What questions do you ask to SMEs to begin with technical documentation?

During a recent online conversation, someone requested for a list of questions I would typically ask to a subject matter expert (SME) to prepare technical documentation for a topic. Of course, the parameters may vary, but there is still a list of questions that apply across all sizes or complexities of projects. In this post, I share with you the list of questions that I shared with them…

TechComm and Content Disruption

Vinish Garg recently posted on the content’s role in Disruption. In his post, he shared what the experts had to say on the role that content has to play/currently plays. Here’s my opinion:

What is Disruption?

Let me first take you back in time. This started when the marketing and branding industry opened the corporate gates to the world of consumers. And, by opening the gates, I mean it transformed its value proposition from “this is what I have” to “this is what I can do”.

This is when the small brands started becoming revolutionarily big by using the power of content to reach people. Gradually, the brand communication transformed from advertisements to jingles, to sports, to brand personification, and to emails. But, this inherent idea of associating brands with emotions continued to lose its value as the size of content continued to become unmanageably big.

Today, we have a lot more touch points to reach to our consumers, yet we are far less effective in reaching the right audiences. Reason? The consumers are lost in the enormity of content. In the race of creating more content, we have forgotten to make it effectively personal. Today, the consumers have a lot of options, and each of those options is trying to be different. But, when everyone tries to be different, no one is different.

It is important to disrupt this clichéd template of communication to help consumers make informed decisions. It is important to keep consumers at the focus to design communication strategies that transform the value proposition from “this is what I can do” to “this is what I can do for you”.

This disruption is to bring back the consumers from the point of “I am being pushed” (with the product/service) to “I am being heard”. And, only such a disruption can help us engage better, listen better, and do better.

And, how can technical communication/technical communicators play a role in Disruption?

I think it is about the consumers, and not about the product. We exist because the consumers (and their needs) exist. We help build this communication ecosystem. We communicate products in an undistorted, unappealing form. But, we do connect the features and benefits. We can help our consumers answer the “what’s in it for me” question. Of course, we may not sell. But we can at least help them buy.

I look at it this way: If organizations were chemical equations, technical communicators would be the catalyst. We communicate. And, we help communicate. The information passes through us. So, it is up to us to transform that information into its utterly simple, memorable, and usable form. In fact, we can equate customers’ requirements with the developers’ intentions.

We can align tools, methodologies, and the technology while we bring clarity, insights, oneness, and simplicity (not in that order though). But of course, that all sums up as the easy-sounding commonsensical task. And, making common sense truly common is perhaps the disruption.

And that’s why I’d go for a mirrorless camera!

For the last couple of years, I have yearned for a camera. And, as usual, my tech-writer’s brain told me to begin researching, reading, and observing on the topic before I made purchases. So, over the years, I have developed an opinion. But first, some points for the premise:

  • I am an amateur photographer. That said, my Canon IXUS HS 300 is enough to do the job for me. In fact, I am now able to explore the limits of the hardware. And, that’s why I want an upgrade.
  • I realize that it is not the hardware, but the creativity that makes great photographs. So to say, the thoughts/vision, and not the camera, make for a good photographer.
  • None of the big/small camera companies have paid/will pay me to write this post. My opinions are my own, and right/wrong, the interpretations are entirely mine. You may please feel free to disagree.

Right so, here are those reasons that made me make up my mind in favor of a mirrorless camera:

Past vs. Present and Future

The story of cameras dates really-really long back in time. Once upon a time, there were those double-lens reflex cameras (also called the twin-lens reflexes or TLRs). Over time, the SLRs replaced the TLRs to make for the parallax errors. And, since then SLRs and eventually DSLRs have been waiting for their time to pass. Roughly for the last fifty years, the basic concept of capturing image has remained same: SLRs and later DSLRs have helped users see through a prism or mirror to view and capture images.

The DSLRs have a mirror, which reflects light from the lens to the viewfinder. When you click, this mirror flips out of the way to let the light (and hence the image) pass through to the sensor to capture the image. The mirrorless cameras do not contain the flipping mirror. This is a step ahead of the long-followed conventional DSLR style. And, I’d like to invest in a technology, which has a future. Mirrorless, therefore, rightly sounds like a choice.

Price

Photography is not what I do for a living, so it is kind of obvious for me to NOT spend on the gear, unless I have money lying around in my account. Think about it: Would you, as an amateur, go for a camera that costs 70-80 thousand bucks in India? Hobbyist-level DSLR cameras are expensive in India in comparison to many other countries. Mirrorless are priced more so at par.

But, how is that a point in favor of the mirrorless cameras? Well, that’s so because the features that you get with even the entry-level mirrorless cameras, such as a higher frames per second (FPS) rate, come in the rather expensive full-frame DLSRs, which are quite an investment. So, you get the same output, but you pay only about half the price. Though not all amateurs will use such features, but I’d certainly like to experiment.

