for Word, provide Word. Et cetera.
  4. Submit resumes online. Paper and snail mail takes too long. By the time your resume arrives by mail, the position could be filled. Also, dropping off your resume in person? Creepy and needy. (One exception: If you know someone at the organization and they are willing to deliver the resume for you. Even then, I would recommend sending your contact email with the resume and asking him or her to forward it.)
  5. Whether it is requested or not, write a cover letter. The cover letter should be the body of your email and not an attachment. Follow Ms. Amos’s excellent advice. You might also use a T letter as your cover letter, but do send the resume. Tom Murrell describes the T letter in detail in his article Get More Interviews with a T-letter. But again, I disagree with his advice to leave out the resume. If you are instructed to send a resume, send a resume.
  6. Show up on time for any in-person interview. If possible, do a dry run the day before to locate the building. Or plan to arrive very early. There are worse things than sitting in a nearby coffee shop for half an hour. (Don’t chug too much coffee.)

I could go on for a long time, but frankly, these six points will lift you above 95 percent of the other applicants, and you can do the rest.

(India Amos via words / myth / ampersand & virgule)

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Opinion

I am not a Pod Person

Confession time: I don’t like podcasts.

And I think I know why.

I am a voracious reader. And by voracious, I mean that I often cook with a stirring spoon in one hand and a book in the other. I go through at least a dozen books a months (booksfree is my friend).

So why don’t I like podcasts?

  1. They’re inconvenient. I don’t have a lot of interrupted listening time, other than at the gym. And frankly, there’s a bizarre cognitive dissonance listening to Tom Johnson interview Bogo Vatovec while I’m lifting weights. I tried listening to a crafting podcast, but that was worse — my brain can’t handle auditory input describing crocheting techniques while simultaneously operating an elliptical machine. So I went back to Dr. Phil on the gym TV. It may rot my brain, but at least it doesn’t hurt.
  2. They’re inefficient. I can listen to a 30-minute podcast, or I can skim the equivalent text in 90 seconds.

I’ve been thinking about what would make a podcast more appealing to me, and realized that it’s not really the medium I object to, it’s my inability to control the delivery.

I’ll become a podcasting proponent when I perceive these properties:

  1. Better navigation. Podcasts, like other content, need to be divided into logical chunks. These chunks should be accessible via a table of contents and an index.
  2. Ability to skim. Podcasts need to provide the audio equivalent of flipping pages in a book or scrolling through a document while only reading the headings.

Depending on the software you use to consume podcasts, you may already have some of the features. For instance, a colleague told me that he listened to my recent DITA webinar at five times the normal speed:

I wanted to let you know about something in particular. I listened to it at 5x fast fwd in Windows Media Player while drinking a coke. My heart is still racing. You should try it. :o)

Do you enjoy podcasts? Do you have any special techniques for managing them efficiently?

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Opinion

DITA isn’t magic

The WritePoint staff blog makes a very good point about DITA: it isn’t a magic wand that fixes documentation problems. Also, it’s worth noting that:

… DITA didn’t introduce something completely new. DITA incorporates achievements made in a wide variety of approaches to organizing content that were being proactively conducted starting from 1960’s.

Don’t get me wrong: DITA can be a good solution for many departments that want to set up an XML-based single-sourcing environment. Just don’t expect that a twitch of your nose will convert your legacy content or make the output from the Open Toolkit match your formatting requirements.

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Tools

Don’t type, drag to the cmd window

I spend a good deal of time with a Windows cmd.exe window open on my desktop. If I’m not running the DITA OT, I’m testing some Perl script, or Ant, or Python, or who knows.

A few years ago (in the Windows 98 days), I discovered a nifty cmd window trick. People are consistently amazed when I demonstrate it to them. Now I’m going to share it with you.

Say you need to change directory to some long and gnarly path name. You could type the whole thing in. Or, if you have Windows Explorer open on your desktop, you can:

  1. Type “cd ” in the cmd window (the space is important).
  2. Go to Windows Explorer and find the folder you want to navigate to.
  3. Drag and drop the folder from Windows Explorer to the cmd window.

Hey presto! The path name is copied to the cmd window. What’s more, if there are spaces in the path, the path is automatically quoted.

Now you can click in the cmd window and press Enter to perform the command.

Cool! No more typing long path names for this ToolSmith.

This works for filenames too. If I’m running a Perl script that needs to work on a file way down my directory tree, I type “perl myScriptName.pl “, then drag and drop the file name from Windows Explorer into my cmd window.

I’ll keep adding more ToolSmith’s Tricks as I use them. What’s your favorite trick?

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