Trade Tips and Trends

Enjoy panel discussions with industry professionals to learn tips and trends to help you hone your skills.

13:00 – 14:00 EDT | 19:00 – 20:00 CEST
Survival in Mergers

Mergers and acquisitions give a company an opportunity to grow market share, often times eliminating competition in the process. But there is no question that they also wreak havoc as multiple cultures collide and people maneuver to find their place. Within documentation departments, mergers and acquisitions require tools, standards, and processes to be revisited as a new corporate voice is established: Structured or unstructured content? Git or a CCMS? Gerund or infinitive task headings? Oxford comma? Central or distributed teams? How can you navigate these challenges and come out unscathed on the other side? Our panel of experts have all treaded these perilous waters and have advice to share.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What are the differences between a merger or an acquisition in terms of what the documentation team experiences?
  • What challenges should you be prepared to face?
  • How long does it realistically take to normalize again?
  • Do both sides have to agree? Can you operate successfully as separate entities and forego the pain? How long can that last?
  • How do you make sure your voice is heard as decisions are made?
  • What things are worth dying on your sword? And which should you just let go?
  • How do you as an employee prepare for a merger or acquisition?
  • What can managers do to reassure their employees during this time?




15:00 – 16:00 EDT | 21:00 – 22:00 CEST
User Experience

At the core of user experience is ensuring that users find value in what you are providing to them. As technical communicators, we build our content strategy around what we know about our users. However, user experience extends well beyond our realm of documentation, encompassing all aspects of the user’s interactions with our company, services, and products. The panel discusses how we can develop a keener sense of empathy for our users and influence areas of customer experience outside our direct control.

Potential discussion questions:

  • Designing an excellent user experience requires a deep understanding of our users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and their limitations. How do you gain that understanding and empathy?
  • Some people have said that experience cannot be designed because experience exists in the mind of the user, not in the object itself (it’s subjective). How do you respond?
  • To what extent does context (the situation in which the interaction occurs) influence user experience, and how do you design for that?
  • Many technical writers do not have direct user interaction, what advice can you give them for learning more about their users?
  • Often, when things are difficult to document, they are difficult to use as well. How can technical writers effectively influence change in the product itself in such situations?
  • How do you measure success in creating a positive user experience? If user experience is the sum of the parts, how do you pinpoint the individual parts that need attention?



18:30 – 19:30 EDT | 00:30 – 01:30 CEST
DITA 2.0

Although it may not be looming over you yet, DITA 2.0 is a light peeking over the horizon. As the first backwards incompatible release of DITA, it may require more of your attention than previous releases. What can you do to prepare now, so that you are fully ready to embrace the enhancements it brings? Members of the DITA TC committee share what you can expect in the forthcoming release and provide tips for how you can be ready when it is ready.

Potential discussion questions:

  • Why backwards-incompatibility? Won’t it be a lot of work?
  • What resources are you preparing to help migration?
  • What are the compelling arguments for moving to DITA 2.0?
  • What can I do before 2.0’s release to prepare my content?
  • What remains to be done before it’s ready?
  • How can I be an early adopter?
  • Will the tool vendors be prepared?



05:00 – 06:00 EDT | 11:00 – 12:00 CEST
Localization for an International Audience

Often localization is considered a synonym for translation. Although translation is a component, localization goes beyond simply rendering text from one language to another, and addresses cultural and non-textual concerns, such as numeric, date, and time formats; currency and unit of measure; keyboard usage; sorting; symbols, icons, and colors; legal requirements; and cultural sensitivities. Localization may even require rethinking the logic, design, and presentation of content if the chosen paradigm does not work in the given culture. Fortunately, the way we design and develop content can significantly affect the ease of localization. The panel discusses how to integrate global considerations into the design and development process rather than as an afterthought that may require awkward and expensive retrofitting.

Potential discussion questions:

  • Why is localization important?
  • When designing and writing content, what steps can writers take that will make the localization process easier?
  • A critical aspect of writing is to know your audience. How can writers be more aware of the needs and expectations of an international audience? To what extent should writers be expected to be aware of cultural distinctions when writing?
  • How might inclusivity strategies being addressed at various companies affect the localization process?
  • How can tools help the globalization or localization process?
  • To what extent do professional translation companies localize vs translate?



06:30 – 07:30 EDT | 12:30 – 13:30 CEST

Using metrics to evaluate performance and gather insights is critical to the success of any organization. Identifying what is working and what is not is an invaluable discipline that can help an organization decrease costs, determine progress, and stay competitive in the market. Tracking data over time, enables us to learn from historical data and adjust for present and future operational and strategic goals. However, if not defined and used properly metrics can be either boundless and overwhelming, or limited and unremarkable, if not defined and used properly. The panel discusses which metrics provide a holistic view of your operations, including both internal and external performance considerations.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What are the critical data points that every publication manager should have readily available?
  • It’s been said that you get what you measure.  How can you be sure that you are positively impacting behavior through your measurements?
  • How do you measure non-tangible things, like a team’s collaboration skills or the amount of stress the team is under?
  • How much baseline data do you recommend a team collect before making a change that promises impact to that data? How long does it typically take to see an impact change?
  • How do you account for the inevitable differences in content development projects (people involved, quality of source content, availability of test product, difficulty of the concept, and so on) when trying to show progress against a promised improvement?
  • How can you effectively collect data without requiring a lot of extra time to report it?
  • Data can be misleading without context. How do you gather the context? What is the appropriate balance of quantitative vs qualitative data?
  • Aren’t productivity measurements simply a way to justify reducing staff? Why should writers embrace such measurements?



