Category Archives: Technical Communication

Adobe Captivate: An Awe-Inspiring Solution for eLearning Designers

Effective software is the backbone of effective technical communication. Adobe graciously provided our class of 42 students with one year of access to the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. We have received direct training in Framemaker and Captivate from Bernard Aschwanden, an Adobe Certified Expert, Certified Technical Trainer, and author of numerous publications on publishing and single sourcing.

Simply put, Adobe Captivate is an extraordinary tool for screencasting and creating eLearning materials, and even dethrones PowerPoint when it comes to delivering impressive audiovisual presentations in a classroom setting.

In fact, I recently discovered that Captivate can be used to enhance PowerPoint presentations. By importing PowerPoint presentations into Captivate, they can be taken to the next level with motion-based media, animations, quizzes, and audio narration. This feature offers the potential to improve legacy eLearning materials I created while I was an English teacher and distribute them as full-motion video rather than the old method of passively clicking through slides.

I am currently developing a user guide for a popular VST software synthesizer, along with short video tutorials of key features that support the user guide’s content. Clearly, Captivate is the ideal solution for web-based tutorials. Let’s look at some exciting features I have discovered in the process of creating these videos.

I love the way Captivate uses “slides” to record the screen, rather than recording everything as if it were an old-fashioned camcorder. For example, a competitor’s software records everything on screen in real time. So, if you were to pause for a few moments, the pause would be recorded as well. Captivate, on the other hand, only captures the screen as it changes.

Editing and rearranging slides is both effective and easy to grasp for educators that have prior experience with presentation software. From what I’ve experienced, other popular screencasting software expects you to be a video editor as well as a communicator.

In demonstration mode, Captivate captures the mouse separately from the screen itself, so the mouse can be moved to where I want it to be. You can even change the cursor to personalize your materials. This is a great feature that allows us to capture our ideas quickly without having to focus on zero errors.

Captivate saves time by automatically adding callouts that describe the on-screen actions you are performing. After recording, they can easily be customized in the slide view to reflect my own design preferences. However, the process is so intuitive and intelligent that little modification is needed.

Did I mention how easy it is to publish my finished work? In just a few clicks, Captivate can create full-motion Flash video files and even publish my content directly to YouTube. Like many of the innovative features included in Captivate, publishing content is intuitive and can be easily customized to suit the needs of your project.

Captivate is the ultimate tool for technical communicators that need to create simulations and training with precise control over every aspect of the screen. It boasts a robust feature set that can be applied to eLearning projects, presentations, and much more. When my student license expires, I will definitely purchase Captivate again.


Design a Professinal Persona with LinkedIn

The following is a white paper submitted as the final assignment for TCN701: The Technical Communicator for Anna Parker-Richards.

The full PDF can be viewed here. <;


It is essential for technical communication students to develop a professionally-focused online persona that communicates their skills and experience to potential employers. Leveraging social networking services is an increasingly viable method to get ahead in the in job market, and research shows that more and more employers and recruiters prefer candidates with a visible online presence. Research also shows that employers are using these services both to find ideal candidates and weed out undesirables. Therefore, students must manage their online presence on all popular social networks, and maintain a professional outlook when posting content that reflects the reality that social media is an open book that is open to interpretation by all.

LinkedIn is a social network designed for professionals, and provides the tools to maintain a publicly-available profile that increases your chances of being noticed in the field. Signing up and duplicating your resume is not enough; to effectively communicate your professional persona, you must fully-optimize your LinkedIn profile to allow recruiters and employers to gain insight into what makes YOU the ideal candidate.

Take the following steps to optimize your LinkedIn profile and broadcast your professional persona to the world:

  • Detail all your relevant professional experience, taking care not to regurgitate language from your resume.
  • Design an effective professional headline that communicates your current job role and a value proposition or mission statement.
  • Upload a professional-looking headshot photo.
  • Write a summary that answers these questions:
    • What is it you want to be known for?
    • How do you want people to perceive you?
    • What makes you unique?
    • What problems have you solved in the workplace?
  • Ensure your summary also contains a list of specialties that make you a unique candidate.
  • Request recommendations from people you have worked with, and write recommendations for them as well.
  • Aim for 100% profile completeness.

