Monday, January 9, 2017

Reading List 2017

I'm going to be continuing to blog on  communication-related and user interface design topics for Learning Tree International. Because I worry about "conflict of interest" kinds of things, I'll be shuttering this blog on communication topics until Learning Tree realizes that I'm not worth spending money on.

Reading or read:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reading List: 2016

I'm going to be continuing to blog on  communication-related and user interface design topics for Learning Tree International. Because I worry about "conflict of interest" kinds of things, I'll be shuttering this blog on communication topics until Learning Tree realizes that I'm not worth spending money on.

Reading or read:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reading List: October 2014, 2015

I'm going to be blogging on communication and user interface topics for Learning Tree International, at least for the immediate short term. Because I worry about "conflict of interest" kinds of things, I'll be shuttering this blog on communication topics until either (a) I come up with an obviously different set of topics for this blog, or (b) Learning Tree realizes that I'm not worth spending money on.

You can find my communication stuff intermixed with the other communication-related posts on the Learning Tree Blog.

Reading or read (October, 2014 - December, 2015):

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Terms of Multitudes, Or It's only strange if someone else does it

For the last (many) years, I've been reading my way through Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I just ran across the listing for terms to be applied to groups of things: My favourite is a "shrewdness of apes" (though, an "exaltation of larks" is still pretty good).

Initially, of course, these terms strike a modern reader as distinctly odd. I suppose these terms are a remnant of old counting systems that didn't go much beyond two (e.g. "one", "two", "many") and the natural extension of those counting system to give every number a unique name (e.g. "dozen" for 12).

But, of course, these terms aren't really all that unusual: We just don't notice the ones we use automatically. We all, I suspect, refer to a "herd" of cattle, a "team" of baseball players. And we do all still retain "pair" for 2 along with "dozen" for 12.

It seems to me that this is the essence of effective technical writing: reducing oddness to familiarity. The goal is always to climb inside the mind of the audience. A great part of that has to mean not regarding the audience as particularly odd (no odder than you and I are, for instance).

I've tried to take this to the logical next step: Whenever I'm reading about some culture foreign to me and I run across some practice that seems bizarre to me, I try to come up with some analogous activity in my culture that seems perfectly natural. This practice has a couple of interesting results. First, it's surprising how little time it takes for me to find an analogy in my culture for something that, initially, seemed foreign or bizarre. Second, it helps me see that other culture as being as human/normal/natural as my culture (sort of my version of "I am human and, therefore, nothing human is foreign to me"). What I like best is that it helps me see my culture with fresh eyes, as something full of odd things.

Where and how we live isn't just the "same old, same old": it's really quite special. We've just gotten used to it and don't notice its special wonderfulness.

My reading or read

Monday, July 21, 2014

Empathy Everywhere, Or Why Technical Writers Rule

The key skill for a technical writer is empathy: The ability to see the world from the reader's (or readers') point of view. Empathy doesn't mean agreeing with the reader, it merely means understanding and appreciating why the reader feels that way. You know you've achieved empathy when you can honestly say "I can see why you think I'm a complete jerk about this" (note: You don't have to think that you're a complete jerk).

What I think is so cool about this is that empathy is also the core skill in so many other fields. I've recently being thinking a lot about User Interface/User Experience design because I've been revamping an application for a client and writing a course on the topic. Empathy--the ability to see the problem domain/application from the user's point of view is critical to success in UI/UX design. I also spend a good deal of my life in negotiations (I'm a married man). Successful negotiation depends entirely on your ability to see the world as the person you're negotiating with sees it.

Of course, terminology changes. In UI/UX design we talk about "personas" (rather than "audiences") and "user stories" (rather than "scenarios") but, essentially, it's all about figuring out what matters to the user and using that to drive the design process. In negotiating we talk about "options" (what we'll present to the other person and what we ask the other person to offer to us) but, again, it's essential that we offer options that are attractive to that other person, that support their purpose in entering the negotiation and help them achieve their goals. In negotiation we don't talk about "explaining things" (the essence of technical writing, in many ways) but we do need to make it clear to the other person what is important to us so that the other person will make us an offer worth considering.

Really, the skills that make a great technical writer are the foundation skills for ruling the world...without anyone actually realizing that's what you're doing, of course.

Reading or read