10:30 – 11:30 EDT | 16:30 – 17:30 CEST
CX Friend or Foe? How content goals drive CX

We all have goals for our content. And the best goals are specific and focused. But, have you considered whether your content and support goals are improving the overall customer experience? Megan hosts this panel of top Support and Content leaders to discuss goals that hit or missed the CX mark.



12:00 – 13:00 EDT | 18:00 – 19:00 CEST
DITA Publishing

Years of desktop publishing gave writers much power and opened the door to unlimited possibilities. As those writers move to the world of XML and DITA, they often find that their power over content appearance has been snatched away and often possibilities seem greatly reduced. Tools are not WYSIWYG, the output writers get is not the output they in fact wanted, and the publishing process has become a mysterious black box and a source of frustration. This expert panel gives writers advice about how to still get the most out of their stylesheets to create consistent, attractive, and usable outputs.

Potential discussion questions:

  • Is it true that companies have to compromise and simplify their look and feel when moving to DITA? Give an example of the types of complexities that are possible.
  • Writers hate to lose control over things like line breaks and page breaks. What words of wisdom do you have to offer?
  • What do you wish DITA writers understood about the publishing process that would make your jobs as plug-in developers easier?
  • Problems in output are at least as likely to be caused by poor DITA tagging as problems in the stylesheet, but the inclination is always to blame the stylesheet. What common tagging issues do you see that you always get blamed for?
  • Attributes provide many options to control formatting, including frames, scaling, alignments, and so on. When should these options be left to the stylesheet and when is it appropriate to give that control to the writers?
  • How many is too many outputclasses?
  • Writers are often told not to use highlighting domain elements. Why? If they are so bad, why doesn’t the TC get rid of them?
  • To generate PDF output, you have a choice of XSL-FO and CSS to PDF. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?



16:00 – 17:00 EDT | 22:00 – 23:00 CEST
Alternative Technologies

A significant number of presentations in this conference center around the use of DITA. Over the years, DITA has become the leading XML standard for technical communication. Yet, there are still many barriers to implementation, including costs of tools and migration and the perceived complexity of the standard. In addition, some companies are abandoning DITA in an effort to unite technical writers and developers through common tools and technologies. What alternatives are being adopted and what are their strengths and weaknesses? How should they fit into a modern, enterprise-wide content strategy?

Potential discussion questions:

  • Are alternative technologies making it easier or harder to be a technical communicator? Do you have to be a technical expert to use these technologies?
  • What are the key things to consider when evaluating technologies to be used in content creation?
  • What are viable options to DITA for structured authoring? Is structured authoring even necessary as we move to natural language processing and artificial intelligence?
  • How have markup languages like Markdown or AsciiDoc influenced content strategies at leading organizations?
  • Is Lightweight DITA the bridge we need to cross the gap between professional documentation teams and casual contributors? Where does it stand on being completed?
  • What role can video realistically play in user support?
  • What kind of discipline is required to use a tool like Git instead of a content management system?
  • How should we prepare for the demands of Artificial Intelligence?



17:30 – 18:30 EDT | 11:30 – 00:30 CEST
Agile Methodology

The Agile methodology advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement. The combination of these values creates a unique set of challenges for documentation groups and requires a shift in thinking about strategies and expectations such as resource management, task allocation, and the completeness of information. The panel discusses ways documentation teams can adapt to this high-speed development environment and make the Agile process work for them, rather than the team working for the process.

Potential discussion questions:

  • Often agile development is product-focused, centered around features and functions. However, in documentation, we need to be user-focused, centered on user goals which often require multiple features and functions to complete. How do we remain user focused and still deliver content in sprints?
  • Agile methodology theoretically places the entire team on equal footing, with an equal say in the end product, but in practice documentation is often left out. How can writers get a place at the table?
  • Agile embraces changing requirements, even in late development. Writers often don’t like to work until things have stabilized to avoid large-scale rewrites. How can writers adjust and deliver early and often?
  • In some companies, writers work a sprint behind the development team so the things they are documenting are more stable. What are the pro’s and con’s of this approach?
  • Many people say that a topic-centered content strategy is most conducive to an Agile development schedule. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • The percentage of writers to developers is not typically conducive to having a writer support only one Agile team. How many teams can a writer realistically support?
  • Agile principles include a statement that face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication. Can teams that are not co-located effectively work in an Agile environment? How has this principle been impacted by Covid?



05:00 – 06:00 EDT | 11:00 – 12:00 CEST
Maturity Models

Maturity models measure the extent to which content decisions are driven by established and documented processes, standards, and metrics within an organization. Mature organizations are more likely to be intentional and customer-focused in their decisions and more predictably produce consistent, high-quality content, on-time, and on-budget, regardless of the specific challenges facing them at any one time. The panel discusses the common critical behaviors found in highly effective information development teams and suggests strategies for improving those areas within your own teams.

