Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

New Course for Technical Writing Minors

The UAH Business and Technical Writing Program is proud to introduce a brand new course for technical writing minors – EH 303: Research and Practice in Technical Communication! The course introduces students to the profession of technical communication and prepares them with the skills and knowledge they need for professional success. The course meets Fall 2014 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:55-5:15. This required course replaces the Directed Elective for Technical Writing Minors.

Please contact Dr. Ryan Weber for more information about the course!303

 

Cute Error Messages: How Cute is Too Cute?

Every internet user has experienced the frustration of not connecting to the internet page they want. And by now, most internet users have encountered cute or clever error messages, often “page not found”  (“error 404“) messages. These cute attempts by search engines and content providers try to lessen the user’s annoyance when something goes wrong. Clever “page not found” errors have become so prevalent that the design magazine SpeckyBoy cataloged 50 of the best. Certainly, these clever approaches are better than other options, such as 1) no explanation at all, 2) a dry, technical message about the problem, or 3) a message making the problem seem like the user’s fault. But some of the messages I’ve encountered lately may be too cute for their own good. Cute is a great supplement to a helpful message, but a poor substitute for one.

With that in mind, I’ve been compiling error messages that achieve, or at least attempt, “cute,” in order to find that fine line where cute can still be helpful. Prepare for an onslaught on mildly amusing error screens!

Cute but Helpful

The best cutesy error messages manage to get a laugh (or at least a chuckle), calm the user, place the blame elsewhere, and give the user some options for moving forward. By that criteria, this “page not found” screen from Zenplanner.com is the best error message I’ve seen in the past few months.

ZenError

The “Oh My, How Undignified..” is just funny enough to lighten the situation (especially since users probably imagine the webpage speaking in a British accent. At least I did). Plus, the humor also focuses the blame on the website instead of the user. And the page presents plenty of options for moving forward.

Firefox uses a similar approach with their error screen, which I consider one of the classics of the genre:

FirefoxError

Again, the humor is light and focuses blame on Firefox instead of the user. Plus, users get some suggestions for moving forward (but not links, as in the Zenplanner example above).

And I’m probably biased, but the error screen for my home institution, UAH, balances cutesy and helpful nicely:

UAHError

I think it’s the “UH OH” sign that does it for me. Well, that plus the helpful search box that offers a way forward. The page also puts the technical details at the bottom in light gray font – they are there if you need them, but not in your face where you don’t want them.

Just Cute Enough

Unlike the examples above, some pages just manage to justify their cutesyness by either being pretty funny or marginally helpful (but rarely both). This Google error, with the broken robot, is just endearing enough to momentarily take a user’s mind off the lost page. But the “that’s an error” message doesn’t prove helpful or funny, and the poor robot can’t offer much advice beyond just trying again in 30 seconds, which is what most users would likely try anyways.

GoogleError

On the other hand, some error screens are useless but so funny that they can get away with providing no help. For instance, one of my colleagues recently found this error while searching a library site. It pretty much speaks for itself:

nessieerror

This screen is so cute you might actually be happy that you encountered an error.

Not Cute

Then, there are the error screens that just don’t work. They’re either not helpful, not funny, or both. The retro feel of this Panopto error screen does little to alleviate a user’s irritation, and it provides nothing but a dead end.

PanoptoError

But the worst “cute” error message I’ve seen recently is more confusing than funny.

MonkeysError

The highly trained monkeys line shows promise, but then the joke goes too far. Can I really contact someone, monkey or not? Should I really share this text? Does the text actually mean something, or is it part of the joke? Plus, the giant block of text isn’t helping anything.

The Bottom Line

Cute error messages show that technical communication can be fun, personable, and engaging. At their best, they improve an unpleasant experience. At their worst, they intensify it. If you’re aiming for a cute error message, make sure that the tone of the joke fits in with the overall message, places the blame off the user, and provides users a way forward.

Information Design Lecture at UAH!

The UAH Humanities Center and the Business and Technical Writing Program proudly present a public lecture featuring Dr. Nicole Amare from University of Southern Alabama. Dr. Amare will speak about her new co-authored book A Unified Theory of Information Design: Visuals, Text, and Ethics.

The event will be held on Wednesday, February 19 at 6:00 in Shelby Center 301 on the UAH campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The lecture takes a holistic look at information design by providing a “periodic table” of visuals, including decoratives, images, diagrams, and text. Using this holistic approach, Dr. Amare will offer strategies for improving visual communication and avoiding ethical breaches when using visuals to communicate.

Talking the Talk: Being Articulate at Your Job Interview

If you have expertise in Word and Excel, create InDesign documents just for giggles, and hold an academic resume that deserves an award, then I owe you a hearty congratulation. You are officially a technical communication geek! [Audience wildly applauds and chants your name.] You probably have spent a substantial amount of time and effort on learning how to manipulate various editing and publishing software and you are ready to move up in the world, as a professional technical writer. Presenting yourself in a resume, as a skillful and competent candidate, is just half the battle when persuading an employer that you’re the right one for the job. In Pete Geissler’s, The Power of Being Articulate, he interviews company CEOs who hire their management team not only for what they know, but their ability to effectively communicate what they know. The ability to communicate effectively, with Standard English, has taken a back seat in the Technological Age, while brief electronic messages have dominated interoffice communication.  It is one thing to be an SME, but lacking the ability to communicate your genius ideas it is another which brings me to my point.