Snapshots : My Life with Computers

My earliest experiences with technological devices or artifacts that I clearly recall revolve around the first family computer: the IBM PS/2. This DOS-based computer was my first exposure to PCs, and though I was very young I recall using the system to play games and tinker around for hours trying to make it do something interesting.

My interest in programming was piqued by a game included in the BASIC programming application called bananas. I think it was on this machine that I made a circle display on the screen using BASIC, quite an amazing feat that I have no desire to duplicate.

I taught myself the “basics” of BASIC by reading a hefty tome that came with the PS/2, however as with most things at that age I quickly lost interest and moved on to something more interesting (like playing Wolfenstein 3d and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?).

My next exposure to coding came with the proliferation of free web space from providers like Geocities. I learned HTML by simply viewing the source code of other pages, copy/pasting, then editing in my own words. Not exactly the best practice, but it worked.

The resulting website contained scans of comic books drawn during the more boring stretches of Grade 7 classes. The site proved to be unpopular (35 views over the course of the semester), and was long forgotten until I began re-learning HTML this summer in preparation for my technical communication studies. Alas, like Geocities itself, the Chronicles of Axe Guy webpage has disappeared into the ether.

My interests in technology and computing shifted in adolescence from “coder” to “power user”, as I always strove to get the most out of my computer, OS, and software. Long before Microsoft introduced the Windows Aero™ graphical user interface, I was an avid user of third-party software like StylesXP that provided a similar experience.

Early exposure to PCs and other tech-y things led me to be a self-professed “geek” throughout my childhood, and indeed some of my fondest memories growing up include the following snapshots:

1.    The thrill of installing Windows 95 and being able to watch a FULL MOTION VIDEO of Weezer rocking out “Buddy Holly.”

2.    Teaching my father, the “Chief Technological Officer” at a major insurance corporation, to do things like install Windows, write a list in WordPerfect, send an email to more than one person at a time, bookmark a web page, and make the “DAMN STUPID MODEM” connect to his company intranet.

3.    Secret late night Duke Nukem 3d Sessions with my friend Chris, whereby we battled at deathmatch and capture the flag through a “lightning-quick” 28.8 baud internet connection.

4. Being the first kid that I knew to get broadband internet and reading the brochure describing the amazing things we could do with ONE GIGABYTE of bandwidth. I still remember the loud marketing catchphrase emblazoned on the cover page: A GIG IS BIG!

5. Obtaining a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop in Grade 8, obscenely doctoring a picture of the vice-principal (I won’t elaborate), and subsequently having the picture posted throughout the school without my knowledge. This resulted in a thorough shellacking from the photo subject and a three-day suspension. Ouch.

6. Spending many painful hours installing and configuring various distributions of Linux on my PC over the past decade only to wonder “what’s the big deal?” Ubuntu is currently installed on my netbook, but I never use it.

Learning and keeping up with advances in computing becomes increasingly difficult as one gets older, with free time rapidly diminishing due to workplace, school and family commitments. However, I try my best to stay “on the pulse” by reading technology news sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, and I am a habitual reader and writer of user-reviews of tech products that I own, or hope to own.

Computers have been an essential part of my life since childhood, and will continue to be as I begin a new career in the field of technical communication. Furthermore, I will always be a power user, and I will continue to lust after and burn holes in my wallet with each generation of technological advances. Now back to editing my Christmas Wish List

The Importance of Writing for Translation

Affordable internet access and the expansion of the global market for technology products to previously untapped regions has increased revenue opportunities for technology companies of all sizes. Localization vendors and translators support the technology industry from prototype to release, ensuring products are compatible with the language and culture of target markets. However, many products are released internationally with inadequately translated documentation.

Writers and translators need to move beyond verbatim copies of the source text to consider aspects of context, power distance, the use of visuals, and other factors. Furthermore, writers should follow strict writing guidelines that assist accurate machine translation and allow for easy conversion into the target language. After translation, substantial post-editing is required that reflects the linguistic conventions of the target culture. Only then can a user guide be truly considered “user friendly.”

