Teaching non-readers to read

Cherryleaf has been working on a project which shows people how to teach non-readers to read. We’ve been working with Elizabeth Ainley, who has written a book, go for it!, which has been published by the Dyslexia Foundation. go for it! can be used to teach illiterate and/or dyslexic adults.

Elizabeth asked Cherryleaf to help her re-write the existing instructions aimed at the adult coaches who will be using go for it! This involved making the instructions clearer, and clarifying the learning outcomes.

Schoolchildren in Sierra Leone have been the first users of the project. It means a 12 year old child who can read can now teach others. The school is run by Miriam mason-Sesay MBE for the Educaid, who sent Elizabeth these photos of the teaching materials in use:

IMG_2713Dyslexia teaching in Sierra Leone

Dyslexia teaching in Sierra Leone

Five predictions for technical communication in 2015 and beyond

It’s time to put our heads above the parapet, make ourselves hostages to fortune, and predict what will happen in technical communication in 2015 and beyond.

1. “User Churn” will lead to SaaS providers looking to assist users in better ways

The move towards Software as a Service (SaaS) has led to organisations worrying about “user churn” – if users give up using the application after only a short period of time, the company won’t generate enough income. This means it’s becoming more important to assist the users when they begin to use the product.

2. Organisations will take a more holistic approach to communication with users

We’re seeing organisations looking at the all the ways it communicates with users, and making sure they are consistent and supportive of each other. For example, the training emails sent out to new users, the User Interface text, the Help and the training videos.

3. Software developers will see Help as part of the product design, as first user Help grows in popularity

Instead of seeing the user documentation as almost as an afterthought at the end of the project, we’re seeing organisations considering the first user interaction Help you see in mobile applications. This has to be planned into the UI itself, which means technical writing can no longer be left to the end of the project.

4. Microsoft’s greater level of informality in its Help will be copied by others

Microsoft’s “No more robot speak” programme, which has lead to a more empathic and informal tone will be noticed by more companies. We understand Microsoft has only spoken officially about this change twice; it’s likely that many organisations will misunderstand what Microsoft is doing and make mistakes when they try to adopt a similar approach.

5. DITA will make slow progress

It’s easy to forget that the DITA technical writing standard is used by fewer than 10% of technical communicators. When the Lightweight DITA standard approved later in 2015, it may become easier for smaller organisations to adopt DITA. However, the adoption of DITA is likely to continue as its current rate – a slow, but steady 1% per annum.

Your predictions?

A lot of these trends actually began some time ago, but we’re likely to see them adopted more widely in 2015.

What you see as future trends? Use the Comments box to let us know.

The four words that account for 19 minutes of a typical Technical Communicator’s day

Peter Norvig has some interesting statistics on word frequency in the English language. It turns out that four words – the, of, and, to – account for 16.94% of the words we write.

In field of technical communication, Technical Authors typically spend 50% of their time writing and the rest on researching, planning etc. If we adjust for the fact that these four common words are half the length of an average word in English, that means Technical Authors spend an average of 19 minutes every day typing those four words. In a 37.5 hour week, that amounts to 1 hour and 35 mins.

The need for empathy in technical communication

One of the subjects Doug Kim covered in his TCUK14 presentation, on the changes to Microsoft’s user documentation, was how Microsoft now normally begins its Help topics with an empathetic statement. The writers seek to understand the user at the moment they’re reading the content.

For example, if someone is reading the topic on auto save, it’s likely they’ve just experienced a crash and have lost some data. So they express empathy by saying, crashes happen:

Microsoft Help screen

By doing this, Microsoft is moving away from the norm – the generally accepted way to structure task topics in DITA and other standards is to dive straight into the task without any introduction.

We think Microsoft has go this right – there is often a need for empathy in technical documentation. Of course, this is difficult if your content could be reused anywhere – you lose the understanding of the user’s point of view. However, being empathetic, from the research Microsoft carried out, is what users, today, prefer.

See also: Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

Not so cool tools for Technical Authors – speech recognition software

Our method for creating online courses involves making an audio recording of the presenter, transcribing it, editing the script and then recording the final, video presentation. We’ve tried using speech recognition software to create the transcribed script, and it has been a deeply frustrating experience.

While speech recognition is proving successful for searching and issuing commands (using Siri, Google Voice and Amazon Echo), we’re not sure it will replace the keyboard as the way we create written content.

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Cool tools for Technical Authors – travel equipment

We’re sharing some of the tools we use at Cherryleaf. This time we’ll look at travel equipment.

The role of consulting technical communicator can involve travel to exotic places, such as San Diego, Cologne and Swindon. Your travelling experience can be affected by what equipment you have on your travels, so it make sense to take the right stuff with you. You don’t need to wander around places like Frankfurt Airport too many times, with a heavy bag across your shoulder, realise travelling for work can be both tiring and painful.

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