The Exchange, Q1 2012
In this issue:
- Editor's Note
- Kathy's Korner
- Geek Etymology
- Thinking Outside the Box
- Book Review: Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard
- Ten Helpful Editing Practices
- Summit 2011 Reviews
- Bits and Pieces
- Contact and copyright information
Welcome to this edition of the Exchange, SciCom SIG’s newsletter. In this edition we have some reviews from the last Summit to get you revved up for the upcoming one, along with a couple of feature articles, a book review, and some smaller articles.
Last May, three members of the SciCom management team headed off to the STC Summit in Sacramento, where they presented our SIG and met both current and new members. I was not able to join them, but I am looking forward to someday attending and meeting you all.
In the meantime, please enjoy the summaries they put together, and if you’re the lucky recipient of one of our beloved scientific action figures (what life is complete without an Einstein action figure?) don’t forget to display it in a prominent location! We are looking forward to seeing you at this year’s summit, so please let us know if you’re planning to come.
I also invite you to participate in the events that the SIG is planning for the rest of the year. Stay tuned!
Louise St. Germain
SciCom SIG Newsletter Editor
Dear SciCom Members,
I hadn’t been to the national conference in almost a decade, so this was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Everything was a lot more connected; netbooks and iPads were everywhere. About a third of the folks in my sessions were using some kind of small appliance to take notes, rather than a fullsize laptop or paper. Outside the sessions, it looked like cellphones had been implanted (the convention center was wifi’d) but people also chatted and sat together throughout the meeting halls. I even had dinner with a former office-mate whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years.
A major goal for me was meeting my partners in SciCom management, Joe Harmon and Hilary Ziols. We had only met over the phone in the past. Additionally, the three of us were representing the SIG at our networking meeting and the Communities Reception, so we were intent on giving SciCom the best face possible and informing people about the SIG and its purpose and benefits.
At the Communities Reception, a showcase of the SIGs, I liked seeing where STC members invest their energies and how all the information and materials were presented when we all were offered the same ‘Reception’ challenge. In sessions, I focused on ‘how to’ information; discussions about organizing book publication via a wiki, creating usability tests, and adding immediacy to training materials. The Lone Writer SIG Progression offered a rich palette of topics; I focused on project management tips and workflow: a lot of valuable experience, wisdom, and sharing circled our topic tables.
Liaison, SciCom SIG
This article was previously published on geekmom.com.
My work includes science writing and editing and I relish the opportunity to invite just the right words to my party. Like many of you, I am a word geek. In my long-gone school years, I loved studying foreign languages, including Latin, which provided a great foundation for parsing the meaning of words in common use, like “sinister” and “alien.”
I recently joined a blog site, GeekMom (it’s true—I am not only a geek but also a mom), and it piqued my curiosity about those two words. So I investigated their histories and derivations.
While geek has slightly different meanings for different people, dictionary definitions suggest someone overly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits [m-w.com]. The first recorded use of the word is in 1876, describing fools and carnies—people passing through town with the circus. Geek derives from geck, a Scottish word meaning “fool,” which in the nineteenth century changed to geek and referred to circus performers, “freaks” who specialized in eating live animals or biting the head off a live bird. Going back even further, Shakespeare uses gecke in Cymbeline and has “the most notorious geck” in Act V of Twelfth Night, but linguists consider it unlikely that our modern usage has descended from Shakespeare’s. But you could still try “most notorious” the next time you want to compliment your favorite geek, and cite the Bard.
A conundrum with geeks is the confusion among the terms Geek, Nerd, and Dork. You don’t want to be in that awkward position of checking the wrong box on your job, college, or credit card application! The chart below (from Geeksaresexy.net) illustrates one theory of the major characteristics and relationships between the three personalities.
Here is a handy guide to find your clan:
Geek: Highly intelligent and obsessive, often but not necessarily concerned with technology
Dork: Obsessed with a subject beyond the point others can bear and too socially graceless to change the subject
Nerd: Shares aspects of intelligence, obsession, and social awkwardness
If you investigate further, you’ll find as many differing opinions on the shadings of these terms as there are nerds, dorks, dweebs, and geeks (in both virtual and mundane life).