Tip 1– Don’t be an ummm person. You know the language that is filled with excessive unintelligible murmuring.  We are all guilty of brain farts every now and then, but lacing your sentences with too many ummms can disrupt your audience from clearly hearing your message. Writing your thoughts before you present an idea will improve your speech delivery. You will be able to recall your main points quicker than if you had not prepared at all. You will be praised for your ability to deliver details without meandering and never getting to the point.

Tip 2 – Know your stuff, and tell it. For instance, if you are interviewing with a company that does contracts with the government, then you should look up some basic conventions for MIL-STDs (military standards). Be somewhat familiar with the writing style that you will use on the job and articulate your knowledge about it. If your interviewer is not impressed, then at least they have an idea of how well you take initiative to be prepared. You will be showing on-the-job skills before being hired! If your interviewer does not notice your initiative, then they are just a bad person. Hmph!

Tip 3 – Don’t be a chatterbox. In his book, Geissler mentions several habits that articulate people avoid, and one of them is being verbose.  He says, Articulates never interrupt or finish the sentence of those who are speaking to them, and they avoid people who do. While on your interview, remember that communication is a tool for conveying your ideas, answering interview questions, and articulating your awesome abilities. Make your responses concise and to the point. You may want to refrain from regurgitating the tech comm encyclopedia during your interview. Don’t fret! You can impress your friends with your new found jargon later. 

-Jennifer F.

STC Huntsville/NA Sponsors a Single-Sourcing Presentation!

STC Huntsville/NA is sponsoring a remote presentation on single-sourcing this Tuesday, October 15. Join STC as we hear from Liz Fraley of Single-Sourcing Solutions, who will present “What’s In It for Me?”, a discussion of the benefits of single-sourcing and content management for technical communicators. The event includes free dinner at 5:30 and the presentation at 6:00! Come to Shelby Center 301 on the UAH campus to participate in the event!

Prezi and You: A Gen Y Tool For The Masses

            As a part of Generation Y, I will admit that I have great expectations from the workplace. My first choice of major ended up being English. The creation process, especially in writing, is where I flourish. While I have not necessarily given up dreams of creative careers, I did add a second major to my load to balance dreams and reality. Technical communications has taught me not only more about just the writing and editing process, but also how to appeal to different kinds of people and audiences. One of the aspects in doing this lies in the utilization of new technology.

Image

            Prezi is a great example of Gen Y technology, because, from personal experience at least, it is mostly just this audience that has even heard of the site. This should not scare away older users, though! Another reason why I am going to refer to Prezi as a Gen Y tool is because of all the creative and innovative aspects that users can utilize to reach out to their audiences. Also, the average attention span is now a whopping less than ten seconds (I’m talking mainly about us, millennials) and the widely-recognized “zooming” feature of Prezi can help audiences stay engaged. Better yet, now that usability is becoming more and more established in technology design, Prezi can be just as easy to use as Microsoft PowerPoint for older users.

            PowerPoint is still a great tool to use for lectures in a college classroom if the only objective is to get info across (i.e., the lineal format). With Prezi, presentations can keep audiences engaged so that information can actually be remembered and not just written down; Prezi uses a multi-spacial workplace that can go from one area to the next, horizontally or vertically. One of the great functions of Prezi is the ability to import Power Point slides with no hassle. After that, users can either customize a template or choose from an array of designed templates (professional, motivational, and photographic). The creation tools are then used to design a vast presentation template, complete with brackets, icons and symbols, colors, fonts, etc. It may be a little overwhelming to older users at first, but the usability is top notch here and the help system is not “hiding.” If you have used MS Word or PowerPoint, you can definitely use Prezi.

Image

            Millenials are rapidly entering the workforce and so is the same brand of technology. I believe it is important for more Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to be educated on the kinds of technology that their younger cohorts are familiar with; it could be very beneficial to the employee and the company. With Prezi, users are granted a brand new platform for building and designing presentations that can appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I have so much fun creating mine that it doesn’t even feel like work to me. With that being said, log onto Prezi’s website and get started! An account is free and you can even log in with Facebook. – CK

UAH Partners with MadCap!

The Business and Technical Writing Program at the UAH is pleased to announce an upcoming partnership with MadCap. MadCap invited UAH to participate in the company’s Scholar Program, which provides software for educational use. Students will begin using MadCap Flare in Fall 2014 in both graduate and undergraduate courses.

Press releases about the partnership are available from UAH and MadCap. Once again, our program wants to thank MadCap for this exciting opportunity!


Archives


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers