Archive for the ‘Technical Communication’ Category

Graduation 2014: I did it!

Graduation Ceremony 2014

Commencement (Photo credit: William Colburn)

Looking back at these last two years, I’ve overcome some obstacles, but I do have a lot to be proud of. Though it was the sum of hard work rather than a story in itself, I did apply for and earn the technical communication scholarship all 2 out of 2 years that I’ve been here. I had a great internship experience. I’ve maintained multiple part-time jobs while earning high honors as a full-time student. What’s more, catching up after losing 3 weeks of school due to an injury that required surgery while planning a wedding pushed me to grow in time management. Despite the challenges, I set a goal to earn a second BS in 2 years and I did it!

Outside of classes, there were some experiences that I’m glad I added this time around. When I was studying chemical engineering, I was very busy and focused. I wanted to graduate in 4 years and move on to the next thing. This time, studying technical communication, I was still focused, but I wanted to get the most out of my classes and work on people and leadership skills. I might have been able to get a second BS in less than 2 years because nearly all my core requirements counted, but then I would have lived a much less balanced life and I probably would have been set back when the unexpected happened. (I was not expecting to be getting surgery the same day as job fair during my last semester.) I’m really glad I decided to challenge myself to learn more people and leadership skills as a Resident Assistant. I’m an introvert, but I was able to use extrovert skills when required.

I’ve come a long way in 2 years. I thought I had a good start in visual and verbal communication, but my work has gotten much more professional. I got interested in web design and was able to explore that interest in Visual Communication (TC 151), Web Design (TC 351), and my Senior Thesis (TC 422) project. Studying technical communication challenged me in different ways than chemical engineering did. I got a strong foundation in math and science studying chemical engineering and I learned more ways to express these ideas in technical communication. I’m happy to have degrees in both of my passions.

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Alt Codes ¡Olé!

There aren’t enough keys on my keyboard! I used to look up special characters in the Character Map, but now I have found a more efficient way to add accents. If you’re using Windows, all you need is a keyboard with a number pad. Hold down the ALT key while you type in the number code on the number pad.

I searched for a table of often-used Alt Codes, and the closest one that I found to meeting my needs was from www.UsefulShortcuts.com; however, I found some errors in them and doubt the page gets updated anymore. So I made my own. Here’s what I put together for Spanish.

Alt Codes for Spanish

Punctuation

Characters
Alt 168 ¿
Alt 173 ¡

Accents

Uppercase Lowercase
Alt 0193 Á Alt 0225 á
Alt 0201 É Alt 0233 é
Alt 0205 Í Alt 0237 í
Alt 165  Ñ Alt 164  ñ
Alt 0211 Ó Alt 0243 ó
Alt 0218 Ú Alt 0250 ú
Alt 0220 Ü Alt 0252 ü

Let me know if you find this table useful and if you’d like me to create more reference tables like these.

Interview with Brenda Huettner

What Every Technical Communicator Should Know About Accessibility

Brenda Huettner is currently a technical writer and webmaster for Microwaves101.com, owner and president of P-N Designs, Inc., a senior member of IEEE, and an STC Fellow. She has a variety of experience including usability, accessibility, and web design.

accessibility via international symolsFor technical communicators, accessibility is a topic that appeals to the principles of professionalism, quality, and legality. In a storied career that includes web design, technical writing, usability and accessibility consulting, Brenda Huettner constantly focuses on a central tenet—advocating for the user. Her experience in usability and accessibility gives her a unique perspective on developing content for users. In this interview, we hope to clarify myths and misconceptions technical communicators often hold about accessibility guidelines.

A Short Introduction to Accessibility for Technical Communicators

Brenda Huettner is primarily a technical writer, and, as a technical writer, she has always been an advocate for users. “The minute you try to use something,” Brenda says, “you are experiencing usability!” In her world, usability, accessibility, and web design pretty much encompass everything.