Continuing to “mom” in GeekMom, that word, along with the alternate forms like ma, mama, mamma, and momma, has a long history and wide distribution, as the ubiquity of moms all over the world deserve. There are theories that the word may have a single, common language in its distant ancestry, as described in The New Scientist. Some theorists think that the word is so universal because it is based on the first vocalizations babies typically make (remember that sweet sound?), and parents tag that with important meanings: themselves.
The word for “mother” is mader in Indo-European, which is the ancestral language for not only English but also (don’t try to say this in one breath) Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Persian, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, Albanian, Celtic, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian. And, believe it or not, others. “Mother,” along with other familial terms (father, brother, sister, daughter) are common in many languages. When enough key words are in common, the languages are believed to have common ancestry. An interesting article about the development of both mother and father terms across many languages is available from the University of Sussex.
In classical Latin, “mom” is mamma (breast, nurse, mother, grandmother), passing through Middle French as mamme to French as maman. Interestingly, the specific English form “mom” is not significantly distinguished from “mama” or other informal terms for mother, except for noting that this is common in North America. However, not everyone prefers “mom” as my family does: Betty Kirkpatrick wrote in the Glasgow Herald, “When it comes to motherhood, we should all give thanks that we are not domiciled in America. There are few uglier assaults on the ear than someone shrieking ‘Mom!’” I am ready to argue that point with her—all the mothers in my extended family are “Mom,” not Ma or Mama or Mother. What do the kids shriek in your family? Do you (or your mother) ever wish it were different?
However you feel about the sound of “Mom!” emitting from children’s mouths, here at GeekMom we wear the appellations of Geek and Mom proudly.
Kathy Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Scientific Writer/Editor at Reaction Design, a provider of engineering and chemistry software. Kathy is a senior member of STC and has served in various capacities. She has traveled through the lands of UNIX and Mac but currently resides among Windows.
Try the following test: Without Google, name one research activity being performed right now on the International Space Station. For bonus points, name any crew member. If you had to resort to Google to come up with an answer, you’re not alone. I’m a keen supporter of the manned spaceflight program, and I couldn’t have answered either question without Google. That’s a strong clue that NASA’s public information campaign isn’t getting the message out, but it’s not just NASA; science as a whole and scientists in general fail to get out the message about what they’re doing and why we should care. Those who are actively seeking this information can certainly find it, but the general public who pay for the science we communicate about won’t generally make the effort, and if they don’t, their support is likely to dwindle.
Given that those of us who are actively interested in science are in the (very small) minority, that’s a huge problem: the majority won’t fund us or understand us or make decisions informed by scientific knowledge if we can’t tell them what we’re doing in terms they understand and that excite them. Sadly, most scientists and aficionados of science do a truly lousy job of attracting the general public’s attention and holding it. It’s not that we’re not skilled communicators; many of us are. It’s just that we don’t speak the same language they do. Speaking the same language isn’t a matter of choosing simpler words and better metaphors, though Carl Sagan’s famous “billions and billions”, nominally from the Cosmos TV series, became a popular catchphrase, even making it into the Bloom County comic strip at one point. (If memory serves, this was even immortalized in The Far Side, which for some scientists probably trumps being published in Nature or Science.) For the record, Sagan never actually said that line until years later, when he gracefully accepted defeat and uttered the line so that it could finally enter the historical record. But it’s illuminating that these words live on long after most of us have forgotten Sagan’s contribution to science.
Sagan isn’t the only one who succeeded in popularizing science. David Attenborough, in his Life on Earth series, parlayed his image as a dotty old English professor poking into strange corners of the plant and animal world into a series of TV specials and a best-selling line of books. Two of my favorite images: First, Attenborough strolling across a vast and empty landscape and suddenly darting forward to point out a single fruit fly, the proverbial needle in a haystack in that landscape. Second, Attenborough seemingly standing inches from a pack of Komodo dragons tearing apart an animal carcass while discussing their keen sense of smell and terrible sense of vision—undoubtedly while a dozen heavily armed security guards stood by, off camera, to protect him should the wind shift. Science as theater or even farce? It worked for Attenborough.
