Updated copywriting training course coming soon

We’ve temporarily withdrawn our online copywriting skills training course, but don’t worry: an updated version of the course will be coming out soon.

The new course, developed by Dr Alan Rae, includes new content on telling your story in writing, as well as digital copywriting. Dr Rae is a Fellow, and former Regional Chair, of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Written communication is the foundation of Internet-based marketing – however it’s quite different from conventional copywriting. That’s because you have to allow for people having different reading styles online. You also have to address the issues of Google search and spam filtering when you are writing web pages or email content.

The new course is all about how to write digital copy. It comes in three short 20 minute modules. It updates the original single module with material on digital copywriting, and includes information from various research projects into what makes digital media attractive to a prospective customer.

It is ideal for Technical Authors and other technical writers who are also tasked with writing marketing copy, as well as those who simply need to improve their copywriting skills.

The new course will release December 2012/January 2013.

The course is also available as an on-site, classroom course. Contact us for details of this option.

Popcorn Maker – “freeing Web videos from the little black box”

Mozilla has released Version 1 of Popcorn Maker, a free HTML5 Web application that enables you to create videos that interact with images, text, maps and other media.

This means you are able to add live content to a video. For example, if you have a video telling a user how to purchase an item, you could include details on the specific item they want to purchase, within the video.

Popcorn Maker

Version 1 of Popcorn Maker offers basic functionality. More advanced functionality (such as synchronising a text transcript with a video) is also available via a JavaScript framework.

Mozilla is promoting this as a tool for video makers, but it offers new capabilities to those involved in corporate training, support and user assistance.

In the upcoming weeks, Cherryleaf be advising our clients how they can use the technology in their training videos and screencasts.

See also: Screencast, eLearning and animated tutorial development services

Searching for key words and phrases in training videos – Adventures in media synchronization

One of the limitations of video-based information has been the difficulties for users in finding a particular piece of information in a video. Usually, they have to watch the whole video, or “peck and hunt” to get to the moment containing the information they were searching for.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, HTML5, an emerging Web standard, enables Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media. One application of this is enabling users to search a text for a key word and then start a video or audio at that point. Here is an example.

Searching for key word or phrase in a video - example

In addition to making it easier for users to search videos for the information they need, it will also mean the pages will be more likely to appear in the search engine rankings. In other words, there will be an SEO benefit as well.

Synchronizing text and video within Web pages will become a lot easier in November 2012, when we are likely to see the the introduction of authoring tools containing this functionality (at the moment you need to be familiar with HTML and JavaScript).

We believe this is an exciting development in the field of user assistance.

Combining text and video in eLearning – Adventures in media synchronization

As we mentioned in previous posts, HTML5 enables Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media. One of the key areas where this can be applied is in eLearning, where users are now able to toggle between text-based content and video tutorials.

As a consequence, Technical Communicators will need to decide which form of text to provide with the video.

Should it be:

  • a transcript, faithfully documenting every word that was said in the video?;
  • an edited, but still conversational, version?; or
  • text written in the minimalist writing style we normally see in User Guides and Help files?

Let’s look at the case for and against providing an exact copy of what was said in the recording.

The case against a transcript

The manner in which we speak and the way we write are often significantly different. Hugh Lupton, from The Company of Storytellers, once said:

It’s a very different journey from the eye to the mind as from the ear to the mind.

In oracy, the artifices of the speech are very important. These are what Marie Shedlock called “the mechanical devices by which we endeavor to attract and hold the attention of the audience.” They are the gestures, the pauses, the repeated phrases that a good presenter will use.

For example, in this performance by Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton, Daniel repeats “not for you” as a way of keeping the audience engaged (from 0:13):

If we make a transcript, we retain these artifices in the written word. Instead of improving the comprehension, when published in written form, they can make it harder for the user to understand. For example, if the user searches for a key word or phrase, the repetition of those key phrases by the speaker is going to make it harder for the user to find the right instance.

The case for a transcript

  1. Unlike the storytelling examples above, eLearning is rarely delivered in audio form only. In most cases, the presenter and the audience has a shared visual image to view. This helps ensure there is shared understanding.
  2. A transcript gives a true representation of what the presenter said.
  3. If a user remembers a key phrase or word in the presentation, then they may want to search for that moment to replay it. If the text has been edited, or is significantly different, then that phrase may have been omitted.

Which approach should you take?

We suspect over time that the text provided in synchronized elearning courses will follow the minimalist style that works in User guides and Online Help, where the subject matter is technical in nature. A more conversational tone may work where the material is non-technical (e.g. easy to use consumer goods), providing an overview, or where there isn’t the time to do anything more than provide a transcript.