Surprisingly, 65% of the population has some sort of disability that may influence how they interact with documentation or interfaces. For example, it’s easy to identify a large number of people who have trouble reading fine print. Brenda believes keeping the user in mind is important for many business reasons, such as the potential implications of accessibility strategy to the organization’s sales/marketing and legal departments.

Implications of Accessibility

According to Brenda, the organization’s strategy for accessibility has sales implications. “From a business standpoint, why would you want to exclude any percentage of your potential audience? If I can sell even a small percentage more widgets by making my product accessible, the ROI is easy to calculate.” Designing for accessibility helps technical communicators include more potential audience and increase profits.

Increasingly, a strategy for accessibility also has legal implications. “From a legal standpoint, we have ADA regulations. The biggest example, of course is the Target case, where their refusal to make their site accessible to the blind landed them in court (and they lost).” Ensuring e-commerce websites are accessible will help prevent companies from being subject to expensive legal actions.

The Target case that Brenda cites occurred in 2006, when the National Federation of the Blind filed a class action lawsuit against the Target Corporation. The claim that blind people could not purchase items from Target’s website independently and that that fact violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was upheld by the courts. This case set a precedent for the ADA regulations applying to e-commerce websites.

Accessibility Guidelines

Technical communicators should have and follow accessibility guidelines. However, contrary to what many technical writers may believe, the idea that accessibility guidelines increase usability for everyone is an overgeneralization. “Accessibility guidelines alone do not increase usability, but compliance with guidelines often does,” Brenda explains.

To further illustrate the concept of compliance with versus mere presence of guidelines, Brenda comments on the top things to remember about accessibility guidelines. “First, there are lots of types of disabilities – including temporary ones like loss of mobility due to, say, a broken bone. Or situational things like working on a factory floor where there is too much noise to hear a laptop tone, or in a place with too little light or too much glare that can impact visual issues.

“Secondly, accessible content tends to be easier to translate, and even if not translated, it tends to be easier for non-native speakers to understand and use.” In other words, making content accessible to people with disabilities may make content easier to understand overall, whether or not it is translated.

Brenda cautions, “be careful with blanket statements like ‘increasing usability for everyone.’ Sometimes increasing usability for one group actually reduces usability for another. It is always a balancing act.”

accessibility guidelines and content developmentIn fact, the accessibility balancing act has been around for many years, getting some of its impetus from the 1998 Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Brenda believes that Section 508 is pretty straightforward, and serves as a good set of guidelines. However, “the thing that most people don’t realize is that the law does NOT say that everyone must comply with 508.” The law actually states that “the U.S. government won’t purchase technologies that aren’t compliant.” Therefore, only organizations that sell to the US government must comply with Section 508.

Brenda encourages people in technical communication to apply more recent guidelines such as Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) is another set of guidelines, and as Brenda states “more people need to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).” She makes this recommendation because “WCAG has been through several passes of international review, and is currently released as a technical standard version 2.0 (whereas ARIA is still in draft form).”

In considering how to create technical content that is accessible to the widest range of potential users, it’s worth noting this quote from Mark Boulton, a UK-based designer, publisher, and speaker. “Design has been viewed as being aesthetic. Design equals How Something Looks. You see this attitude to design in every part of society …. I think design covers so much more than the aesthetic. Design is fundamentally more. Design is usability. It is Information Architecture. It is Accessibility. This is all design.”

Recommended Accessibility Resources

Websites:

Books:

  • Henry, Shawn Lawton. Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. ET\Lawton, 2007. (highly recommended)
  • Rutter, Richard et al. Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. friendsofED, 2006. (especially the Understanding Web Accessibility chapter)
  • Thatcher, Jim et al. Constructing Accessible Web Sites. Apress, 2003.
  • Stephanidis, Constantine, editor. User Interfaces for All: Concepts, Methods, and Tools (Human Factors and Ergonomics). CRC Press, 2000. (especially the Everyone Interfaces chapter)
  • Paciello, Mike. Accessibility for the Web. CRC Press, 2000.

