Archive for the 'Technical Communication' Category

Plain language! Simple tips to make your content more accessible

boildownThe UN and the World Bank says that 10% of everyone in the world has a disability of some kind. That is a lot! And in addition to that when we get older, over 30% of us will have some disability. These numbers show that thinking about accessibility when writing and designing our content is extremely important. The first questions that should pop up in our heads are: Will my audience find what they need? Understand what they find? Act appropriately on that understanding? There are many reasons why people have trouble reading: cognitive problems, low literacy, physical or vision disabilities, or reading in a second language. But even proficient readers can have problems reading if they are rushed, stressed or tired. You should write in plain language and present your content clearly and flexibly to make it accessible. But how can you do so? Here are some useful tips:

Think about your audience first

Know your audience and make your content suitable for them. You should know what your audience needs. Writing in plain language doesn’t mean dumbing down the content, but making it clear by getting straight to the point.

Make your information easy to understand, even in poor conditionsindex

Keep in mind that not everyone will read every word you write. People are usually in a hurry or multi-tasking. They also read in places that make reading difficult such as poor lightning or on electronic devices with tiny screens. Your content should be easy to scan through! Use topic sentences to introduce the subject of your paragraph before going into details. Also, keep sentences short and concise: avoid the passive voice and use simple and clear verbs.

Your content should be easy to translate

English is the international language. Many readers are non-native English speakers. Make your information easy to translate. Write simply by using words that your readers will be familiar with.

Use lots of headings

Create meaningful headings for each section. Useful headings should communicate the key points of your content, helping readers scan and find the information they need. They can be questions, statements or topics.

Talk to your readers

Get personal and talk directly to your audience. Talking directly to your readers makes a better conversation. People tend to pay more attention if you are referring directly to them. Use “you” and the imperative to give readers instructions.

Be organizeduh_ah

Put the sections of your content in a logical order from your readers’ perspective. Start with the information they need first. Use bulleted lists or tables to make it easy for them to scan through your text and find specific information.

Be visual

Many people understand information better through images. Use images that illustrate concepts and give them an alternative text or captions. Information graphics and animations showing processes and relationships are also very helpful.

 

For more information, check out:

http://www.plainlanguage.gov/

http://centerforplainlanguage.org/about-plain-language

Source: Horton, Sarah, and Whitney Quesenbery. A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences. Print.

Sarah Bastos

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Making moves to close the tech gender gap: Yes! Girls code too.

Who said that coding is a man’s job? If you haven’t heard, the new trending topic is  #girlscodetoo. A novice may ask, “What is coding?” CodeQuest.com simply defines coding as “what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites.”  In fact, all of the technological devices that we depend on exist because of code. This includes, “your browser, your OS, the apps on your phone, Facebook . . . they’re all made with code.”  In the last several years, the push to promote science and math education amongst girls has heightened. It is believed that the earlier we can get girls to embrace science and math, the more well-rounded they will be and better prepared to compete with their male counterparts.

WHY IT MATTERS

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In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science. (Image and information taken from GirlsWhoCode.com)

Teaching girls how to code is one of the ways organizations across the country are showing that it’s past time to close the tech gender gap.  For those girls who want to take on the challenge, there are countless opportunities to get their code on. Last summer, the University of Alabama-Huntsville hosted the first Tech Trek in the state of Alabama. Rising 8th grade girls from across north Alabama were invited to attend a week-long residential Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (STEM) program.  During the program, campers created cell phone apps, built robots, and learned about engineering design among other things.

Tech Trek is not the only program aimed at promoting the desperate need for girls to enter technological based fields through learning how to code. A quick google search using the words “girls code” will bring up countless organizations that are now in the race to teach girls how to code.  One of the most popular groups is Girls Who Code. The founder, Reshma Saujni proudly states, “This is more than just a program. It’s a movement.” In fact, major corporations like Google who has initiated its $50 million dollar Made with Code program recently donated $190K to another group, Black Girls Code. The purpose of the donation is to provide money to support the code training of minority girls.  The movement is indeed growing.

Ironically, girls are not only the targeted audience. Women based groups are also hosting programs to teach women how to code as well. Once again, Made with Code has allotted money to pay for thousands of these women to attend Code School, an online web training school.  If these initiatives are successful we can expect to see a large increase in females moving towards careers in Engineering, Software Coding, Technical Writing and Computer Science.