These kinds of images may strike scientists and other serious folk as grandstanding—indeed, as unscientific and bordering on a parody of science. But they offer one overwhelming advantage that a more sober approach might lack: they are exciting, and they show science as something interesting. Contrast this with NASA’s coverage of the Mars rovers. Mars should be exciting; it’s the iconic planet in our solar system, resonant with the mysteries and romance of lost Martian races (Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury) or hostile Martians (H.G. Wells). To the educated eye, the images beamed back to us from Mars are indeed fascinating: “these are live pictures from another planet, billions and billions of miles away.” Yet I confess, after the initial thrill evaporated, the images completely lost their impact for me, even though I’m a huge fan of this kind of science. Objectively speaking, all we can see are acres of dull reddish rocks and sand, essentially indistinguishable from what one might see in Arizona. (Which I’m damning with faint praise, since I fell in love with the Arizona desert when I visited Arizona for a week. But the point is, such things are ordinary to those who lack the flame of scientific curiosity, or for whom that flame burns low.)
Imagine, instead, if NASA had made a more strategic decision, and chosen to drop its landers along the edge of the Valles Marineris, a canyon so long and deep it makes the Grand Canyon seem like a backyard ditch. Or if they had sent the rovers up Mons Olympus, which stands nearly three times the height of Mount Everest, our former standard of comparison for Really Big Things. There’s no doubt that NASA could have done good science at either location, even if that science didn’t offer the same scientific bang for the buck as the research they’re actually doing with the rovers. But the difference is crucial: huge canyons and dormant volcanoes larger than Everest are visually fascinating, exciting, and the kind of thing that builds public excitement for a research program. The increased public support that results from such excitement creates stable funding for a research program that lets you do the really important things. Spend some of the budget keeping the public in your corner when it comes to budget-cutting time, and do the quieter, less spectacular, but often more important science in the background.
Despite my criticism of NASA, I don’t want to pick on them alone. Indeed, there are signs of hope that Big Science may be learning. Consider, for example, the ever-popular topic of catastrophism, and specifically the well-supported notion that life as we know it could be wiped out tomorrow if a sufficiently large asteroid hit Earth. This wasn’t much more than an abstract concept to most people until Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter in July 1994. I remember watching clips of the collisions on the evening news, and marveling at how many people were watching this event with me. Though I’m speculating here, it seems likely this event led, only 4 years later, to a pair of over-the-top movies, Deep Impact (NASA) and Armageddon. NASA and other agencies briefly gained attention unprecedented in recent memory for the subject of protecting Earth from asteroids, and this may have led directly to the formation of The Spaceguard Foundation and other programs to watch for asteroids.
If you want a canny example of harnessing pop culture to promote science, consider NASA’s use of the graphic novel format to promote their Astrobiology program. I’m sure I’m not alone among readers of this newsletter in having read “Classic Comics”, comic-book adaptations of classic novels that inspired me to read the originals years later. But it’s hard to do better than the Centers for Disease Control, who recently hitched a ride on the current craze for all things zombie to increase public awareness of how to prepare to survive a disease outbreak. Zombies have a long history as objects of pop culture fascination; most readers of this article will at least have heard of Night of the Living Dead, whether in its original 1968 incarnation or its subsequent remakes. Younger readers may prefer films such as Resident Evil or recent (and bizarre) literary hybrids such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the ever-popular Zombie Survival Guide. CDC went NASA one better by harnessing the power of social media, and specifically blogging, to create Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, a primer on how to survive when zombies begin to take over the world. But the really important point from a scientific communicator’s perspective is that the same preparations can help you survive a flu outbreak or other epidemic. It’s a wonderful (albeit creepy) example of harnessing a popular fad to distribute information to an audience that might not otherwise learn what they need to prepare.
If you’ll grant me an even more extreme departure from the conventional box that constrains scientific communication, I’d like to provide a radical proposal that would return us to the question with which I started this essay. Why doesn’t anyone know what’s going on aboard the International Space Station? Because there’s no spectacle. Imagine instead if NASA created Survivor: ISS, and staffed the station with a dozen sexy men and women, and beamed down carefully edited, hour-long episodes of their adventures. (Carefully edited because episodes of vomiting as Earthbound stomachs adapt to zero-g conditions probably won’t make for the most compelling viewing.) The cost of getting these individuals into orbit could be covered by corporate sponsorships (Nike, Gatorade, Trojan, etc.), sales of TV commercials, and celebrity endorsements. The profits could then be used to fund research, even without resorting to salacious tricks such as encouraging viewers to speculate which of the survivors has joined the (200-)mile-high club.
