Technical communicators are constantly dealing with changes in technology. Throughout their careers, technical communicators will need to learn new technologies and software to succeed in their positions. Technical and professional communication instructors have long debated how to prepare students to be technologically literate in a field where technology changes so frequently. While researchers have presented skills that students need to become technologically literate, they have rarely discussed they ability to learn new technology quickly and use effectively as a primary skill. Also, little research exists on how to help students learn this skill. In this paper, I explore what it means for a technical communicator to be technologically literate and argue that the ability to learn technology quickly is an important part of technological literacy. I also discuss a method I’ve used in class to teach students this skill.
How have tools shaped our methods and practices of digital rhetoric and online communication? Give some specific examples.
Tools have clearly shaped the way we communicate in digital environments. While people develop such tools to address some communication need, the tools themselves provide the ability to interact with others online. Even in the earliest days of the web, we dreamed of reliable, safe communication tools that could more easily connect us to others around the world. As technology has expanded, many our these dreams have become a reality.
For example, email allowed people to write messages that could be delivered across the world in a matter of seconds. We had always used the postal service, but with email, we could achieve written correspondence more quickly and arguably with more reliability. Email shaped the way we communicate by transforming the way businesses communicated both internally and externally. Memos are now largely a thing of the past and businesses now can keep digital records of their correspondence with other organizations.
Instant messaging also changed online communication greatly. Instead of making a phone call or sending an email that may not get an immediate response, people can send instant messages and receive a response within seconds. People could have live conversations with others across the world without paying long distance phone costs. These tools have the reach of email with a more immediate impact.
Social media has significantly changed online communication. People can now more easily share images, videos, and textual information with each other. They also have outlets to present their opinions on any topic. This freedom to express opinions has advantages and disadvantages. While the ability to shape widespread opinion is nice for more people to have, it seems that many people are emboldened by the distance that online communication creates. Thus, they write things that they would likely not say to people in person.
We can only accomplish what our tools allow us to accomplish. Even if we have great dreams for the future of the internet, we must have tools with the capabilities to accomplish our goals.
How are content strategy, knowledge management, and single-sourcing related? Explain the finer points of distinction and give examples.
Content Strategy is a strategy for successfully orchestrating the people and processes involves in content development, archival, retrieval, and removal. Content strategy aims to put the right people in charge of the right processes at the optimal time in the content cycle. Many content strategists use the quad, which consists of governance (who’s in charge), workflow (what are the processes and people involved at any given time), substance (topics, types, sources, etc.), and structure (how content is organized, prioritized, and formatted). The core strategy informs all of these elements. It is the guiding philosophy for an organization’s content.
Knowledge Management is the process of taking knowledge resources and making them actionable and keeping that knowledge even after the original resource(s) has left. This process may involve the transferring of knowledge from one source to another and the archiving of knowledge. People are usually the source of this knowledge. They often have tacit knowledge that is difficult to understand or transfer. Because that knowledge is difficult to transfer, knowledge management becomes especially important. Knowledge management is also a part of content strategy in that the content comes from content sources (usually people).
Single Sourcing is a component of some content strategies. In single sourcing, content is placed in one place and reused for multiple outputs. For instance, the same content may be revised and restructured to fit both a website and a company brochure. Single sourcing should ensure consistency among content across outputs. It isn’t a comprehensive plan to manage content but a tactic that allows people to find the content they need to produce various information products.
How is the rhetorical act of communicating different in blogs and microblogs (such as Twitter) from other forms of online writing (such as wikis, content management systems, and personal Web pages)?
The differences between communicating with blogs and microblogs as opposed to communicating with other forms of online depends on context. Organizations do use blogs and microblogs to communicate information as they do on their website. But while some of the information on a corporate website rarely changes, blog and microblog content is sometimes outdated in a matter of hours.
Blog and Microblog content is extremely current and often meant to begin a social interaction with others. Blogs almost always allow users to comment on the content and interaction between users and between the writer and users in expected. Microblogs such as Twitter give users the ability to favorite or like something and share content with others. These abilities are their own form of engagement. Writer in blog and microblog are often writing toward engagement as opposed to merely disseminating information.