Size and Weight

Wait! But, you said you are an amateur. So, why would you talk about weight when you would carry the camera and its accessories for barely about a couple of hours across a week? The answer is: I am not the only one who will use it. And, I don’t expect my wife to carry a heavy gear when she’s capturing any precious moments with our daughter. Neither of us is a photographer by profession. In fact, professional or no professional, smaller cameras are easier for anyone to carry.

There’s another perspective to this point. Why does anyone get a DSLR? Let me give a hint: It’s to do with the oomph factor (of being one techy-geeky person in the room). Sadly, people’s opinion about technology in cameras is directly proportional to the added bulk in those cameras. The bigger, heavier the camera, the longer people’s oohs and aahhs are. And, if you buy a DSLR just for the seeking a longer ooh, please think again.

Let’ me get into the details now:

Live View and EVF

Almost all those professional photographers that I’ve met so far, have failed to understand the ease of using an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the live view. I realize that it may be subject to habit as much as it is to choice. But, when you take your eye to it, you’ll see what you’ll get – much like the WYSIWYG editors in technical communication.

As an example, try capturing a picture with a DSLR with the sun glaring into your eyes. And, then try doing that with the electronic viewfinder. I’ve tried that. The electronic viewfinder shows only what the camera is about to capture. So, the viewfinder doesn’t let the extra light pass through to the eyes, because it intelligently shows only what the final picture will look like. It’s like viewing the picture before clicking it.

Another point: For a conventional DSLR, there will always be a time lag (usually in milliseconds) between taking the picture and getting it displayed on the live view of the camera. This time lag is on account of the flipping mirror. After you take a picture, the mirror takes some milliseconds to get back in the position. This time lag is not there on the mirrorless cameras, because there is no mirror.

If you are a professional photographer, you are most likely to fiddle with the camera settings for almost all pictures you take. On conventional DSLRs, such operations will have to be done using the live view screen. This makes it a little time consuming. I found that I could view the same things on the EVF. This means, I can do all the settings without taking my eyes off the EVF. Faster, isn’t it? But, for an amateur-level photographer that I am, I may not even need the viewfinder to take pictures. Some mirrorless cameras do not come with viewfinders. Perfect space and money savers for amateurs like me.

Video Mode

My friends who own DSLRs find it difficult to capture videos. Their DSLRs fail successfully especially in situations that demand continuous tracking of moving subject or changing of the focus. But, I’ve tried capturing videos on mirrorless cameras. The autofocus is a lot faster and accurate. The new mirrorless cameras can even capture 4K videos.

It is also to do with the focus systems. Most DSLRs have limited focus points. Also, by design a focus point guides the system to adjust the focal length of the camera based on the horizontal and vertical alignment of the subject and its closeness with the focus point. So, any change in the position of the subject will demand the photographer to readjust, track, and peak the focus. It is challenging in situations when a distraction comes between the subject and the camera. Mirrorless cameras are equipped with predictive, hybrid focus systems, which can help track subjects frame-by-frame, moment-by-moment. Chances are, you will never lose the subject even when there are distractions between the subject and the camera.

Burst Mode

Try capturing a fast moving object using the burst mode. If you are a pro photographer, you’ll know that most of the great picturesque moments lie between the shutter clicks. And, DSLRs can never match up to the burst speeds of the mirrorless rivals, which can impressively produce as many as 12 frames per second – In absence of the flipping mirror, the sensor can produce more images in the same time.

Megapixel Count

Mirrorless cameras, as I said, are a newer technology. The advanced sensors can accommodate more pixels into an image. This does not translate as a plus point. But, the additional zoom sure sounds like a deal. I am an amateur, and I’d like to zoom and print my pictures, assuming that I might not always get the right subject in focus. The added pixel count will mean that I can zoom in a little extra before printing my stuff.

Battery Life

I am not a professional. I do not do photoshoots that last 8 to 10 hours a day. But, I do understand that because everything in the mirrorless cameras – including the viewfinder – is dependent on the battery, the performance of battery goes down. Consequently, the cameras fail to get anything above 300 shots on an average. But, this doesn’t bother me as an amateur. I anyway don’t take more than 300 pictures in a day. Also, I can always switch entire to the viewfinder by shutting off the live-view mode, and save the battery for some extra pictures. Or, I can just carry an extra battery, if required. On these justifications, I count this point in favor of both the mirrorless cameras and the DSLRs.

Connectivity

Those DSLRs that fit into my budget do not offer connectivity options like NFC or Wi-Fi. And, those DSLRs that have those options are out of my budget. But, that’s not the thing with mirrorless cameras. The mirrorless cameras in my choice are social-media friendly – much like cell phones (only with a better image quality).

Lenses

Some of my friends, and well-wishing shop sellers have suggested me against my wish of going for a mirrorless camera. Reason? Lack of lenses. But, that doesn’t bother me much. I am not a professional. So, even though I would want to learn about this artistic skill of photography, I will hardly use more than four lenses across the lifetime of my camera.

This brings me to the following choices: 18-55 (regular, daily use lens), 55-250 or 210 (for zooming), one prime lens (35 mm or 50mm), and one telephoto zoom (something like 70-400mm). But, that’s not only what I think is suitable. Most of the professional photographers I know, use the same lenses in their kits. I am not sure about what they mean by not having enough lenses available. Despite what the companies continue to offer, these four lens lengths will continue to be there.