By no means am I proposing that big-budget research be turned into a series of lowbrow spectacles. In case it wasn’t clear that I was exaggerating for effect, let me emphasize that the point of these examples is to help you learn to think outside the box by thinking about our work from the perspective of the general public and the things that interest them. Science is serious business, but the way we promote it and communicate its importance to people who are not the same as us doesn’t have to be nearly so serious. We may not really want to dabble in shows like Survivor, which would trivialize what we do, but I hope that if you laughed at the notion, this will encourage you to step outside your comfortable box, even if only a few steps.
Just keep an eye out for zombies when you do.
Geoff Hart (email@example.com) is an STC Fellow with 24 years of experience as a writer, editor, information designer, and French translator. He’s published more than 300 articles, most available via his Web site (www.geoff-hart.com), as well as the book Effective Onscreen Editing. A popular speaker, Geoff has given presentations and workshops on topics ranging from writing and editing to information design, cross-cultural communication, and workplace survival skills. He currently works as a freelance translator and scientific editor, specializing in authors for whom English is a second language.
Lynn P. Nygaard. 2008. Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.
[ISBN 978- 82-15-01391-6. 195 pages, including index. $48.00 USD]
This book review was previously published in Technical Communication 56(4):409-410, November 2009.
Writing in any profession elicits a completely different style and tone. Sharing tips from her experiences in writing for scholarly publications, Lynn Nygaard begins Writing for scholars by covering what constitutes scholarly prose and how to develop good writing habits and then addresses knowing your audience, forming your arguments, and developing the structure of your prose. She covers formatting guidelines, exchanging feedback, orally presenting the paper, and following author guidelines when submitting scholarly publications.
Nygaard states, “At its positivistic roots, science is supposed to be objective. It seeks a Truth, one that can be measured and identified, and is utterly independent of the beholder” (45). This statement is true of any form of writing, yet perhaps is more valid for scientific writing.
Scholarly writing must “present new insight,” “build on existing insight and be usable for future research,” “be accessible to scholars,” and “be subject to peer review” (16- 17). You must know where your content fits, show that it has a solid research foundation, and tie it to real-world phenomena. “Good scholarly writing communicates an idea clearly by breaking it down into logical components and presenting these components in a way that makes sense to the reader” (19). When you write for a scientific publication, your writing should be relevant, have scientific or scholarly quality, focus on one core argument, be organized and coherent, have proper sentence flow, and use the proper format or house style.
The book recommends a twostep writing process: start writing creatively (freeform), then critically. As you near the end of your research, you can return to your notes and begin the critical writing process. This process entails organizing the content, connecting the context to the content, and heeding grammar to ensure that your readers reach your conclusions. Nygaard says that as your research progresses, you can cycle between the creative and critical processes.
Writing for scholars focuses on asking a research-related question and answering it with your thesis statement. Your goal is capturing readers’ attention with a good question and then guiding them to join you on your research path. The question-answer becomes the significant element in your core argument: “It gives you a point of departure and a destination, defines your scope of inquiry, and specifies what belongs and what does not” (94).
Scholarly writing primarily follows the IMRAD structure: introduction, methods, results, and discussion. Although IMRAD may vary between scholarly publications, Nygaard says that before engaging the IMRAD method, you should start with an abstract containing “both your research question and your thesis statement, both your aims and findings” (99).
I found Writing for scholars an easy, informative read. I learned how writing scholarly prose appears to be highly restrictive, yet it shares format, structural, and organizational elements with other types of writing.
Jackie Damrau (firstname.lastname@example.org) has over 20 years of technical communication experience. She is a fellow and member of the STC Lone Star community and the Instructional Design & Learning SIG, manager of the Nominating Committee, and member of the Competitions Task Force. She enjoys reading philosophy and psychology besides spending time with her grandson.
This article was previously published in Science Editor 30(3):93-94. May/June 2007.
“The wisest among us learn from the mistakes of others; the rest of us learn from our own.”—Confucius
Over the years, this editor has often benefited from the good advice and assistance of some wise people. Besides piggybacking me over a few rough patches while I was engaged in specific tasks, these kind souls have also passed along general strategies and rules of thumb, advised about reference works, sounded warnings about office politics, and let me in on other insider information that has aided me in many ways. Herewith, I record 10 helpful approaches to editing. These are not rules exactly, but perspectives on editing gleaned from sometimes hard-won experience.
