The dummy puffin

A few days ago, a colleague shared an article with me about the dummy puffins installed on islands to attract real puffins. I found the article fascinating and the puffins utterly cute (they are my new favorite bird). The story resonated with me more that I expected, but I couldn’t fathom why. So I filed it away in my mental cabinet and got back to work.

Until today.

Today at the company-wide team meeting, we discussed the issue of lack of female leadership and diverse representation in the tech industry, and how we, as individuals, could play our part in remedying the situation. The discussion reminded me of a time a few months ago, when I was frustrated about the lack of diverse representation.

I am fully cognizant of my privilege to do things which I could have only dreamed of a few years ago: like attending the Write the Docs conference that I yearned to attend since I first heard about it, or see my absolute favorite YouTubers (John and Hank Green) speak IRL, or work at a brilliant startup building cutting-edge tech. The 20-year-old-me would be proud of where I am now. From her perspective, I have “made it” in life. I have a seat at the table.

And yet, more often than not, I find myself being the only one at the table that looks like me or sounds like me or does what I do.

For instance, consider the Write the Docs conference. It was the most well-organized, thoughtful, inclusive conference I have ever attended. Yet, I observed a lack of ethnically and culturally diverse speakers. Knowing the organizers’ intent of making the conference as inclusive as possible, the under-representation of minority groups certainly wasn’t their fault. One possible explanation was that the organizers hadn’t received many talk proposals from people belonging to underrepresented groups. That was even more infuriating. Why weren’t more people from diverse backgrounds volunteering to speak at these events?

Another thing I found myself complaining about constantly was the YouTube tech community.  I LOVE the contemporary YouTubers in tech: Jarvis, Mayuko, Charli, and others present a realistic view of programming and design careers in tech. But there’s no substantial content about contemporary tech writing. Why wasn’t anyone making videos that I would benefit from?

The probable answer: Imposter Syndrome. As a brown, female, non-US person, I am familiar with the paralyzing fear that the Imposter Syndrome creates. The fear of being judged, being “found out”, coupled with a deep-rooted insecurity and inferiority complex – these are the demons I battle everyday. I know how scary it is to speak up, because if you are wrong, it might not only cost you your reputation and credibility, but also your job, your livelihood. Not every risk is worth taking.

But if I wasn’t willing to take the risk, what right did I have to ask someone else to do it so I could feel represented and validated? If I wasn’t willing to work through my discomfort, how could I expect someone else put themselves through it?

So I made a deal with myself: if I found myself complaining about any form of inequality or lack of representation, I would ask myself if the issue really matters to me, and if yes, I would step up and speak up. If I chose not to do that, I wouldn’t complain about it. Simple. It wasn’t enough to have a seat at the table. I had to use my newfound privilege to make room for more people at the table.

Some of the actions I took/am taking are:

  • Started my YouTube channel to talk about tech writing
  • Joined Toastmasters to work on my public speaking skills, hoping it’ll help me speak well at conferences and events
  • Participate in events (like this and this) that feature non-traditional leaders in tech
  • Currently planning a talk proposal for next year’s Write the Docs conference(s)

Every step of the way, I battle my insecurities. The Imposter Syndrome makes me question my worth: Why would my opinion matter? There are smarter, more knowledgeable people out there, why do I deserve their attention?

That’s where the dummy puffins come into the picture: I am a dummy puffin. I want to be out there on the seemingly lonely island, just representing puffins, with the hope that smarter, wiser, more knowledgeable fellow puffins will show up and be encouraged to share their experiences and perspectives with the world. Because, in the words of the great Captain Holt:

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Image source: https://goo.gl/images/1aFFz3

 

 

Blog Updates (Back from hiatus)

In May, I announced a hiatus from blogging because my parents were visiting me in New York and I wanted to spend quality time with them. We had an excellent summer in the city – I have never seen them so relaxed and happy! Now they are safely back home in Pune and I am back to my routine.

The hiatus proved more beneficial and necessary than I expected. Not only did it cure my homesickness, but also gave me a chance to take a step back and rethink my purpose for this blog and its future. You see, the reason I started blogging consistently in 2018 was because I had a lot of things to say about life as a Technical Writer and the blog seemed to be the best medium to share my thoughts and experiences. But now I find that having this blog as my only platform is pretty limiting. I have so many more things to share, but not all of them fit the content structure of a blog post. Some topics are better suited to video content, while others need more long-form content, such as a full-blown course or even a book. Some topics are about my knowledge gaps that need collaboration with other content creators in the tech writing space.

