ASTC conference notes: technical writers, editors and information designers unite

Sydney Opera House by night

Oh my gosh. Blog shorter blog more often she said. Well, haven't a hope of growing a tenth of the blog-germs in my mind.

And now, even though I'm in Delhi, I will throw some notes down about the excellent ASTC conference in Sydney at the end of October.

Interesting people and some great presentations. I'll comment on the ones that were strongly related to what I'm thinking or doing these days.

A. Neil James spoke about unifying the profession of plain english practitioners, technical communicators, information designers, editors—all doing the same thing but tragically sniping at one other for trumped-up theoretical reasons. These occupations are not a profession: he'd like to see a profession with certification, standards, etc. Good luck though I don't fancy the chances.

Echoes of the NZCS initiative to professionalize IT practitioners. That's proceeding satisfactorily. But I would say that, wouldn't I, as a fully fledged IT Certified Professional?

B. Sarah Maddox's topic was Getting the public involved in documentation. This sounded almost dull, but her talk was riveting. Not to mention dynamic. She showed us how Atlassian has been using Twitter, wikis, Facebook to get users' input at an early stage. Way to go!

An inspiring talk for someone who uses Twitter but tries to pretend Facebook doesn't exist. We can't do everything but we do consult (randomly) and even act on ideas. Our brand new course on formatting web content came from a plea on Twitter. We're working on one about accessible PDFs in reply to demand. And we've so enjoyed our first photo competition that we're sure to involve our customers more in future. Thanks Sarah.

C. Sarah Forget spoke about writing for translators. She even showed us the translator's software at work, and gave great tips.

This was directly useful for our planned global English course. I wrote a book called "Global English for Global Business" way back when it was such a new idea that very few people got it. Now, at last, it's hot.

D. James Robertson spoke about ways to deliver an intranet that works for staff. Clear, well organised, funny and authoritative as always.

Every talk he gives is relevant to our work at Contented. He admitted he was once a technical writer, so of course he cares about content. We'd like a course about intranets next year: they're hidden from the world, but entire businesses depend on them.

E. Irene Wong gave a super talk on communicating numbers, largely about graphs. Lively, well illustrated.

The topic relates to our course on using images in web content: a hot topic.

F. Charles Cave spoke on Creating e-learning using PowerPoint and Articulate - exactly the e-learning tools we use!

He was asked "How long does it take?" He said, after thought, 2 weeks to create a 15-minute training course. I thought that was a fair estimate, granted that he's now very familiar with the tools. On that basis, one Contented course takes 8 weeks to create, full time, and again, that's a pretty good estimate.

There's a convention that presentations at a professional conference like this should have the unspoken message: "We did this, and you could do it too." Usually, that's spot on, and I like it. The trouble is when I talk about Contented, I'd have to say, "We made our online courses like this, and it took us at least 80 weeks to make 10 courses, plus plenty of dosh, plus ongoing customer support and maintenance. We do not recommend you reinvent the wheel, to reinvent a cliche. We recommend you use Contented courses rather than start again from scratch." It's hard to perceive our development experience as tips, because it's our entire business—not a little extra side business—but I try!

Photo: Sydney Opera House by night. Pascal Vuylsteker. Creative commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

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