Posts Tagged '” “technical communicator'

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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Typography and You

Typography and You

Today we will be discussing a fundamental building block in the basic pragmatic and aesthetic functions of document design and technical communications: font choice. Although to some, choices in font may seem arbitrary, a matter of taste or preference—choices in font are vital to a document’s ability both to be pleasing to the eye and to be easily legible. Particularly when dealing with longer documents, maintaining both of these aspects of presentation will result in a document that is easier and less tiresome to read, which is ideal for your user. While certain technical documents will be dictated by a style guide that pre-selects the appropriate font and sizing, many times a choice in font will be left open to interpretation, and in those moments it is useful to have a few design principles in your back pocket to understand typography better.

First, let’s discuss three of the basic types of font categories, their characteristics, and their uses.

Serifs

Serif fonts are globally some of the most popular typefaces, and are recognizable by the linear flourish or flares emanating out from the letters, emulating brushstrokes. These marks are the serifs themselves. Examples of popular serif typefacing are fonts such as Times New Roman, Palatino, or Garamond. Serif fonts endure in popularity in part because they are so easy to read as large bodies of text. While they may not have the contemporary style and clean lines of a san-serif font, your general serif font such as Times New Roman will look best in a long body paragraph like an essay or long email. Serif fonts are especially useful when employed in ink-and-paper, non-electronic print media.

Sans-Serif

Sans-serif fonts, are—as the name implies, fonts that have been stripped of their brushstroke emulations in favor of a cleaner typeface style that is more congruous with bold statement pieces of texts such as headings and logos. Examples of common sans-serif fonts are Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica. Helvetica has been favored in use in both advertising, and infrastructural signage in part because of its clear and legible style that can be rendered in many languages. Sans serif font allow the designer or communicator more creative control with the size, weight (how thick or thin the typeface seems), and kerning (letter spacing). However, it should be noted that since sans-serif fonts do not guide the eye along in a horizontal fashion like serif fonts do, sans-serif fonts are best employed for emphasis and for short-form pieces of text.

Script

Script typefaces are the most formal and elaborate forms of typeface, meant to mimic calligraphy or handwriting. Script fonts are essentially cursive, and have the most flourishes of any font type. Because of this, they are perhaps the most aesthetically distinctive and expressive of the typefaces, but they are also the least legible and least suitable for bodies of text. Due to all of their flourishes, script fonts also tend to take up the most space on the page. It is important when using script fonts to pay attention to the size and kerning of your font choice, since all of those flourish-heavy letters will often compete for space and attention with one another. The most appropriate uses for script fonts are for cards, invitations, letter head, and other formal and announcement-based contexts for typeface.

For more information on typography, check out: http://bestfontforward.wordpress.com/

-Hannah Ross

Journalism, Tech Comm, and the Skills in Between

As a broadcast news major in undergrad, I never thought I’d be in a technical communication program. But if there’s one thing you learn about Huntsville, Alabama: The technology field is a major industry here in the Rocket City, and the more technical skills you possess, the more marketable you are in this town. But with a degree in broadcast journalism, the most I knew about technical communication was how to communicate and operate a video camera….Or so I thought. But as a technical communication student, I’m learning that I have more skills that translate to technical communication than I thought.

If you too are a journalist attempting to break into the field, identify what skills you possess, and how to apply them to technical communication. Here are some overlapping skills that both journalists and technical communicators have, according to a blog post by Scott Nesbitt entitled: “Tech Writing and Journalism: Yes, There are Parallels” on the DMN Communications blog.

Writing.

writing

According Nesbitt, “Writing is a key factor in technical communication and journalism. You don’t need to be a great stylist to be an effective technical writer or journalist, though. You need to be able to write clearly and write tightly.”

Basically, write concisely. If you’re an editorial journalist who writes for print media, this may be a little bit of an adjustment. But if you’ve ever written for television news, this is right up your alley. Use the simplest form of words to make your audience understand. Assume that no one knows what you are talking about unless you explain it to them because in most cases, they really won’t understand.