Author’s Note: I’d like to thank Brenda Huettner for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve learned a lot from this interview. Accessibility is a fundamental part of technical communication. As we design our documents, web pages, and other media, technical communication professionals have a responsibility to consider how to create content that is accessible to as many users as possible.

Originally published on January 7, 2013, at Tech Writer Today Magazine (http://techwhirl.com/technical-communication-accessibility-brenda-huettner-interview/).

A Technical Communication Student’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Santa gets cookies and cocoa from technical communication studentMy name is Samantha and I am a technical communication student. This year, I have been very, very good. I’ve been going to class and doing my homework. All my hard work must have paid off because I got straight “A”s this semester! Also, I’ve been eating my vegetables.

This year for Christmas, I’d like:

  1. Adobe Creative Suite 6
  2. A subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style Online
  3. The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn
  4. Conversation and Community — The Social Web for Documentation, by Anne Gentle
  5. The Secret Life of Word, by Robert Delwood

These will be great for the upcoming semester and when I get that first job.  If you can see your way clear, an endless supply of chocolate and caffeine would be good too, at least that’s what all the professionals in technical communication tell me.

Santa, I also want to tell you to keep warm and drink plenty of hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus. I’ll leave some treats out for you and some carrots for the reindeer. Say hi to the elves for me.

Sincerely,

Samantha
Technical Communication Student

Originally published on December 23, 2012, at Tech Writer Today Magazine (http://techwhirl.com/technical-communication-student-letter-santa/).

Shattered FX Silicone Mask Website Redesign

Shattered FX Welcome SignI’m interested in web design, and a web developer I know was working on updating a silicone mask website. I don’t know much about silicone masks, but I do know about color and typography–I did earn an A in Visual Communication. Since the web developer, Derick Hess, has a lot of experience programming and is more concerned with functionality, we thought teaming up so I could consult on aesthetics would be a brilliant idea.

I made the banner at the top of this post using Photoshop. That’s the software we used to edit photos to give them transparent backgrounds for the thumbnails on the Silicone Masks and Silicone Half Masks pages. Also in Photoshop, I designed the border (from an existing image of barbed wire) that appears around masks when you mouse over them.

For the colors used throughout the website, I took a sample of colors from the images used for the border of each page using Kuler. We’re still tweaking the fonts, but before we get too fancy, we want to make sure the content is still readable. I found a few appropriate fonts that we’re still testing.

I worked on the web pages themselves in Dreamweaver. While Derick worked on coding and other pages, I worked on keeping the layout of individual mask pages consistent. Together, my partner and I edited over 400 files this weekend.

The owner of Shattered FX is very creative and had a lot of input on what he wanted out of the redesign. He provided us with all the content and original images. We were going for something spooky, industrial, and modern. There’s still more work to do; however, we’re all very pleased with the results so far.

Online Teaching Portfolio Design

teaching portfolio thumbnail

After reading Road to Teaching, I got the idea to get my teaching portfolio together. In the book, Hougan suggests aspiring teachers include: cover letter, belief and philosophy statement, observation reflections, resume, professional reflections, and an annotated reading list. I already had most of the content from a year of teaching and two years of taking teaching classes online. Over the past week, I’ve been compiling, rewriting, and working on formatting.

Design restraints include limiting myself to free WordPress themes, but even though there’s not much you can customize, there’s a lot you can do with widgets and knowledge of HTML. I looked for examples of what to include in online teaching portfolios and clean designs. The theme I chose was Skeptical by WooThemes. I liked the simple design and default color scheme, the space in the sidebar and four footers for widgets was a bonus. My only criticism of the theme is that the difference between regular text (gray) and links (black) was too subtle, but I made the difference more apparent with underlining.