Muzzle your mind
Lightning tends to follow ionized paths through the atmosphere. Beginning at birth, humans discern patterns in their experiences that they burn into their brain as neural pathways for fast future retrieval. This facilitates efficient mental function but can also lead to false interpretation when new information that is close to previously stored information presents itself. Thus, we interpolate a “t” in “It was previously sated [sic]” and read it as “It was previously stated.” (And your spellchecker will not catch “sated” because it is spelled correctly; see next section.)
Good editing demands that the editor “unburn” neural pathways and learn to read language with a new chemistry. The key to accurate editing, and especially accurate proofreading, is to train your eye to see what is really there—and, just as important, what is not there—rather than what your neuronal wiring tells you is there. As one friend put it, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
Your spellchecker is sometimes a spell-wrecker
Microsoft Word (MS) and its related grammar checker and spellchecker sometimes insist on erroneous renditions of grammar, spellings, and usage. I have worked in offices where the house-approved version of MS Word was downright subversive, sometimes “correcting” things improperly and without notice to, or consultation of, the writer.
You can often make MS Word bend to your will by changing its “Tools>AutoCorrect” settings. I have found that the “AutoFormat As You Type” settings deserve especially close scrutiny.
This could be you: The supervisor of an international science-education project in Cameroon once recognized too late that his spellchecker had changed the name of the project’s local leader, Manasseh Ngome, to “Massive Gnome”.
If you have the least doubt, look it up
You have seen the name “Newcastle” many times and have even visited the city in England. Then someone in your department writes the name of the city in Delaware as “Newcastle” in one of your company’s documents. You think for a second, waver, and then say to yourself, “I know how to render that.” You let it get into print that way. Then a reader writes to you and tells you that he lives in that city and that the name is two words: “New Castle”.
Rules make good servants but bad masters
Another way to state this is, “Know when to make a rule; know when to break a rule.” Be prepared to take the lead. If your shop has not agreed on a consistent rendering of a word, phrase, or formation, propose one and solicit its acceptance. If you do this often enough, and tactfully, you will win the admiration of your peers and supervisor for demonstrating initiative.
Take a stand for common sense
Many offices and publishing houses continue to do things the way they have done them from day 1. Don’t foist something confusing or ugly on your audience just to comply with some long-departed manager’s arbitrary style rule. (But, see “Pick Your battles” below.)
Pick your battles
Here’s a delightful book on fascinating words in world It is possible to be too right. You can sometimes be so right that it can cost you your job—or at least your credibility. My insistence on placing a hyphen in “triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer” once got me in trouble with a VP of our joint employer, a large public company, who called me angrily to say that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that “no self-respecting mass-spec scientist ever writes it that way.” (I bent, but I still maintain that I was right.)
I once interviewed for a position at a large Silicon Valley software company. During the meeting, I noted to the interviewer what I regarded as a recurring spelling mistake in the company’s press releases. I was told that it was unwise to try to tell that to the CEO, because “If you are rich enough, you can write your own dictionary.”
You can never own too many reference books
They are your resources in a time of crisis and a bomb shelter in the face of criticism. Make sure to buy the latest revisions. Your company or department will often pay for them, but if it does not, buy them yourself. (Save the old editions, because sometimes a very helpful rule or particularly felicitous phrasing is not carried forward into the new ones.)
Proofread from back to front, bottom to top
I have found that the last two or three paragraphs or pages of a manuscript often contain a disproportionate number of errors. People begin a piece of writing with fervor and fresh minds. They tire and let their guard down as they approach the end of the piece. They make more mistakes, let facts go unchecked, and omit more words, especially if a weekend or holiday looms. As a proofreader, I have found the same faults in myself. Therefore, I have often found it valuable to begin my final review at the end and go to the beginning.
Editing effort expands geometrically with author and page count
This dictum does not strictly hold true when applied to short documents by one author or two, but the spirit of the statement stands up to experience. When I have had to deal with long documents—say, 15 to 20 pages or more—I have discovered that I have sometimes needed to double, quadruple, or octuple earlier, more naïve time-to-edit estimates as additional authors and reviewers were added.
