Have you thanked your technical writer today?

The Mojo of technical communication and writing as mused by Dr. Lu Kondor

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dr. Lu Kondor is a Now a Blog Contributor at CSUDH

The faculty development center at the California State University Dominguez Hills has a new blog for faculty and Lu is currently a contributor for the blog series entitled, “The Challenge of Facilitating Successful Online Learning."

The Faculty Development Center

Monday, January 12, 2015

Let's Get Style...

One of my favorite things to do in my spare time (and you might find this amusing) is skim through my technical communication library and randomly read through sections of books. Not what everyone would call exciting but there you have it.

One book I really like is Developing Quality Technical Information by IBM Press. Now feel I need to say I have no vested interest in this book other than to use it as part of my favorite research. As I thumbed through this book as I do many times for ideas I opened it to the style section. This section reminded me how important style is even though we take it for granted almost everyday as a reader using manuals, newsletters, and task-based documents. The use of conventions, standards, rules, grammar, tone, and presentation allows the reader to follow a document and get what they need from it quickly and efficiently.

I know the APA (American Psychological Association) guide better than the back of my own hand from just sheer use. For the uninitiated this is a book by a respected body (institution if you will) that promotes a guideline of style for publications and business. Other examples of similar guides are the Chicago Manual of Style, the American Medical Association Manual of Style, or MLA (Modern Language Association). There are many more available as well. But beyond that, organizations want consistency with their documentation so even if you follow say the APA guide, you still will most likely have specific templates for departments and the organization itself. These style guidelines bring a sense of usability and effectiveness. I feel we are creatures of habit (all humans) and so we want to know what to expect especially if we are stressed out trying to find out how to do a particular task or find information, not how do I find this. We’ve come to expect and not think about a table of contents, index etc.

This isn’t to say that just because we’ve always done something a specific way we can’t change it. But in my opinion we should consider change carefully and incrementally unless there is some outstanding exception (no need to email me, there are always exceptions to every recommendation). While usability is very important, always be careful with organizational identity and how that is affected by changes in style. Remember an organization’s publications such as manuals or a website delivers information that a user expects from a product or company in a certain way. Part of our technical communication skill is not to disappoint them.