One widget that I discovered but didn’t use was the one that lets you include an image, I ended up only including a personal photo in my about page, as you can see above.  I also included a search and pages widget in the sidebar. I played around with how to include an image gallery to showcase my classroom photos. Since they’re not all square and the same size, columns of thumbnails didn’t work for me, so I chose the slide show. I also figured out how to embed PDFs using Scribd. Some of the formatting from Word didn’t transfer to these pages well; consequently, I wanted to embed PDFs so the formatting would be intact.

Blogger Code of Ethics

Yesterday, on lynda.com’s Facebook page, Morten Rand-Hendriksen did a live Q&A session about WordPress. He already answered one of my questions on his blog, so I explored his blog further and was pleased to find ethical guidelines for bloggers. The short version of the Blogger Code of Ethics is re-posted below.

Short Version

1. It is your right to voice your opinion. Freedom of Speech, Information, Publication and Expression are basic elements of a democracy. As a Content Creator it is your obligation to use and protect these rights at all times.

2. Be critical of everything, even your self. As a Content Creator you are part of the creation of free knowledge creation and discussion. It is your obligation to shed critical light on what goes on in society as well as how Content Creators, including your self, are presenting these events.

3. Use your power to protect. As a Content Creator you can shine a light on injustices and neglect perpetrated on individuals and groups. Use this power wisely.

4. Tell the truth at all times. With great power comes great responsibility. Words and images are powerful weapons that should be used with the utmost care. When publishing content, present the facts as they are, even if you disagree with them.

5. Present your opinion as your opinion. Your opinion and interpretation of events is important and should be shared but must never be confused with hard facts or data. When voicing your own or someone else’s opinion or interpretation, always state it as such. Never present opinion, interpretation or conjecture as fact.

6. State your allegiances to stay independent. To preserve your own trustworthiness and integrity as a Content Creator, always state any relation, financial, personal, political or otherwise, to the subject or topic you are presenting. Bias, even if it is only perceived as such, immediately discredits your account unless you warn of it first. In simple terms; if you have a political affiliation that colours your judgment, say so; if you are employed by or received money from the subject you are covering, say so; if you were given gifts or preferential treatment in return for a positive review or commentary, say so. By stating these facts of allegiance your opinions gain informational value that would otherwise be lost in suspicion of bias.

7. Reveal your sources unless doing so can harm your sources. Always reveal your sources to ensure transparency unless doing so may put the source in harms way. In ensuring transparency you lend credibility to your own content as well as provide others to further pursue the facts of the matter.

8. Be critical of your sources and seek independent verification. Even if you are ethical and unbiased there is no guarantee your sources are. Before presenting information as fact, always check your source’s credibility and seek independent verification of these facts. If none can be found, state so clearly.

9. Always give credit where credit is due. Give proper attribution when using, quoting or basing your content on the work of others. In other words present quotes as quotes, link to original articles, give photo and illustration credit to the original creator etc.

10. Always preserve the intended meaning of a given statement. When quoting or paraphrasing a statement always ensure that the intended meaning is communicated. Never edit or change a statement in such a way that the intended meaning is changed.

11. Give your opponent a chance to respond. The very foundation of an open discussion is to give either side an opportunity to voice their opinion. Always provide an opportunity for your opponent to present the case of the opposing side.

12. Admit and correct your mistakes immediately. When an inaccuracy or error in your content is discovered by you or someone else, correct it immediately and announce that you have done so to ensure that those who base their opinions and other content creation on the incorrect information have a chance to make corrections as well. It is your duty to uphold the truth and present fact even if that means admitting you were wrong.

I wish I had found this code before class discussions at the beginning of the semester. To see the original post that includes the longer version, go to the Design Is Philosophy Code of Ethics page. What code of ethics do write and live by?

My First Attempt at Creating a Website Mockup

home page mockup

click image to enlarge

contact page mockup

click image to enlarge

Here are the two pages I completed. We discussed our concept as a group, made a rough sketch of the layout in Paint, and then I made master templates at www.mockflow.com. Consistency issues came up switching between the online tool, PowerPoint, GIMP, and Paint. Also, I had to use kuler.adobe.com to get the hex code for the beige we used so it would match other documents we created, but that color didn’t look very good in print. If we had more time, I would alter the navigation to be less redundant and more specific.