As they say, time will tell.

What do you think?

Embedding live data into training videos – Adventures in media synchronization

One of the topics Ellis covered in his presentation at Technical Communication UK 12 conference was how media synchronization is likely to affect online training, online Help and other forms of user assistance.

HTML5, an emerging Web standard, will enable Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media, such as live data and video recordings.

To illustrate this, we have created a “quick and dirty” demonstration that integrates a live feed of tweets containing the phrase “online help” with a video. Please note, you will need a HTML5 compatible browser to view this video.

live tweets embedded into a videoOne key area where this technology is likely to be used is where you are looking to use video to guide users through a specific task. For example, if you had a video explaining how to bid for an item on an auction site, you could include, dynamically, details on the product into the video itself. If a different user watched the video, then the product details appearing would change to the one they were interested in.

live data embedded into a video example

At the moment, HTML5 is still an emerging standard. However, it is likely to be an important development in the field of eLearning and technical communication.

How the new Kindles might affect the role of the Technical Author

Here are some initial thoughts on how the new Kindles from Amazon might affect the role of the Technical Author.

Yet more diversity in reading platforms

Technical Authors know this already – their content needs to work on lots of platforms and across different mediums. It’s more evidence that the layout must not be baked into the content; if the two are controlled separately (by using cascading style sheets to modify and adapt the layout), then we can publish to lots of different devices. Technical Authors do this today, but it’s still worth mentioning.

The distinction between video and text based information is likely to become blurred

The Kindle’s new Whispersync for Voice feature means that users can switch between reading and listening. If this extends into the narration of video, in the future, we could see users toggling between text-based content and video tutorials. With the text and the narration synchronised, the video could start from the last word the user was reading. Mozilla’s Popcorn maker project could make this possible across all tablets, not just the Kindle.

Video may be come less serial and more hypertext-like

Amazon’s X-Ray for movies enables users to navigate and explore a video by characters:

Simply tap on any scene to instantly see which actors are currently on screen, jump straight to other movies in which they star, and more.

Wouldn’t it be great if this could be applied to video-based tutorials? For example, you might stop a clip on installing a product to see which tools you need, and then navigate to the other times when you might also need to use that tool.

The time spent reading may increase

Each year, the ability to have hundreds of books on your person, ready to be read at any time, increases. What’s more, with the passive screen technology, people can read “online” material for longer.

Reading will become a more collaborative experience

The Kindle encourages users to share passages and notes on a book. In the future, it may become the norm for you to read a user manual and share your experience with other readers of the same guide.

What do you think?

How important is video to Technical Authors?

Internet Psychologist Graham Jones addressed this question in his most recent weekly email.

He said:

Video is everywhere online. Indeed, YouTube is now the second biggest search engine, according to recent figures. When people can’t find what they want on Google, they turn instead to YouTube to find an answer, before they head off to alternative search engines such as Bing or Yahoo…

As you read this, 2,200 videos are being watched online at this very moment in time. Every day 184m videos are downloaded…

Who, for instance, would have thought that a video showing how electricians can use a tool for wrapping wires would be interesting? Yet, it receives an average of 8 views per day – so far totting up over 7,000 views on YouTube alone. True, this is not viral, but take a look at the statistical graph that YouTube shows for each video like this. In other words, even with comparatively boring topics, video is becoming more and more important online. If video were merely something interesting to add to a website as part of the furniture you would not expect the growth in viewing that videos like this receive.

Graham argues you cannot afford to ignore video. Whilst it is a requirement for your company’s online (i.e Web site) presence, do audiences expect it in the online Help and other forms of support documentation? Possibly not yet, but how long will it be before video is a fundamental part of User Assistance?

I have a great respect for Graham and his expertise, and video is something we’ve been implementing for a while (as an aside, we are both speaking at an event on Social Media later this month).

I’m sure neither of us would argue that video will replace text. Instead, people will expect information to be delivered through a variety of media.

The questions for Technical Authors are:

  • Can they be sure they will be the people creating this type of information?
  • If someone else does the work, will the Technical Author’s relevance and importance take a step down the corporate ladder?
  • If they are expected to do this work, do they have the skills to do a good job of it?
  • Which will come first – the video or the text? Will it be easier to create the video and transcribe the text, or to create a video from the information provided in a user guide?

YouTube was founded as recently as 2005, and the growth of video has been stratospheric since then. The need for Technical Authors to develop their video strategy may come sooner than they think.