Interviewing.

interviewing

This is a skill you probably didn’t even know you would need as a technical communicator. But interviewing can play a just as big, if not bigger, role in technical communication as writing can. As Nesbitt puts it, “ …you need to know how to ask the right questions, and not be afraid to ask dumb ones. On top of that, you’ll need to know how to gently draw answers out of reluctant interviewees and to spot tangents that are worth following during an interview.”

As a technical writer, you will have to interview the technical professionals in your organization, so that the information that you are distributing to the user is correct and most efficient. You won’t know this information if you don’t ask the technical professional. And you have to be sure that the questions you’re asking will provide the information that users need to know.

Researching.

research_word_in_dictionary_magnified_sepia

Journalists are known for finding the information we need to obtain, whether it’s handed to them on a silver platter by very cooperative forces, or if they have to dig around and investigate for themselves. According to Nesbitt, researching “ can take many forms: looking at design documents, reading up on subjects like virtualization, or even going over documentation for products that are similar to the ones we’re writing about.

All in all, transitioning from journalism to being technical communication student hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Sure there are some aspects of it that I never would’ve probably seen in news, such as learning computer programming, or learning the inner workings of an engineering firm, but all in all, it has been smooth sailing… so far.

-NiCarla Friend

Who is “the regulated public” in the Plain Regulations Act of 2012? How does “the regulated public” link to a “technical communicator”?—Hint neither of them have yet to really be defined by our government.

Hello! I’m Danielle, a student here at UAH working towards my Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication, and as a proud, new student member of the Society for Technical Communication I was recently browsing the STC website. The news section caught my eye with the heading “STC Supports the Plain Regulations Act of 2012.” I read the entry as well as a letter submitted by former STC President Hillary Hart earlier this year. She states:

“Regulations that people do not understand are onerous and are less likely to be followed. When people do not understand and do not follow regulations correctly, we all suffer unintended negative effects. Unclear regulations cause unnecessary expenses for both the government and its citizens.”

I had to read further! The Plain Regulations Act of 2012 H. R. 3786 pledges:

“To ensure clarity of regulations to improve the effectiveness of Federal regulatory programs while decreasing burdens on the regulated public.”

Sec. 2 states:

“The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear regulations that are easier for the Government to implement and for the public to comply with.”

Who is “the regulated public” this specific Act first addresses? I had to dig in here. Upon searching The Library of Congress website, it pulled “the regulated public” up in 55 bills from 1989 to current. Of my randomly selected documents to search from these pulls, several pertained to regulated public utilities and a couple of bills did not even pull up any text in the PDF file search box for the phrase. H.R. 926 was passed by the House and H.R. 2586 was passed by both the House and Senate, thus becoming a Bill. This Act and Bill both use “the regulated public” in the same context used by the Act being examined.

I am stunned there appears to be no definition of the phrase that stands alone. Nope, I found it was not listed in the Oxford English Dictionary Online and didn’t pull anything in either the Google or Yahoo search engines. The main use I found put the phrase “regulated public” in front of utilities, access, or transport. I would like to note that the purpose section of the Plains Regulation Act of 2012 uses the term “public” twice. I am confused! Are we considered “the regulated public,” the “public,” or both? Further clarification is needed.

The government also needs to examine and clarify what it considers a “technical communicator” to be. I question when the government is going to attempt to comprehensively define the role. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupation Outlook Handbook does notion the subject as technical writers are “also called technical communicators,” therefore recognizing existence of the occupation. Please realize I am not discrediting the BLS as it was only in December of 2009 that a technical writer chapter was added to the handbook (STC Chicago Blog), but this is a limited interpretation as the technical communication field is rapidly evolving.

The STC website provides an accurate definition of technical communication and ends with “What all technical communicators have in common is a user-centered approach to providing the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive.” Is this not the whole idea of the Plain Regulations Act of 2012? In fact, it is!

The governing entities have not provided “the regulated public” or the “technical communicator” with accurate definitions as to who they are. Please ponder the idea that four members of the House potentially seem to aim at influencing further progression of a culture by changing their own previous methods of communication, thus acknowledging and placing themselves in the mindset of both unidentified roles. Interesting!


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