TC 101: Final Overview

The purpose of this memo is to recap my experience in Orientation to Technical Communication. Throughout the course, many different perspectives regarding career paths in technical communication have been presented. Guest speakers shared advice based on their experiences. Each guest speaker had a distinct job title and career path. This memo will include information from a public information officer, a technical writer, a graphic designer, the bureau of geology director, a computer scientist, and an assistant professor.

Public Information for a National Observatory
Presented by Dave Finley

Dave Finley talked about the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), his functions as a public information officer, and his background and training. NRAO is a facility of the US National Science Foundation with parts located across the continent and globe. Established in 1956, NRAO is a taxpayer funded user facility with instruments that are extremely flexible. As a public information officer, Mr. Finley’s three main roles involve media relations, public education, and community relations. He ensures NRAO has regular coverage in major media and local/regional media. Mr. Finley works on gaining visibility in science and astronomy magazines as well as tourist travel media. Dave is also working towards growing visibility in social media. With regards to public education, Mr. Finley is responsible for tours, lectures, and brochures. When it comes to community relations, Mr. Finley works with funding agencies, government officials, and civic organizations. In his many roles, Dave Finley is always aware of his audience and caters his message to the audience’s needs and level of expertise; his experience with science, journalism, and politics prepared him for his current job.

Technical Communication: My Paths, My Tips
Presented by Valerie Kimble

Valerie Kimble was a nontraditional student who graduated with a BS in technical communication from New Mexico Tech in 2001. Her career path was the most winding of the guest speakers. She majored in journalism at the University of Arizona until an entry-level journalism instructor ruined her childhood dreams. Valerie then left school to waitress full-time. Later, she returned to New Mexico, went to UNM, got married, went to Tech, got divorced, remarried, had two children, and the rest is history. Her first career was as bookkeeper at El Defensor Chieftain where she had to learn photography by default. She later became a staff writer and photographer. Ms. Kimble worked as editor for five years but found that that job did not suit her. She “retired” from the Chieftain after the birth of her second child but then returned to work part-time and then full-time. At the age of sixty, Ms. Kimble was ready for a change. New Mexico Tech faculty suggested technical communication and that major suited her just fine. Technical communication has something for the left brain and the right brain. Valerie Kimble left us with the following advice: be open to change, explore your options, and beware of limiting beliefs.

Bad Clients Are the Ones Who Don’t Pay
Presented by Kimberly Zuidema

Kimberly Zuidema wanted to study landscape design, but then the American Academy of Art didn’t offer the program, so she decided to study graphic design. She started her career at an ad agency in Chicago and also worked for a pharmaceutical company. Ms. Zuidema got an internship for an animation company with “I give good Mac” written in crayon. As a side note, older businesses often have Macs for design work and expect designers to be comfortable using Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. After Kim’s internship, her career path changed slightly based on location and family obligations. Ms. Zuidema worked doing ads for a furniture store in Socorro when her husband got a scholarship to NMT and then she became an explosion photographer at EMRTC. One final piece of useful advice that this guest speaker shared is to only show clients your top 3 choices of design work because they’ll probably pick one of the designs that aren’t what you’d consider the best work.

Ten Blocks to Effective Written Communication
Presented by Greer Price

Greer Price, the director of the bureau of geology, intended to make a list of ten blocks to effective written communication but ended up with a list of 18+ tips. First, use acronyms the reader will recognize and define them right away if necessary. Second, avoid inserting your opinion. Third, use fonts and graphics wisely. Fourth, always have an outline. Fifth, use proper grammar and syntax to improve readability. Sixth, have an appropriately narrowed focus. Seventh, avoid unnecessary jargon. Eighth, analyze your audience. Ninth, capitalize and punctuate correctly. Tenth, submit the required length. Eleventh, use good sentence structure–place the main idea in the sentence core and begin paragraphs with topic sentences. Twelfth, only include information directly related to the topic at hand. Thirteenth, use abbreviations appropriately–make sure they are correct and your audience will know them. Fourteenth, use references properly. Fifteenth, use words appropriately. Sixteenth, don’t excessively embellish your prose; additionally, use PowerPoints effectively. Seventeenth, give your writing a variety of sentence structure and vocabulary. Finally, make your writing parallel.