Consider the localization and translation issues that surface when translating product user guides for a Spanish-speaking, Hispanic-American audience. Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35.5 million people aged five or older,[1] and Hispanic and Latin Americans comprised 50.5 million or 16.3% of the American population in 2010.[2]Coupled with an ever-expanding market of Spanish speaking customers in South and Central America, there is a crucial need to include Spanish-translated user guides with products released in the United States.

Much like their neighbour to the north, the population of the United States increasingly reflects a linguistic divide that must be accommodated. Technical communicators must continue to bear in mind the culture of their diverse audiences by following writing guidelines and best practices for efficient translation. Moreover, optimizing machine translation and translation post-editing are not just luxuries for wealthy transnational corporations; they are essential tools. The demand for translation technologies and localization experts will continue to expand as our world becomes increasingly connected.


[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Spanish Language in the United States,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2011).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Demographics of the United States,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2011).

Canadian Spelling… what’s the difference?

Canadian spelling has been historically linked to British standards. However, spelling conventions are constantly shifting on the ill-defined continuum between British and American English. Some argue that there is a regional bias to Canadian spelling: Ontario, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada more closely follow British practices, while Alberta and the Prarie provinces have gravitated towards American conventions.[1]

Here are my recommendations to aspiring Canadian writers:

Buy the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and don’t trust your word processor’s spell-check feature. The English (Canada) dictionary in Microsoft Word follows British conventions, even in cases where Canadian writers prefer American spelling.

Finally, follow the Spelling Guidelines listed below and your documents will be truly “Canadian”. To find out more guidelines for creating technical documents, visit my on-line style guide for technical communicators.

Spelling Guidelines

  • Where a verb has two past-tense forms, use either without preference (e.g. kneeled or knelt).
  • Use preferred spelling in the case of place names, businesses, book titles, movies, and other works.
  • Apply Canadian spelling to government departments and agencies (e.g. United States Department of Defence).
  • Diphthongs use American spelling in most cases. (exception: “oe” diphthongs such as manoeuvre).
  • The use of silent e+ suffix follows American or British standards.
  • Always use –our endings instead of the American –or.
  • Always use –re endings instead of the American –er.
  • Always use –yze endings instead of the British –yse.
  • The use of silent –l or –ll follows American or British standards.
  • Always use double consonants, following the British model, except combatting.

Canadian Spelling Conventions

Convention Examples
c and s
licence (n.) practice (n.)
license (v.) practise (v.)
foreign plurals
e + suffix
double consonant
–l or –ll
–re not –er
–our not –or
–yze not –yse

[1] Mastin, Luke. “Canadian, British and American Spelling.” Accessed December 9, 2011.

The Convergence of Knowledge Management and Technical Communication

The Convergence of Knowledge Management and Technical Communication

“Knowledge Management is a collection of business practices that promote an integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of enterprise knowledge—knowledge about products, processes, systems.” Patti Anklam

“Knowledge management is concerned with identifying, sharing and leveraging organizational knowledge for competitive advantage.”  Steffen Raub and Charles-Clemens Ruling

“Knowledge management is the transfer of experience.”  Managing Partner of KPMG–Canada

Knowledge management emerged as a recognized discipline in the early 1990s, and has steadily increased in the years since to become a “hot topic” in communication that is in high demand for corporations. Effective knowledge management is a corollary to success and profit. Many agree that as technical communication and knowledge management evolve over time, the two disciplines have increasingly converged. Essentially, an effective technical communicator must be well versed in knowledge management, and vice-versa. Knowledge management is about making the right knowledge available to the right people. It is about making sure that an organization can learn, and retrieve and use its knowledge assets as they are needed. When a technical communicator works with intranets, knowledge bases, and user guides, are they not performing knowledge management?

Knowledge management is a field that requires accuracy and clarity when storing information, and therefore technical communicators are contenders for leadership roles. According to Corey Wick, technical communicators possess three core competencies.

  • They have a thorough understanding of the complexities of knowledge, language, and communication.
  • They are exceptionally talented in working across functions, departments, and all disciplines.
  • They are expert communicators.