If you or a girl you know are interested in learning how to code for personal projects or to advance your own career here are some helpful pointers:

  1. Locate one of the many groups that cater  to teaching women (there are monthly workshops and summer programs happening all across the country).
  2. Find online coding programs and tutorials from groups like Code Academy and Khan Academy (both are free).
  3. Enroll in boot camp coding programs in your area (you can receive one-on-one instruction but you will have to pay a substantial fee).
  4. Enroll in university courses (take programming classes in the university setting).

Anyone can code and be successful at it!  You’ll be proud that you learned a new skill. C’mon girls of all ages. Let’s start coding!

For more information on learning how to code visit: www.girlswhocode.com, womenwhocode.com, blackgirlscode.com

Keisha Kennemore

 

 

 

Proofing in a pinch

Are you stressed out because you have a document or project due soon and you were not allocated enough time for proofreading? So now you are under a time crunch, right? Luckily for you, I have a solution to your problem. This quick fix will help you correct some of the most common mistakes found in technical writing. Think of this blog post as you would SparkNotes; as an analogy of sorts: SparkNotes is to a novel as “Proofing in a pinch” is to proofreading. This guide is an immensely abbreviated version of proofreading, but these few easy steps will undoubtedly come to your rescue the next time you find yourself with too little time to do too much correcting.

Step 1. Spelling

With all of the awesome spellcheck tools, who can mess this up, right? However, one of the most overlooked spelling mistakes I have seen during my several years of experience of document writing and editing is incorrectly spelling or improperly referring to the company’s name. Writers often overlook this because we are too preoccupied with the main content of the document, refusing to properly recognize the most important detail—the company. The following cases are where spellcheck might become a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Example

The Law Office of J. Shay Golden wants Margaret, a technical communicator, to draft a brief. Margaret drafts the brief within one week and hand-delivers it to the partner at the firm.

  • Case 1

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Office of J. Shea Golden” throughout the brief. Unfortunately, Margaret relied on the spellcheck tools, which accepted both “Shay” and “Shea” as correct spellings.

  • Case 2

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Firm of J. Shay Golden” throughout the brief.

Unfortunately, the spellcheck tools are not equipped to check for consistency and correctness when referring to the employer’s company’s name.

Imagine the embarrassment Margaret faced when the mistake was brought to her attention. Always, always go through your document and double-check the spelling and accuracy of the company’s name. This should be the first step in your prompt proofing process.

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/please-stop-making-this-mistake-thank-you/)

Step 2. Punctuation

Contractions. Rule of thumb—never use them. These are those words we use to simplify our language in conversation and informal writing, such as can’twe’re, and should’ve. The simple solution to checking for contractions in a document is to scan each page for an apostrophe [‘]. When you find one, the first thing to do is to determine if it is being used to form a contraction or a possessive. If it is a contraction, remove it and extend the contraction into the subject and the verb. (Fun fact of the day: the apostrophe is used in a contraction to indicate the omission of a letter, or letters, in one of the words.) If it is a possessive—leave the apostrophe alone. It is supposed to be there. However, if you are using an apostrophe in a word that should be pluralized then you need to review your rules here: http://www.grammar.cl/Notes/Plural_Nouns.htm

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; https://www.facebook.com/grammarly)

Periods and Commas. Always scan through your document and make sure that these are used correctly. The last thing you want to do is submit a document with a mistake so elementary as a missing period or a comma. To check for absent periods, quickly scan through each sentence and check that it begins with a capitalized word and ends with a period (be sure to double check the more complicated sentences that contain those tricky semi-colons). As for commas, they can make all the difference in the world, so they might require a bit more attention at the word-level during proofing. Therefore, you can review grammatical rules here in case you are a bit rusty: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

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(Photo credit: whisper down the write alley; http://whisperdownthewritealley.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/punctuation-matters-commas-save-lives/)

Step 3. Figures, Tables, and Headings

I mentioned consistency before. This is especially important when it comes to this next topic: figures, tables, and headings. As always, you should follow the company’s style guide and preferences (hopefully, these would have been consulted before the writing began), but because you are caught in a pinch for editing, trust the writer and simply go through the document and ensure that all figures, tables, and headings conform to the same format.

Conclusion

Technical writing and editing is a very intricate process that requires much time and effort. It also requires great attention to detail. But when time is of the essence, following these rules will undeniably ensure your work does not contain those pesky, embarrassing mistakes that all professional writers make, yet hope to avoid.

Thanks for reading!

Kala Burson


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