Editor’s note: What you’ll find in this post below this editor’s note are pages that do not exactly fit the mold of my previous postings on this blog, for they are dressed up a little. While I have been in graduate school working toward a degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), I have come to the realization that I know little about the genres within the field of technical communication, yet I’ve noticed that the foreign demand to learn more about the tech comm realm in English is really high. I have taken about three technical communication courses in an attempt to shore up my deficit, even though the courses were not required for my degree. The text that appears below is my first attempt to write a “white paper,” a genre that may or may not be familiar to those in marketing. Specifically, my classmates and I were told to write a paper about working with large amounts of text with fairly recently developed content management tools, namely XML, DITA, and single-sourcing. The basic idea behind content management, beyond mere storage and retrieval, is that much communication in a workplace contains a lot of repeated text with some variations according to specific circumstances. In other words, we are talking about form letters on steroids. While technical communicators are employed as grantwriters, editors, and D-I-Y handbook authors, they are most closely associated with high-tech industry where they take the highly specialized jargon of engineers and translate it into plain English so that we can, hopefully, learn the ins and outs of using the most modern cutting edge gadgets at least as well as our pre-adolescent children do. Their well-honed writing and editing skills document the work of engineers, for engineers have more specialized and important matters to attend to rather than get bogged down in writing. Technical communicators not only document what the engineers do, but they strive to keep the whole company in the loop on what is coming through the pipleline, gathering feedback from all of them in the process, plus reaching out to users of the new technologies in progress, both internal and external, to focus the company on what users need. They funnel this feedback back to the administrators and engineers so that improving product design becomes a continuous collaborative process. In fact, technical communicators will often manage engineering projects, rather than business persons with MBAs or even the engineers themselves, because technical communicators are better equipped to facilitate collaboration between all stakeholders. This, in a nutshell, is the world of information development. As I approached this “white paper” assignment, I reflected on the nature of politics and the parallels between crafting new policies to meet citizens’ needs and inventing new products to meet user’s needs. Small campaigns, of course, cannot afford to hire a team of technical communicators, but they do not need to as the task of communicating amongst staff, the media, and constituents is not so cumbersome. However, by the time one runs for U.S. President, one must communicate with millions, so the need for collaboration, the need for a consistent message, the need for information development, and the need for handling textual content reuse–form letters on steroids–means that these big campaigns need technical communicators at the core of their communications. Campaigns should assemble tech comm teams made from workers who have specialized skills that complement each other rather than a collection of generalists. Already, 10 Republicans have formally announced their candidacies for U.S. President. How can they possibly break through from single-digit voter support? They are fooling themselves if they think they can successfully go from no name recognition all the way to gaining the lead and separating themselves from the rest of the pack without the help of skillful technical communicators. Tech comm is about much more than developing a campaign website. I recommend reading the works of JoAnn T. Hackos for further insight on information development and technical communication. By updating the way a campaign communicates, a candidate can be more persuasive about fixing what’s broken in Washington, DC, when they assemble a juggernaut team that bowls over politics as usual. Americans are innovators . . . at least in technology and industry. We need political leaders that are also adept innovators. The “white paper” is written as if to technical communicators working on a campaign, so the pronoun “you” in the text that follows means “you, the technical communicator working for a presidential campaign.” Most of the “white paper” appears below the fold, so you’ll have to click the mouse again if you want to keep reading.–DJW
ON THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN TRAIL WITH XML, DITA, CONTENT REUSE, AND SINGLE-SOURCING: TIME TO SHOW THE BOSS WHAT TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORS CAN DO
BY DANIEL JACK WILLIAMSON
Information development can easily be extended beyond engineering firms as single-sourcing, XML, and DITA have heightened the capacity for content reuse of textual data by any organization that generates wide varieties of documents on a massive scale disseminated in both print and online formats. U.S. Presidential campaigns generate wide varieties of documents on a massive scale that are disseminated in both print and online formats. One feature of political communication is repetitive text, thus a technical communicator’s tools for content reuse are ideal for streamlined campaigns to reinforce the candidate’s brand through consistent and disciplined messaging. Though the early adoption phase of these tools is past (Dayton & Hopper, 2010), the tools are still far from universally used, and technical communicators need to not only familiarize themselves with these tools, but advocate for their use in planning the pivotal work of the technical communication team. Summaries of the workings of these tools are presented herein, and the relevance of technical communicators to the operations of very large political campaigns set forth.
TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORS ARE THE ANTIDOTE WASHINGTON NEEDS
You are viewed as much more relevant to answering the documentation and information development needs in Silicon Valley than you are to the same types of tasks in Washington, DC. This is unfortunate, for the average U.S. citizen views Washington as dysfunctional while the same citizen may be constantly amazed by what emerges from the technology pipeline. Remember the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act enrollment website? It is an example of what Washington botched that the Silicon Valley would have gotten right. Your skills are transferable. What you can do to revolutionize campaigns might go a long way toward convincing voters that the candidate you work for may be able to transcend Washington, for what you have to offer is not politics as usual. Read the rest of this entry »