(Not) Just a Technical Writer
Presented by Cynthia Veitch

Cynthia Veitch has a BS in technical communication and an MS in computer science. She talked about her internships and her real-world job experiences. Additionally, Ms. Veitch talked about the definition of technical communication and what a technical communicator is. During her first internship, Cynthia wrote “Categorizing Threat: Building and Using a Generic Threat Matrix.” During her second internship, Cynthia wrote about army-wide best business practices on the use of removable USB storage media; unfortunately, that paper was no longer usable when an attacker used removable USB storage media to threaten security. Cynthia’s internship at Los Alamos didn’t work out well. She expected to do research but was relegated to data entry and offered a job as a secretary instead. Cynthia’s fourth internship, at Sandia, was a good fit for her and resulted in full-time employment. In her current job, Ms. Veitch is a scientist who knows how to communicate, but not all technical communicators are scientists. Cynthia Veitch’s final advice is: know your audience, sell yourself, and try something new.

International Professional Communication
Presented by Rosario Durão

Dr. Rosario Durão talked about how she got to international professional communication and why she believes in it. Dr. Durão started her career as a translator at a metallic mechanical company mostly completing literal renditions. Then she became a professor of specialized translation. During dinner with a translator from Australia, Professor Durão learned about the high-paying field of translation as communication that involves understanding the material and having cultural awareness. Professor Durão’s Ph.D. dissertation was about bachelor programs in scientific and technical translation and communication. Dr. Durão spent so much time discussing international professional communication and how she got to it that she ran out of time to go into as much detail about why she believes in it. Dr. Rosario Durão concluded her presentation about international professional communication by emphasizing its importance because the world is increasingly interconnected and complex. People who can communicate are critical assets to any company or organization.

LavaCon 2012

Welcome to Oregon Sign (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The LavaCon Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies 2012, Portland

I will be writing up my notes and impressions in the upcoming few weeks (edit: soon–I forgot how much time full-time school and part-time work takes). Some of the speakers from the pre-event talks were very good and knowledgeable. I went to Adobe Tech Comm Thought Leadership and Networking Event on Saturday and to eBook Boot Camp presented by Tom McClusky. The actual conference itself included five different tracks: Project Metrics and Development Team Management; Content Strategy and Roundtable Discussions; User Experience and Multichannel Publishing; eBooks, New Media and Mobile Devices.

On Sunday, I went to How to Deliver the Wrong Information to the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time presented by Michael Boses and Don Day,  Gaining Value from Global Content Using a CMS, The Three Pillars of a Good Content Strategy, and the Lightning talks. On Monday, I went to And The Survey Says…How Documentation Quality Affects Brand Perception and Loyalty presented by Sharon Burton, Include it All. Filter it Afterward. presented by Mark Baker, Ending the Cold War Between MarComm and TechComm presented by Sarah O’Keefe, and Influencing Without Authority: Applying the Art of Motivation presented by Andrea Ames. On Tuesday, I went to Planning and Managing Translation Projects presented by Angelos Tzelepis, Monitoring Social Media for Documentation Customer Feedback presented by Rhyne Armstrong, and How to Produce Amazing Webinars presented by Sharon Burton.

My overall impression was: food was great, the speakers were great, and the ideas that were discussed are important. Traveling is fun (though expensive) and I managed to only bring a carry-on and personal bag on the plane. The conference took place in early October, and I’ve been busy catching up on my schoolwork, but the trip was well worth it. I learned a lot and met a lot of interesting people. Also, I can now add Oregon to my list of states visited!