Potential discussion questions:

  • How do you measure maturity in a documentation team?
  • How do factors often out of the direct control of the department, such as organizational size or funding, influence the maturity of the organization?
  • Must processes and standards be centrally controlled to ensure organizational maturity? Why or why not?
  • How does organizational maturity affect the quality and usability of content produced?
  • How does organizational maturity help departments more reliably meet budgets and deadlines?
  • How important is organizational maturity when making a significant change to your content strategy, such as moving to structured authoring or adopting a new development environment?
  • How important is organizational maturity to attracting new hires into the organization?
  • What are questions teams can ask themselves to get a rough idea of the overall maturity of their organization?
  • How do you grow maturity in a documentation team?
  • What causes fluctuations in maturity?



06:30 – 07:30 EDT | 12:30 – 13:30 CEST
Definition of Quality (Editing)

Every documentation team strives to produce high-quality content. Unfortunately, the definition of what that means differs significantly, from company to company, from writer to writer, from user to user. The panel identifies and prioritizes the critical factors that influence the perception of quality, and discusses the best ways to achieve agreement on its definition.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What factors most impact the perceived quality of a document?
  • How does the perception of quality differ among users, SMEs, management, and writers and editors? How can you get everyone on the same page?
  • Define “good enough”. How do you know when you have reached it?
  • In an era of informal texts, how important is the adherence to basic copyediting rules and style guidelines, such as punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and basic grammar? How high is the user tolerance for these types of mistakes?
  • Many companies have eliminated the position of editor. What can writers do to improve the quality of their content when they do not have the luxury of an editor? Do automated tools make a difference?
  • How can writers combat review comments that disagree with established quality standards?
  • Does the definition of quality change? How often should quality standards be reviewed and refined?



10:30 – 11:30 EDT | 16:30 – 17:30 CEST
Tools & Development – Courtship, Commitment & Relationship Goals

The demands for content creation and delivery today often necessitate far more than the simple desktop publishing programs of the 80s and 90s. Instead, companies must invest in a full content ecosystem that might include authoring tool, content management system, automated quality control, translation management, taxonomy management, and dynamic delivery. The time, effort, and cost of choosing and implementing such an ecosystem is significant, but so also is the risk of getting it wrong. As a result, the process should be akin to finding a life partner, taking adequate time to get to know each other and to determine that you are compatible and have the same goals in the relationship. Between them, the panelists have guided hundreds of companies in locating their perfect match. In this session, they give advice about the considerations and process needed when replacing or expanding a content ecosystem.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What are the most common mistakes organizations make when choosing their content ecosystem?
  • What are the key differentiators to consider in choosing or building an ecosystem?
  • What “intangibles” should also be considered?
  • What compromises should an organization be prepared to make?
  • What is reasonable to expect a vendor to provide during the “courtship” phase?
  • What are red flags that might indicate a tool is not a good fit for an organization?
  • What are the risks of approaching a vendor without a chaperone (consultant)?
  • How much time does it really take to get through the selection and implementation process? How long does it take to stabilize in a new environment?
  • What steps should organizations take when their tools aren’t working as expected or needed?

How do you know that you need to move on and find a new solution?



12:00 – 13:00 EDT | 18:00 – 19:00 CEST

Just like writing clear and unambiguous instructions, creating professional images and videos requires careful planning and special skills. Although they can provide a great user experience when done well, media elements have similar power to distract and frustrate the user when done wrong. The panel presents considerations for effective media use in your documentation.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What are the most effective uses of media in content?
  • To what extent can media completely replace text?
  • When is a still image just as impactful as a video?
  • What localization considerations might impact the use of media?
  • Just because writers can create great text doesn’t necessarily mean they are experienced media creators. What skills do organizations need to have on hand to effectively incorporate media into their content?
  • What techniques should writers include to make content in media, especially video, searchable?
  • How important is a “professional” video? Is compromising on video quality akin to not copyediting your text?
  • What impact does the stability of the product have on your choice of media?
  • What legal considerations might be required when choosing media?
  • What are the techniques that increase the efficiency of keeping media up-to-date and accurate?




16:00 – 17:00 EDT | 22:00 – 23:00 CEST
Searchability, Findability, and Discoverability

Technical writers often spend a great deal of time perfecting their content to be consistent, clear, and concise. But if the content can’t be accessed when needed, of what use were those efforts? With all the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, users seem to have more and more difficulty accessing what they need, and sometimes they don’t even know what they need. Panelists discuss techniques for making your content more searchable, findable, and discoverable.

Potential discussion questions:

  • What is the difference between searchability, findability, and discoverability? Do you need a strategy for all?
  • Do users want to search, find, or discover? Or is that dependent on the situation?
  • What do we know about today’s current search habits that should influence our content strategy?
  • How important is structured authoring to searching? To finding? To discovering?
  • How important are keywords and controlled vocabulary to each?
  • How important are metadata and facets to each?
  • What can technical writers do to optimize search? To increase findability? To improve discoverability?