One obvious different with Twitter when compared with other forms of web writing is the depth limitation. Twitter only allows 140 characters. Thus, many people abbreviate words or phrases. They must concisely get their point across. This level of conciseness can sometimes cause problems when users engage with each other. When dealing with a heated issue or something controversial, 140 characters doesn’t always afford users with enough space to communicate appropriately. Thus, writers on microblogs must consider whether the medium is appropriate for a certain topic or not.
Because of the expected engagement, writers on blogs and microblogs must prepare themselves to address comments as they write. Much in the same way that composition instructors tell their students to prepare for counterarguments in their writing pieces, bloggers and microbloggers must prepare for the response to their pieces, both positive and negative. While other types of online writing might end once the piece is published, the process continues on blogs and microblogs.
Beyond basic tool competency, what complementary skills are necessary to be digitally literate writers and readers?
While understanding how to use tools is important, users also need many other skills to be digitally literate. First, users need to know how to teach themselves new technology. This skill is especially important for professionals whose careers revolve around technology use. As technology changes, professionals need to learn new technology and evolve with advances in technology. In the workplace, new technology is usually adopted to make workplace tasks more efficient. Professionals can often improve their workplace performance by being able to assess and learn new technology quickly on their own. As they change jobs throughout their career, this skills becomes a necessity.
Writers also need to evaluate which technologies will help them solve particular issues. For example, when an organization has a public crisis and needs to respond, how and where do they respond? As people give their input on social media about the crisis, should the organization respond on social media and if so, how should they? What other technologies and mediums are appropriate for the situation?
Essentially, writers need rhetorical skills to be digitally literate. They need to frequently evaluate a situation and understand which technologies will help them accomplish their goals. Technology is a means to an end. People have problems or needs, and technology often helps them solve those problems or meet those needs. But using the wrong technology to try and address an issue can create new problems.
A simple example would be the creation of a mid-sized pamphlet. Users may have access to any number of tools that could conceivably create a pamphlet. Adobe PhotoShop has the pagination and text tools to be able to create such a document, but it is a lousy choice for such an endeavor because its strength lies in photo manipulation among similar strengths. Writers would benefit from choosing Adobe InDesign in such a case. As a page layout program that handles text well, InDesign’s strengths line up with the needs of the writer.
Writers also need to understand how users will likely use technologies. To write about technologies, writers will benefit from evaluating their audience’s technological needs. Even if the writer is digitally literate, their audience members may have varying levels of digital literacy that will cause writers to respond in different ways.
Considering the perspectives you read this week, how is the role of writing changing? How is this similar to what we see occurring in electronic texts? How is it different?
While writing has not become secondary in many contexts, it is no longer the overwhelmingly dominant way to deliver content. Users can easily take in content in other forms now, and many seem to prefer alternative forms of content delivery depending on the context. For example, one user might prefer text when gathering content about a political issue he or she has a stake in, but he or she may prefer video tutorials to text-based instructions when learning a new piece of technology.
Convergence has also come to content development. Content creators now intersperse textual content with graphics, videos, and other content forms to create a multi-modal experience. This forces content creators to make decisions they may not have made in the past, such as how to interact different mediums together. They must also decide what content functions best in what medium. In the past when people didn’t have such easy access to video or images, writers didn’t need to make such decisions.
This convergence in content creation is related to the development of electronic texts. After all, electronic texts allow users to efficiently view multi-modal content in a way they couldn’t before.
Writing has also changed because of how expect, and in some cases easy, collaboration has become. Electronic texts have allowed people to collaborate over great distances and to gather source material in a much different way than we did in the past.
And collaboration doesn’t just come from multiple writers but from users as well. Social media and the ability to comment on content has allowed users to join the conversation of a topic like never before. They are addressing key points and challenging content creators. Users are creating content themselves. Writing has undoubtedly become more collaborative between writers, but the gap has also closed between writer and user.
In many contexts, writing has also become more concise especially in social media. The nature of many social media platforms forces writers to communicate in a concise way. For instance on Twitter, writers are limited by 140 characters. On Facebook, convention limits writers to shorter pieces of writing.
Writing has changed in the hypertext age, but the need to communicate effectively remains the same. Because of this need, content developers will continue to look for the best ways to present information to users.