Take the Cherryleaf quiz on Technical Communication

For the holiday season, we’ve created a simple six question quiz for you to try. It includes questions on some of the topics we’ve covered in our blog during 2010:

It’s just for fun, but if you’d like to tell us how you fared, please comment below.

Hyundai uses an iPad as a driver’s manual

According to Hyundai USA

There’s nothing worse than buying a new luxury car only to sit down and have to learn about it through a boring owner’s manual. Thankfully, every Equus comes with a 16GB WiFi Apple iPad, and instead of the boring owner’s manual, the Equus Owner’s Experience app teaches you everything you need to know through demonstration videos, interactive product and safety demonstrations.

Hopefully, you won’t ever need it when you have a flat battery.

What word clouds can tell you about your user guides

Someday, some clever person will do a statistical analysis of the frequency of words contained in different user guides to help us gain a better understanding of how to make the best user guide possible. In the meantime, we can use Wordle to give us a glimpse into a few user manuals.

Wordle generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. To get it to analyse a complete guide, your documentation needs to be online and contain a RSS feed. Here are some Word clouds for three companies that provide RSS feeds to their documentation:

Autodesk (Autocad)

Mindtouch

Atlassian (Confluence)


What is surprising is the lack of commonality – very few words seem to be popular across the three examples.

Teaching technical communication to schoolchildren

We’ve been asked to participate in an event at a school in Westminster promoting writing skills and literacy to their Year 8 (13 yr old) students. The goal is to showcase job roles in different sectors that use written communication skills as a key part of the job.

So how do you explain technical writing to students, and spark their interest?

As part of their English curriculum, the students must learn report writing and writing objectively, so one approach is to put these tasks into a work context for the students. We’ll also be talking to groups of students about the job, and set them an activity related to the role. Devising an activity that interests and makes sense to the students will be the biggest challenge!

Update: Our current thought is to see if they can describe technology that’s unfamiliar to them – old technology. For example, how to use a rotary telephone, a wet film camera or a gramophone.


Where does your Help sit on the technology adoption curve?

The technology adoption lifecycle model is a popular model for describing how products rise and fall in popularity over time. Many organisations use it to help them plan their position in the marketplace, as few can spread themselves successfully across the whole of the market.

If we look at the technology adoption curve for the different forms of User Assistance (UA), what would we put in each of the different stages? Additionally, what does this mean for the people producing it?

The four quadrant “wheel of sales” adaptation of this model, developed by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, is useful way to categorise these sectors:

Stage 1 – Birth

  • This is for organisations  who want to be first, who have bought into a dream, and who like being revolutionary.
  • The technology is new and revolutionary, yet primitive. Products are capable of only a few basic tasks. The appeal and value is limited, but if it is successful it will give its users a real advantage.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Augmented Reality, game-based Help and DITA, perhaps?

Stage 2 – Fast growth

  • This is for organisations who want a state-of-the-art solution. They want better performance and are willing to pay to get that.
  • The technology advances, often dramatically and in big jumps. These advancements increase the options and complexity. Implementation is often tailored to each situation. The technology still has many sceptics.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: DITA, Affective Writing techniques, AirHelp, User Generated Content and Web 2.0 based Help, perhaps?

Stage 3 – Incremental Growth

  • This is for organisations who want a reliable, accepted product, and may want some adjustments to fit their situation. They have experience of using the technology and have definite opinions about what they need.
  • The technology is accepted by the majority and is in widespread use. Although it continues to advance, improvements come in small steps. Products become feature-rich.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Web-based online Help, collaboratively authored Help, adaptive Help and screencasts, perhaps?

Stage 4 – Maturity

  • This is for organisations who want a standard product at a great price. The want no hassle and a quick result.
  • The technology is standardised and has near-universal acceptance. Advancements are few and far between, and may be resisted.
  • The products are simplified, commoditised and the technology is frozen.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Windows-based Help, PDF manuals and FAQs, perhaps?

What does this mean for the people producing online Help?

If your interest lies in creating state-of-the-art solutions and you’re working for a company that wants basic online Help for the lowest cost, then there’s going to be some tension. If the organisation is creating something revolutionary, then perhaps so should the User Assistance. If an organisation is in stage three, then perhaps the User Assistance can give them an incremental edge over the competition.

Do you agree with those categorisations?

What have we missed? Let us know what you think.

What are your transferable skills?

This is post from guest blogger, Peter Wilford.

One of the biggest challenges you will face when considering a career change is giving your CV the punch and bite it needs to make an impact in a new industry or sector. You may think that little of what you have done to date will count, but you’d be wrong. We all gain and develop a wide range of skills that can be applied in many different roles.

What is a transferable skill?

As the name suggests, a transferable skill is something that can be taken with you and applied to any new job. These are core skills that all employers value, and include:

  • People skills – your ability to communicate, motivate and lead a team, or successfully coach or train people.
  • Technical skills – knowledge of popular computer programmes, or more practical things like an ability to construct or repair.
  • Data skills – good record keeping, detailed statistical analysis, or research skills.

Think of your current role and how much of it is solely concerned with the industry you’re in now. Unless you’re a specialist working at a high level with complex information, much of what you do could easily be taken elsewhere.

For example, if you are a good trainer, that skill could be used in any role – every business could do with someone who can teach others how to work better. Likewise, if you’re a good organiser, any position that requires project management is there to consider. Client or customer service skills is another example. Almost anything can be a transferable skill. It’s all about how you sell it to your prospective employer.

How to identify your transferable skills

To start with, look at job specs across a wide range of industries and see what skills they have in common. You can do this quickly and easily using one of the large job sites. Review your findings against what you are doing now. Think about your working day or week and do a quick analysis of what your tasks actually involve. How many are people related? How many have to do with data or technical expertise?

This will help you focus on identifying skills you may not have even known you had. Don’t ignore things that come as second nature to you and that you don’t necessarily see as key attributes – they might be invaluable and of priceless value to a potential employer. As you go through this process, write each skill down and compare it to your findings from your job spec comparison. There’s a high chance that you will already have provable experience called for by virtually any job.

The ‘provable’ factor here is very important. It’s obviously not merely enough to say ‘I’m a great manager’ or ‘I’m really good with figures’. Make sure you identify specific achievements in your career that clearly demonstrate each of your transferable skills. By updating your CV regularly with each new success, you will improve your chances of landing the job you want when it’s time to move on.

Your CV must outline your relevant skills and that they must be upfront and clear to see. They must have key selling points. As you change your career the first task of your CV is to convince the reader why you are a better prospect than other candidates who have more relevant experience in the role or industry. Your personal profile is the ideal place to sell yourself with come clear and eye-catching statements.