For example, I have often found that a 50-page document by four authors requires not 2, but 4 times as many hours as a 25pager by two authors and that a 100-page document by eight authors requires not 4, but 16 times as many hours as a 25-pager by two authors. I have found this especially true when working with multiple authors who learned English as a second language or with British-educated authors.
Try to have the last look
Changes can occur during a final review cycle that can reflect adversely on you. Reviewers can introduce (or reassert) errors that you have already corrected. Supervisors or content experts are often the last to see a manuscript and are notoriously prone to make last-minute alterations or deletions that can induce errors in page numbers or numbered lists or displace callouts of figures and tables.
Always qualify and quantify a casual “take a look at this” job request
First of all, few job drop-offs are as simple as the “drop-offers” imagine them to be. Many jobs—even nominal one-or two-pagers—involve research and fact-checking that will affect the content substantially and lengthen the time required to complete the task.
Furthermore, many “take a look at this” job requests carry with them a political agenda of which you may not be aware. Sometimes the job-requester will use your opinion regarding the spelling or usage in the piece to establish his or her own credibility at the expense of someone else’s, and this might backfire on you. At initial drop-off, it is always wise to ask the question, “Who else will be seeing this?”
Chuckle of the Month
Let’s hear it for piscine privacy: “Yellow perch decline to be studied.” (Anguished English desk calendar entry for 1 December 2006, collected by Richard Lederer.)
Bob Johnson (email@example.com) writes the “Word Hawk” column for Science Editor, the bimonthly publication of the Council of Science Editors (CSE). Following university training as a biologist, Mr. Johnson discovered a love for writing and editing, holding senior positions at Annual Reviews, Frost & Sullivan, SRI International, and Applied Biosystems. He is a member of the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS). He also has a degree in French. In 2000, Mr. Johnson was language arts editor for the statewide California High-School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). He was a reviewer of the AMA Manual of Style, 10th Edition (2007), and the CSE’s Scientific Style and Format, Seventh Edition (2006). Currently self-employed, his recent work includes editing two books: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? (Pera 2008) and the two-volume Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions (Greenberg 2007).
In May 2011, three of our board members attended the STC Summit in Sacramento. Along with having a great time and getting to know some of our members, they attended several presentations. In this section, Kathy and Joe review a couple of those sessions.
Joe Harmon's review of Reviewing Levels and Choosing Types presented by Linda Oestrich and Michelle Corbin
In this session, Oestrich and Corbin reviewed the literature on “levels of edit.” This important technical communication tool first appeared in 1976 and found wide adaptation in the 1980s. In the original version (Levels of Edit), Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler proposed five levels of edit and nine categories of editing. For Level 5, the technical editor only checks that the publishing organization “routes the manuscript through the various production processes, and performs a liaison function between the author and publications personnel.” For Level 1, the technical editor applies the full range of editorial capabilities, as summarized by the nine categories, to produce a first-class document. As the levels descend from Level 5 to 1, the demands on the editor’s time and effort increase. This system was so successful because it allowed editors to communicate exactly what they would be doing for the customer and to more accurately estimate costs for a given project. Since the 1980s, many have proposed variations on the Van Buren and Buehler original, including Nadziejka, Rude, Barker, and Tarutz. The speakers did an excellent job of summarizing the different versions, including advantages and disadvantages. Any technical editor, whether managing a technical communication group or working alone, should be familiar with the levels of edit.
The keynote speaker was Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of the computer book publisher O’Reilly Media. In his address he summarized the innovative approaches to publishing that led to his firm becoming a leader in the field. A memorable line was his definition of what we technical communicators do: “Create maps to get customers where they want to go.”
Kathy Moore’s review of Web-Based Quick Reference Guidespresented by Donté Ormsby of FX Studios
A session at the Summit that rated high on my usefulness scale was Donté Ormsby’s “Make It Snappy—Web-Based Reference Guides,” Wednesday morning. I did have a problem because the title didn’t reflect the actual content—Donté spoke more about web-based training and computer-aided instruction as a replacement for traditional classroom training. People sitting near me didn’t think this reflected “quick reference guides.”
In spite of this title issue, Donté did promote the “make it snappy” approach for the training content he described. His premise is that the Wwweb has changed people’s expectations for consuming information—how quickly it is delivered and how easily it is to consume.