Some of the professionals take this point in the light of the kit lens configuration with cameras. But, then I am not a pixel peeper. I can never poke my nose into the tiniest of spot to see if the zoomed part will be worth printing or if it will provide me the most natural colors out of the box. I can always use computer applications to adjust the colors.

Conclusion

The truth is, I just want a nice interchangeable-lens camera that gives me some added capabilities on top of a point-and-shoot camera; is nice enough to make room for the future; is light in weight and easy to carry; is easy to handle and operate; and will be tough enough to stand the test of time. And, that’s – precisely – why I’d go for a mirrorless camera.


I’ve started a new thread on the blog: Photography Basics. In this thread, I write about what I’ve learned on photography.

The Next Big Thing: Workshop

Next month, I am conducting a couple of workshops at the STC India Annual Conference, in Pune. I like to talk about technical communication. And, at the conference, I’ll meet a lot of those would like to talk to me about this faculty of knowledge. Also, information design, as a topic, has always fascinated me. And, this time, I am conducting the workshops on the same topic.

In one of my recent interactions, with the Information Design batch at the National Institute of Design, we discussed some design principles. This is one of the reasons I chose to talk about information design at the annual conference. I see that a lot of new writers in our faculty of knowledge are turning toward information design. And, all this just makes me more curious about the topic.

I plan to keep the same flow of thoughts for both the workshops: I will make my point; then I will help you explore the topic; and then we all will draw conclusions on it. The first workshop is on the pre-conference day, and the second on 11 December. You can read more about the first and second workshop using the following links: Workshop#1 and Workshop#2.

The colleagues at my office too are excited about the workshops. In fact, some of them have asked me about how they too can attend the conference. In case you have not registered for the conference, do so quickly. Those of you who regularly follow me on the social network have asked me questions about the workshops. One such question is about a typical format of workshops. That is an interesting question. In fact, that’s how I began my research when I was invited to speak at the conference.

My research says that every workshop (and the speaker) is different. So, there cannot be a fixed format for workshops. However, I think there is one template that every speaker follows: First, make a point and describe it; second, create an exercise for the attendees; third, restate your point in light of the exercise to help your attendees connect the new insights with the thought you initially established; and in the end, leave your attendees with a thought.

But, there is one thing I would hate to do at my workshop: lecture about things. This is YOUR time as much as it is mine. To be a little too specific, you have two hours with me on the pre-conference day (that is 10 December), and 45 minutes on the day that follows (that is 11 December). Please remember that these are interactive workshops. So, the topics cannot steer ahead if YOU don’t participate.

At the workshops, I aim to talk about some intuitive design principles that can help map the need of the user with the benefits of your products/service. But, unlike what most of us think, these principles do not belong to information design. The principles are what I call the torchbearers, because they remain same no matter what faculty of knowledge I apply. This is enough now: I won’t spill the beans! Attend the workshops to know more.

How do I make information-communication effective?

Information communication is a cyclical process, much like the usual purchase decisions that you take. So, if we can wear the shoes of our users and understand their requirements, we can write better documents or even project the information-communication more effectively. In this blog post, I try to find those effective checkpoints using the purchase-decision analogy. We will take daily-life examples, such as using mobile applications to searching for “mobile phones” versus searching purposefully for “new Android phones under 10,000.” The analogy lends us some interesting insights that can help us communication information effectively. Let’s explore.

Three Tips for Effective Localization

In this post, I take a closer look at the localization project in which my team and I assisted. I take cues from this project, and the similar ones that I have done previously, to discuss the top-three points for localization. This post is special to me, because it has helped me unfold those chapters of my life, which I had come to forget. If you are new to localization, this post will help you scratch its surface. If you already are into this field, I hope that the post will help add some new points to your localization plans. Click here to read the full post.

Trends in Technical Communication

In response to a reader’s question, I explore the impact of soft skills on the trends in technical communication. But, do the skills and trends have anything in common? Can the soft skills affect trends? If yes, how? Well, there are a lot of questions. And, I attempt to solve some of them in this post. Read the full post.

The Writing Principles

Have you ever come across a poorly written write-up? Have you ever felt that you could have written better? A couple of write-ups, which I read recently, drew my thoughts on writing about writing. I have always believed that anyone can write. But, if everyone can write, can everyone become a writer? I have explored this thought, and prepared a list (… which is not really an exhaustive one!) of guidelines that can help everyone write better. Read the full post.

The Inverted Tree of Information

I will start this post where I ended the previous one: the inverted tree structure of information categorization. As promised, I will talk about my interpretations on some of the verses in the Bhagwad Gita, which is a great source of inspiration for me on both, personal as well as professional grounds. Click here to read the full post.

For Your Information

There are a lot of things that drive our searches. Therefore, it is true that we often search for things that we don’t know. Or that we begin searching for one thing and end up finding another. And, such information is not a goal, but a by-product. But wait; there is lot more to this story. Come, see for yourself.