Knowledge management (especially in the early to mid 2000s) was, and continues to be, a “hot topic” in business. The development of knowledge management over the past two decades has caused organizations to focus on knowledge as a valuable asset that must be protected, rather than something intangible and disposable. By becoming experts in knowledge management, technical communicators can expect greater recognition, and increase the perceived value of their work. This also provides broader employment opportunities for technical communicators that can sell themselves as knowledge management experts.

However, technical communication has traditionally been under-valued in organizations, and re-defining yourself as a knowledge management expert may devalue your contributions as a technical communicator. Corey Wick has stated an effective way to combat being swallowed by this “paradigm shift”:

“If knowledge management represents a paradigm shift in the way business is perceived and conducted, then technical communicators must also change paradigms to meet the needs of an evolving business climate. We must move beyond demanding adequate recognition and compensation for our contributions”… In other words, we must evolve beyond the narrowly-defined roles of “technical writers,” and actively prove to our superiors that technical communication encompasses knowledge management, among other skills.

Skype for Seniors: Quick Reference Guide

Created in collaboration with Seth Irvine and Nikki Gentles.

TCN701- Skype Quick Reference Guide

Localization and Language Technologies

I wrote a brief overview of localization and the use of language technologies. You can view it here at my Seneca College web space, or read the full text below.

Localization is an important concept for technical communicators to understand. Localization is not just theory, it’s big business! This webpage provides an overview of the practice of localization and the use of language technologies.

What is Localization?

According to LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association), localization is “the process of modifying products or services to account for differences in distinct markets.” In order to accomplish this process, three main categories of issues need to be addressed:

Linguistic Issues: Lingustic issues are the focus for technical communicators concerned with localization. Primarily, linguistic issues pertain to the translation of a product’s user interface and documentation. Linguistic issues also extend to the translation and re-engineering of linguistic-dependent applications such as applications programming interfaces (APIs), search engines, or wizards.

Content and Cultural Issues: A key content and cultural issue is the presentation of information (icons, graphics, colours, forms of address, etc). For example, Mexican audiences prefer more graphics in their documentation. It is also important to consider the localization of functionality. As in, a car sold in Britain should not be left-hand drive, and accounting software must be modified to conform to locally accepted accounting principles.

Technical Issues: Supporting local languages, especially those that don’t use roman script, may require re-design and re-engineering. For example, Arabic script is bi-directional (numbers and foreign-language words run from left to right, but everything else is right to left). Also, some east Asian languages require twice the disk space per character compared to English. Therefore, adapting products to local scripts requires changes to the code (for software), product design, packaging, etc.

Designing for Flexibility and Translatability

In order to achieve successful localization of a product, flexibility and translatability must be considered from the beginning.

Designing for flexibility ensures that the basic product can be easily adapted to local variations (making sure bi-directional characters and Asian scripts are supported from the beginning).

Designing for translatability ensures that language components of a product are clearly written, clearly identified, and easily accessible, and that they are kept physically separate from other aspects of the product. For example, a software product designed for translatability will ensure that items containing text (buttons and menus) are large enough to accommodate for the fact that words are of different lengths in different languages.

Factors Influencing Localization

Factors influencing the extent of localization include:

  1. The nature and scope of the product.
  2. The size of the target market and audience.
  3. The length of the product lifecycle.
  4. Anticipated frequency of updates.
  5. Competitor behavior.
  6. Market acceptance (as in “is there a sustainable market for this?”).
  7. National or international legislation.

Canada provides a great example of localization due to legislation, as by law all products must be fully translated into French. For more information, consult the English FAQ at the Office québécois de la langue française.

Language Technologies

Language technologies (also called “linguistic tools”) are designed to improve the speed and accuracy of translation, therefore making the translator’s job easier. Rather than replace humans as the masters of language, language technologies enable people to better deal with one of humanity’s most complex inventions—language—and improve human-computer interaction. As such, language technologies are the key tools used by localization experts.

      Terminology management systems (TMS)

Terminology refers to the specialist vocabularies associated with specific sectors and applications—they are the foundation on which good translation is built. Terminology management systems are databases of terms that are translated into different languages. A good TMS is concept-based rather than word-based, allows effective synonym management, and can be integrated with word processors to enhance translator productivity. Popular TMSpackages (according to Google) include AnyLexicLingo, and TermWeb.