- Identify traditional methods of training and instances where on-demand Quick Reference Guides may better achieve the operational objectives.
- Identify the basic elements of a successful web-based on-demand eLearning interface.
- Learn techniques for breaking down large amounts of information into “bite-sized” pieces suitable for eLearning.
Many of Donté’s suggestions for assembling content follow practices many of us already follow, but it doesn’t hurt to briefly visit them again.
Donté’s Practice Recommendations
- Identify the content up front: What are the topics covered?
- Identify the learning objectives: Use the ADIE Model (Analysis, Design, Implementation, Evaluation).
- Use verbs in topic headings.
- Present information in bite-size chunks.
- Consider your delivery methods: mobile, WWW, intranet
- Consider the delivery form: wiki, pop-ups, self-contained window, etc.
- Consider content format: video, flash, tutorial, audio-only; simple text, forum,
- Questions to ask: Why arm I choosing this medium? Is it easy for me or for my user? What intrinsic benefits of the medium can I leverage?
- Good On Demand Training is used at the time of NEED; helps it to be remembered better, it is more appreciated.
- Keep it short.
- Can embed video in print/help,but control size. Even better, don’t embed, but call it instead.
- Audio considerations:
- Get good equipment, good talent; and be a DIRECTOR. Guide everyone with a firm hand and voice opinions clearly.
- Be aware of room acoustics.
- Get a community college or performance student or intern for voice-overs, narration, etc.
A part of the session that I thought many people would find valuable was his list of recommended tools, with a few tips sprinkled in.
Donté’s Tool Recommendations
- Fireworks; Photoshop; Captivate for Flash or screen captures.
- Adobe Premier Elements! Good value at ~$149, Very easy video edits. Camtasia Studio provides great screen capture & annotation & video edits.
- Sound is 50% of production, so get a good microphone: YETI (from Amazon) is good. Use Soundbooth (Adobe) for editing or Audacity (free).
- Flash - not on Apple iOS mobile devices so probably avoid it.
- Video Camera: Canon GL2 or XL2, $1500 - 5000; or Panasonic series. GLASS LENS and record only to flash memory.
- WALLABY (Adobe) - Converts Flash > iOS devices.
Quote of the Day
“Unified by the common language of mathematics and the unwavering lawfulness of natural phenomena, scientific findings transcend the cultural divides that typically permeate politics, religion, social mores and national customs. Everyone on Earth shares the same physics, the same biology, the same chemistry and the same planet. Scientific knowledge provides the common ground needed for the peoples of the world to live peacefully together. At least it could in principle.”
~ Tom Siegfried
Helpful Hint from the ‘Net
“Choose the most challenging task on your agenda before you go to sleep each night over the next week. Set aside 60 to 90 minutes at the start of the following day to focus on the activity you’ve chosen.
“Choose a designated start and stop time, and do your best to allow no interruptions. (It helps to turn off your email.) Succeed and it will almost surely be your most productive period of the day. When you’re done, reward yourself by taking a true renewal break.”
~ Tony Schwartz, excerpted from Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By, Harvard Business review blog, Nov. 1, 2011. http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/11/four-destructive-myths-most-co.html
For Moral (and Other) Support...SciCom SIG Mailing List
STC and our community run an e-mail discussion group that provides a quiet, friendly place to turn for help if you’ve got any questions concerning scientific communication. To join, go to: http://mailman.stc.org/mailman/listinfo/stcscsig-l It’s free, and it’s a great way to make the the most of expertise within this community.CopyEditing
If your work involves lots of editing, consider joining the Copyediting-L e-mail discussion group, which focuses on editing in all its various forms. The group is not affiliated with STC, but you’ll find many STC members there. To join, go to: http://www.copyediting-L.info/Technical Writing
If you do a lot of technical writing, join us on Techwr- L to discuss the tools and travails of the technical writer. The group is not affiliated with STC, but you’ll find many STC members there. To join, go to: http://lists.techwr-L.com/mailman/listinfo/techwr-l
SciCom SIG is Using Social Media!@STC_SciComSIG
We’re on Twitter! Follow us to get the latest news and links relating to Scientific Communication and our SIG.SciCom LinkedIn Group
The SciCom SIG has a LinkedIn group - you’re invited to join us to meet your colleagues and participate in discussions.
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