"DITAWriter" Will Be the Keynote Speaker at Content Management Strategies / DITA North America 2012

Keith Schengili-Roberts (aka "DITAWriter") Speaking [Photo credit: Mr. Fung]
Keith Schengili-Roberts (aka "DITAWriter") Speaking {Photo credit: Mr. Fung}
I’ve known about this for a while now, but it has now been officially announced: I will be giving the keynote presentation at the upcoming Content Management Strategies/DITA North America conference happening April 23-25, 2012 in La Jolla, California.

My presentation is called “The Rainmaker, The Cloud and The Downspout: Keeping Your Content Relevant in an Information Deluge”. Here’s the abstract:

    Structured technical writing has become the most efficient way of producing content for users, but how sure are we that they are getting information where and when they need it? When information is pervasive, users can either walk *in* a cloud of scattered data, or happily *on* a cloud if they find what they want. Keith Schengili-Roberts will talk about the challenges of producing useful content for your users wherever they are, ensuring that your content doesn’t get lost and spiral down the drain.

The idea behind this came out of the initial talk I had with Bill and JoAnn Hackos when they asked me whether or not I would be interested in doing the keynote back in late November 2011. One of the subjects I have been actively exploring is how technical writing organizations at various firms and organizations can ensure that the content they produce is still relevant to their supposed target audience. Certainly ideas like minimalism and structured authoring have helped streamline existing documentation processes, changing technical writing from a cottage industry involving isolated craftspeople producing documentation of varying standards to that of a more collaborative, easily-repeatable process whose product is of higher utility to end-users.

But that doesn’t mean that users will read your docs. Or even be able to find them.

Google Image Search for Kenmore Series 80 Washing Machines
Google Image Search for Kenmore Series 80 Washing Machines
One of things that got me thinking about this was a problem I had with our clothes-washing machine. When my Kenmore 80 washing machine no longer drained and stopped spinning its load of wet clothes, a simple Google search on “Kenmore 80 series washer not spinning” helped me find the problem, and a YouTube video even told me how to access the faulty part and fix it.

If you are looking for the actual Kenmore manual for this washing machine, you’d think that doing a Google search on “kenmore series 80 washer manual” would turn it up on the first page of the search results, but you’d be wrong. When I was eventually able to panacea, it was of little help. So in my situation user-created help was not only directly useful in helping me to fix our washing machine, but I couldn’t even easily find the documentation for my washer online. When I was able to track it down, it wasn’t useful. It made we think about the relevancy of the documentation that I was working on, and how I could make it more better suited to the situations in which our users find themselves.

So while we as technical writers may become more efficient in how we do things, it doesn’t necessary follow that what we produce actually meets the needs of our audience. Social media clearly has a role to play, but I don’t think it is a panacea, as there are some situations that don’t necessarily lend themselves well to social interactions. Better engagement with customers is clearly key though, and this is what I intend to focus on during my talk at the conference.

Hope to see you there!

(For more information on the conference, see: cm-strategies.com/2012/, and be sure to check out the Center for Information Development group on LinkedIn at: linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=1853169).


"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at: keith@ditawriter.com.

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2 thoughts on “"DITAWriter" Will Be the Keynote Speaker at Content Management Strategies / DITA North America 2012

  1. Your post doesn’t address the possibility that management at Kenmore has no interest in having its TWs document that particular failure mode and how a customer can address it. The question behind this possibility would be why have no such interest: 1) Mgmt might have a policy that prohibits writers from describing failure modes that, if addressed by the customer, would require potentially unsafe or likely complicating actions, such as opening the washing machine’s case. 2) Perhaps Kenmore mgmt knows from experience that the actual number of failure modes for a given product is quite high though the occurrence of most failures is quite unlikely, and it’s not economical for Kenmore’s TWs to tackle documenting all of them.

    You also apparently believe that encouraging TWs to contradict management policy by seeking out new vistas of content is in the former’s interests?

    1. I take your point and I did think about that as a possibility, though I strongly suspect that it is more likely that this information was omitted in the user’s manual due to lack of taking in feedback from the audience in this case. My point in the article (and at the keynote) is more that we as TWs need to focus on the actual needs of the users, and if they are not being met, the users now have the publication tools at hand to “fill in the gap” so to speak. If there is a common problem which is being ignored by a firm in its manuals — not the fault of the TWs, but their management — then ultimately this would have to reflect on the brand and the product. I am certainly disinclined to buy another Kenmore washer after my experience.

      I am certainly *not* suggesting that TWs ignore management policy, but that TWs relevance in general is diminished by such decisions being made (if they are in fact being made) by management. TWs are typically asked not to write of known issues in a negative manner, but to my knowledge are often at least acknowledged.

      Given that our audience now has powerful publication tools at their disposal, the need for TWs (and their management) to engage with the actual issues that their users are facing is more important than ever.


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