      Translation Memory (TM)

TM refers to a database of previous translations in which the source and the target language texts have been broken down into segments that are aligned with each other. When a subsequent version of the source text is compared with the original, translation memory identifies the equivalent translated segments and inserts them into the new target text. Efficient use of translation memory depends on the quality of the original translation (since errors will be consistently replicated), the accuracy of alignment, and how updates to the original source text are handled. Translation memory is not perfect: editing is required to identify subtle changes of context, and to adapt texts to local markets. For example, in a car’s user manual you would write “open the hood” for a US audience, and “open the bonnet” for a UK audience.

      Globalization Management Systems (GMS)

GMS are an extension of Content Management Systems, and allow for the translation of large, constantly-changing websites (such as that of an international technology corporation like Hewlett-Packard or Apple). GMS typically have an engine that monitors site content for change, and a component that passes content to translators or other linguistic tools for further processing. GMS also manage the workflow and synchronization of translated content with the source-language website.

      Machine Translation (MT)

Machine translation is similar to translation memory, but differs in that it also performs linguistic analysis, using rules and statistics, on the texts submitted to it. MT systems break down the source text into its constituent parts before translating them and reassembling them in the relevant target language. The results do not compare to high-quality human translation, and require substantial post-editing. Even so, MT can still offer substantial productivity gains. A good, publicly available example of a MT system is Google translate.

Guidelines for the Use of Language Technologies

Avoid false expectations: Language technologies enable people, but do not replace them. Human intervention in the form of post-editing will always be required.

Match technology to your needs: The use of inappropriate tools will lead to substandard and/or unusable results. For example, machine translation is generally unsuitable for advertising or marketing texts, since these texts demand a high degree or originality and style.

Garbage in, garbage out: The quality of results produced by language technologies is crucially dependent on the quality of the original text.

Invest for the long term: Localization requires careful planning and implementation to produce the best results. Remember: language technologies are continually-expanding repositories of knowledge and are improved by building up over time.

For more information on localization and the localization industry, consult the Localization Industry Standards Association Localization Industry Primer.

Tutorial: Using Styles in Microsoft Word 2010

Check out this tutorial video I made. It shows you how to apply styles in Microsoft Word 2010 to turn regular text into an eye-catching report.

Here is the introduction/synopsis:

“The purpose of this tutorial is to show how using the built-in styles of Microsoft Word 2010 can transform simple text into polished, attractive reports. The style bar on the right side of the screen provides an easy means to change heading styles, borders and shading, fonts, colors, and paragraph spacing, and allows the user to keep the appearance of text consistent throughout the document. The options can be modified, and saved as a custom style set that can be used in future documents, or fine-tuned to provide a standard template for collaborative work.

As well, though they are not included in the style bar, the user can add a table of contents and cover page to their documents quickly, and if styles are used they will automatically conform to the colors. font choices, and heading names specified in the document.”

Documentation Plan: Seniors-On-Skype Pilot Program

“Skype: Staying in Touch Has Never Been Easier”

For many seniors, staying in touch with family and friends, especially those far from home, is an absolute must. Technology has made long distance communication easier than it has ever been; yet, for those of a generation that did not grow up with it, modern technology can also be frightening and opaque. Enter Skype, a world leader in online video telephony and messaging. Today we are proud to be taking the first steps towards what we hope will be the new normal: a world where seniors are empowered by technology rather than discouraged by it, connected by it rather than isolated.

By demonstrating the ease with which Skype’s simple yet powerful suite of tools allow friends and family to stay in touch, we hope to improve Skype brand awareness and create mind share amongst seniors, an underserved yet affluent community. When seniors wish to reach out, our hope is that they will reach first for Skype. The results of this project will be used to assess the profitability of similar future projects across North America…

[see attached .docx file for the completed documentation plan]

Note: this work is a group project completed by Nikki Gentles, Seth Irvine, and Paul Hillier. The above excerpt was written by Seth.
TCN701 Documentation Plan [draft] 10.23.2011