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Highlights from the 2014 STC Tech Comm Summit
2014, Q3 (July 22, 2014)
By Robert Perry, Chapter President

I recently attended the 2014 STC Technical Communication Summit in Phoenix, AZ. There were over 80 educational sessions organized in tracks such as mobile content design, content strategy, professional development, and user experience.

As usual, the conference was brimming with sessions concerning the latest tools, methodologies, and techniques. As most of my products are preparing to release in HTML5 on mobile devices, I was drawn to sessions that touted responsive design, HTML5, mobile content, and mobile design principles.

The general consensus from the sessions that I attended were that we need to write with the big picture in mind so our users get a consistent, cohesive experience as the result, no matter the device. While technology may enable, content still rules. I also attended sessions on minimalism, video production, and targeted documentation.

Click this link to view a PDF file of the proceedings, which lists all of the sessions. There is also a lanyrd version.

You can find most presentations on Slideshare if you search for #stc14.

Summit@aClick, an online collection of the conference’s content with audio and PowerPoint synched together, is also available. It’s like bringing the entire content of the conference back to share with the rest of your company. You can purchase Summit@aClick for $199 for members and $499 for nonmembers.


Here are highlights from some of the sessions I attended:

Information Everywhere: Flexible Content with Responsive Design (Nicky Bleiel)

Responsive design frees our content to work anywhere, anytime. Adopting responsive design means that we no longer need to spend time designing and creating deliverables for different devices. Instead, we can focus on developing and delivering quality content — where and when our customers need it. Providing a single responsive output gives us the opportunity to create once and deliver to thousands of different devices.

How it works: http://moz.com/blog/seo-of-responsive-web-design

The Future of Mobile Information — Examples and How We Get There (Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper)

Today's consumers of content expect more. Today we and our customers have a different relationship to content and mobile devices can help us fulfill it. Our content can interact with the real world, it can reflect where we are, what we're doing, what we're looking at and our level of expertise. But we need to plan ahead — to strategize before we create and provide the content our users want. We need to think about the content, our users and the real world scenarios that they'll encounter when they want our material.

Design structured content so you can create content that can automatically adapt itself to the capabilities of the device.

Google: Android Wear

Write Tight(er) (Marcia Riefer Johnston)

Create concise, compelling messages that win people over. Eliminate filler words (and sentences and paragraphs) from any text. Increase keyword density. Cut translation costs.
  • Concise does not mean short. Short tells us nothing. Like a piece of string, text should be as long as necessary.
  • Concise does not mean robospeak, as in “push button” instead of “push the button.” Keep the “the”.
  • Concise means minimal: enough to meet your audience’s needs and accomplish your purpose.

Write tighter:
  • Review your text for the unnecessary words — especially weak be-verbs.
  • Consider alternative phrasings. In some cases, a simple deletion will do the trick. In some cases, you might swap in an active verb and move a few words around. You might decide on a dramatic, creative change, such as replacing some text with images. Some edits require more thought than others.
  • Consider deleting whole sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, topics.

Minimalism — It's Really About the User (Barbara Beresford)

Minimalism is a widely accepted and influential methodology in technical communications, but it is not a simple method to understand or apply. John M. Carroll’s two books on minimalism: The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist Instruction for Practical Computer Skills and Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel.

Minimalism begins with understanding your users — in particular, how they need to use your software in order to accomplish their specific business goals. Designing content that really addresses this problem is notably more difficult than simply documenting the features of your software. But tackling this problem can help you develop much more usable content.

Robert Perry can be reached at robert dot perry at sas dot com. Read more articles by Robert. End of article.

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