A customer and a chatbot walk into a bar

The future of TechComm will involve writing for humans and machines. Mark Baker began talking about ‘Every Page is Page One’ in 2011. His tenet was transformative and remains relevant. But now TechComm strategy needs to evolve even further to support content extensibility across increasingly dynamic touchpoints.

Every Snippet is Snippet One

Gartner’s recommendations for the future of customer self-service include the need to “distribute consistent knowledge across all self-service and assisted channels.”


Any content snippet will need to be able to perform in a variety of ways, many of which we cannot even anticipate. How will our writing, in terms of both structure and word choice, need to adapt?

More coming soon.



Opposite Day

I try to stay open to noticing new patterns or opportunities to change my thinking. Lately, I’ve observed a trend of realizing the value in sometimes trying the opposite of original instincts.

When considering pros or cons of particular choices, or reacting because I disagree with a decision, I’m trying to consider if an *opposite* (not just alternative) choice might actually be better.

Just because there is a logical reason to do something, doesn’t mean there isn’t a BETTER reason to do the opposite.

Opposite examples

  • At the Content Metrics presentation that Neal Kaplan and I shared at LavaCon 2018, an attendee said their testing showed that *removing* certain text prompts for return visitors improved their success metrics.
  • A colleague called out that the biggest value of measuring ticket deflection doesn’t come from the rate increase (success rate), but in analyzing how it *failed* for actionable insights to improve product/process/content.
  • Another colleague identified a customer interaction point that we created to increase communication, when *preventing* that interaction might be better for the customer.

You’re Welcome for Asking

One year back in high school, my math teacher called my parents to discuss my disruptive behavior. According to Joe-Math-Teacher, I asked too many questions when trying to understand new lessons. Fortunately, my Mom defended my inquisitive nature; rather than discourage me from asking questions in class, she signed me up for a summer journalism course at a nearby college!

Questionable Discovery

Although my math career was stifled and journalism wasn’t quite the right fit, my knack for asking questions has been a fundamental element in propelling my TechComm career.

Technical Writing is often a problem-solving process:

  • Who needs information or what does the user already know?
  • Where is the user along their journey or when will they need this information?
  • Why does the user encounter this question or issue?

The delight when I discover a miscommunicated detail or unexpected dependency is like a treasure hunt, and asking the right question to the right person is the only way to get the next clue!

Practice Makes Progress

Beyond information gathering, the practice of asking the right questions is crucial for professional development, process improvement, and deliverable optimization.

For example:

  • Find Opportunity – Seeking to be helpful is a driving force behind many of my career advancements. What’s needed that I can do or learn to do?
  • Uncover Assumptions – Journey mapping and process reengineering specifically require you to consider assumptions. Is there another way to accomplish the goal? What is a different benchmark we could strive for?
  • Prioritize Requirements – Determining the minimal viable product (MVP) for faster delivery or understanding success factors are essential to keep a project focused on outcomes. What are the objectives and key results needed?

What have you asked lately that’s led to positive results or progress?

Evolution of Tech Docs via Increment Magazine

Documentation is evolving in significant ways, including that it becomes relevant far sooner in the customer journey.

I enjoyed sharing my perspective, along with fellow TechComm professionals Toni Ressaire and Ben Woelk, for a piece in the Increment Magazine Documentation issue.

Chris Stokel-Walker successfully captured the forward-looking and customer-focused perspective that effective content depends on.

As I was quoted in the article:

The focus needs to shift away from, “I’m an expert at using this tool,” to, “I’m an expert at understanding how my users interact with my content, and how the content needs to evolve to make them more successful.

Read more in Let’s talk about docs – Increment Magazine.

STC Summit 2018

The #STC18 Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference organized by the Society for Technical Communication, which took place this year in Orlando on May 20-23, 2018.

Incredibly, it was the 65th anniversary. This milestone illustrates the longevity of the STC organization. This year’s theme, Communicate the Future, exemplifies the forward-looking focus that we will all benefit from.

I attended to represent as President of the STC San Diego Chapter and to present about Future-Proof Writing – an extension of my Effective Content Framework tailored for the conference theme.

See more conference highlights on the STC San Diego blog: 2018 STC Summit – Cheers to a milestone birthday and the future!

Read more about the conference theme and industry trends on the MindTouch blog: Communicate the future at #STC18 and beyond.

Communicate the future at #STC18 and beyond

Originally published on the MindTouch Blog.

The #STC18 Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference organized by the Society for Technical Communication, which took place this year (65th anniversary!) in Orlando on May 20-23, 2018. The theme, Communicate the Future, was all about looking forward—strategically.

What does this mean in practice?

Innovation is a habit, not an outcome

The opening keynote talk, Perpetual Innovation: How the World’s Most Innovative Teams Surface Great Ideas to Deliver Exponential Outcomes, came from Carla Johnson. It was a fitting start to the conference and an opportune topic at a time when the only constant in business is change.

Per Carla, anyone can (and should!) be innovative. The keynote resembled a pep talk from which we can all benefit. As Larry Kunz aptly summarized, “Carla charged us to observe what other brands are doing, distill the parts we can use, and relate those parts to our own brand and customers.”

It’s time to adopt a daily habit of innovation and iterative improvements.

Really, the best ideas aren’t divine. They’re refined over time. That’s what perpetual innovation helps people understand how to do. Really, how technical communicators can become those innovation factories for ideas. –Carla Johnson

Embrace new content interactions

The latest technology-powered interactions are content-fueled interactions. Google calls them micromoments. At MindTouch, we talk about smart microcontent. Essentially, content professionals have an opportunity to impact the world as technology continues to evolve.

As Aaron Fulkerson shared at LavaCon 2017, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will dramatically alter content jobs. At #STC18, we saw many examples of new content interactions:

  • The conversational user interface, in its many forms, presents new constraints and opportunities for content interactions.
  • Nicky Bleiel shared how AI can take technical content and deliver it in potentially unlimited ways. She included striking examples of how Virtual Reality is providing valuable—and life-saving—training content for military and surgical training.
  • My presentation about future-proof writing showed an example of how Augmented Reality is creating entirely new instructional content experiences.

It’s a thrilling challenge to stay connected to the latest ways that content interactions are evolving.

Content strategy is customer-focused strategy

Now that customer self-service plays a more important role than ever, we have to step up our game. Sometimes, that will mean sacrificing our preferred content standards for what’s best for users. Always, it means adopting a user-first approach to everything from how you select a knowledge management tool to how you author effective content.

How do you operationalize a customer-focused strategy?

Just like innovation, it’s an iterative and continuous process. Regardless of the technology used, you can follow a maturity model that enables your customers to self-serve through the entire customer journey.