15 things I learned at WritersUA

WritersUA brought many small epiphanies, quick bursts of insight, that I’d like to share. From each session I attended, I present a tasty morsel that whets the appetite, that’s meant to be shared. It also gives you an idea of the breadth – and occasional overload – of information at the conference. (Of course, the sessions also offered much more substantial lessons than these, but they will take me a little longer to digest.)

But for now and as a tribute to going dinner with the conference crowd to a restaurant called “Sevilla”, here are:

Tech-Comm Tapas in Long Beach

  • Much of “CSI: Miami” was or is apparently filmed in Long Beach, from Let’s Look in the Mirror and See What We See with Matthew Ellison, Tony Self, and Joe Welinske.
  • A pattern library for user assistance can help to disseminate best practices and establish standards for user assistance design, from A Pattern Library for User Assistance with Rob Houser.
  • To bridge cultural differences in a global, distributed team, mutual trust and respect beat everything else, from Global UA Guidelines and Requirements with Pam Noreault.
  • Documentation and training may share contents, their goals are at odds: Documentation constitutes an external knowledge repository, while training aims to build an internal knowledge repository. That makes it a little harder to reuse contents, from Opportunities for Reuse between UA and Training with Linda Urban.
  • When switching to a new tool, get every writer a license as early as possible, so they have plenty of time to get used to it and play around, from Double Scoop Case Studies about MadCap Flare, with Denise Kadilak.
  • As one of their single-sourcing methods, Flare supports global project linking. This allows you to share and inherit just about any file across projects, including topics, from Double Scoop Case Studies about MadCap Flare, with Patrick Calnan.
  • Single sourcing documentation for multiple (similar) products and content reuse can reduce content by around 30% and reduce yearly efforts by almost 50%, from Double Scoop Case Studies about single sourcing, with Deb Woodcroft.
  • The paid version of SharePoint includes a translation management feature which automatically creates copies for each language and lets you assign tasks to translators, from A Realistic Approach to Content Management with SharePoint with Dan Beall.
  • The 7+/-2 rule was never meant for the optimum number of steps in a procedure. It comes from a study about how many random things people can remember for a short time. Instead, the optimum number of steps is (usually) less than 10, but for different reasons, from Help Procedures That Work with Leah Guren.
  • Ensuring accessibility of web sites and documentation for people whose physical and/or mental capacities are restricted is not an issue that affects “them”, it affects us, specifically each one of us who is aging, from Making Your UA Accessible to All by Shawn Henry.
  • If you create an operating system, make sure the name doesn’t undermine your efforts: Windows CE (“wince”) and OS/2 (“OS half”) will come back to haunt you after years when they appear in The Geek Trivia Quiz Show.
  • When you create podcasts, ensure you make your audience part of the conversation – talk with them, not to them, from The Art of Podcasting with Omaha Sternberg.
  • Trying to create PDFs from DITA with open source tools may make you look less sophisticated than you are, from What They Won’t Tell You About DITA with Alan Houser.
  • During a phone interview with subject-matter experts, simultaneous chat is the perfect way to keep and verify notes and to add screenshots on the fly, from Strategies for Working with Subject Matter Experts with Susan Becker.
  • You can use “elements of surprise and fear” (obvious Monty Python reference that wasn’t in the session) to remember where you put your keys: Wherever you put them, imagine that place explode as the keys hit, Tickling the Brain: Sharing Ideas in Memorable Ways with Adam Rubin.

Thanks for the insights and the memories, everyone!

If you’ve been to WritersUA, feel free to share your favorite tapas-like takeaway in the comments.

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9 Responses

  1. Many, many thanks Kai for your posts and tweets from the conference. Illuminating!

    • You’re welcome, RoboColum(n)! I always get a kick out of reading about conferences where I can’t go, so I’m glad that others enjoy it, too!

  2. Hi Kai, it was great to see you, and the actual food-based tapas was fantastic. I want to highlight the personal interactions (as you did in an earlier post)—there were a LOT of people meeting at the conference that knew each other online but wanted to make that personal connection. I had someone ask me if I knew “Kai the blogger” and was delighted to make the introduction.

    Eating (and for some people, drinking!) together and meeting people in person is why conferences matter.

    Note to others: Kai is a humble guy, and he seemed a bit staggered by the number of people that knew him from his blogging.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for the kind words and the helpful introduction! It was a pleasure meeting you again.

      As much as I enjoy meeting other people whose blogs and tweets I read, I still haven’t quite gotten used to being one of those people… 🙂

  3. A key take away from one of my favorite sessions: “Although software / hardware setup is something you may do just once – it has a huge impact on your out of box experience.” Paraphrased from Cathy Moya’s session on “Designing First Time User Experiences”.

  4. Another good quote: “You can predict what a user would do in a given situation if you know them well enough”. From Laura Bergstrom’s session on “Language in Software User Interfaces”.

    • Thanks, Phil, for sharing your two take-aways – I haven’t been to either session, so they make great additions to my list!

  5. Hi Kai!

    Great to see you again, at WritersUA 🙂

    The analogy you mentioned from my talk–that documentation provides an external knowledge repository, while training aims to build an internal knowledge repository–came from a professor of mine, Don Stepich, in the IPT program at Boise State. It really struck a chord with me – nice it see it carried along to you, as well 🙂

    Til next time!

    • Thanks, Linda, for crediting the source of your helpful distinction. It’s always a pleasure to meet you, whether it’s in Europe or the U.S. 🙂

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