So that’s what I want to do next – experiment with different content platforms that best suit the topic I want to discuss. I still want this blog to be my central platform, so I will continue writing blog posts and link to other content as and when I create it. I hope you find this experiment helpful and entertaining.

Until next week, happy creating!

Blog Hiatus

My parents are going to arrive in New York soon and I want them to have every moment I can spare from work and all my attention. Thus my blog will be on hiatus until August. Till then, happy writing and be well!

Article Review: Content Strategy: An Integrative Literature Review

Note: I had written the following article review as part of my Annotated Bibliography project during my graduate program.

Clark, D. (2016). Content Strategy: An Integrative Literature Review. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication59(1), 7-23.

Clark’s article looks at how content strategy is defined and discussed in scholarly and trade literature, and what do the discussions indicate about the direction of the technical communication field. Clark conducted an integrative literature review to find answers to the research questions. Clark traces the emergence of content strategy across multiple disciplines such as technical communication, marketing, knowledge management, and so on. Because content strategy is an integral part of several disciplines, an integrative literature review was the most suitable research instrument.

Clark selected the literature to be reviewed based on whether the work contributed to the knowledge about content strategy, if the work was published after 2009 so as to include recent publications, if the work had the potential of being widely cited and shape the conversation about content strategy, and if the work was publicly available. Based on these criteria, Clark narrowed down the literature to 37 publications comprising of 24 articles and 13 books.

To analyze the literature, Clark resorted to the Classical Rhetorical theory that provides the terminology for discourse analysis. Clark manually read the publications carefully. He noted the definitions and descriptions of content strategy in the publications, and the processes and tools they discussed to meet the content strategy goals. He also collected the employment history of the authors of the publications.

The analysis of the collated data suggests a lack of a common definition of the term “content”. The analysis reveals that content strategy is considered to be the process of creating and maintaining material, is integrated with business and technical needs, and is primarily focused on the customer. The literature promises content strategy as a viable career path for technical communicators, but lacks concrete, real-world examples of putting the concepts into practice. The literature related to content strategy is found in trade publications than academic journals. It indicates that though there is a demand for content strategists in the industry, faculty are not giving it due attention.

The audience for the article are content strategists, instructors of professional communication courses, and documentation managers. Clark discusses the relevant literature snippets thematically instead of presenting a patchwork of quotations and annotations from the literature. He presents a rich level of detail in the literature review. He analyzes the cited literature and provides suggestions for future research in the area of content strategy. He thus meets Hughes and Hayhoe’s (2008, p. 121) criteria of a good literature review.

Article Review: Wearable Writing Enriching Student Peer Review With Point-of-View Video Feedback Using Google Glass.

Note: I had written the following article review as part of my Annotated Bibliography project during my graduate program.

Tham, J. C. K. (2016). Wearable Writing Enriching Student Peer Review With Point-of-View Video Feedback Using Google Glass. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 0047281616641923.

Tham’s article discusses a case study of using Google Glass in student peer review sessions. The article also discusses the benefits, challenges, and recommendations of incorporating the process in technical communication courses.

Tham presents an extensive overview of wearable technology and student peer review sessions. He then elaborates on his research methodology of participatory design. In participatory design research, the participants collaborate with the researcher to study the research topic. The study was conducted in three stages. In the first stage, Tham introduced the students to the concept of peer reviews using Google Glass and conducted a device orientation workshop. In the second stage, Tham collaborated with the students to determine the evaluation metrics for the study. In the third phase, Tham and the students used Google Glass to conduct four peer reviews. The first two peer reviews were experimental and the next two reviews were evaluative.

The data collected was triangulated: the data included the students’ narratives, exit survey responses, and Tham’s observations. Using Google Glass, students could track comments and editing suggestions through video recordings. Reviewers may indicate places in writing where revisions are recommended by snapping a picture or recording the suggestions in video. These images and videos could be sent to the respective writers after the review session. With Google Glass, the focus of review shifted from written critiques to spoken comments. Students would employ the think-aloud protocol when reviewing their peers’ drafts.

The students had mixed responses to the exercise. Students appreciated the first-person perspective video feedback helped them understand the reviewer’s thought process while providing feedback. They also found the feedback to be more detailed than written comments. But they found wearing the device physically uncomfortable, reported being distracted by their classmates’ simultaneously talking into their own devices, and felt unsure if they were doing the process right.

On analyzing the students’ responses and his own observations, Tham summarized that the use of Google Glass for student peer review sessions led to personable, unfiltered feedback, provided verbal and visual channels in reviewing, and captured the reviewer’s emotion. Tham also identified the potential challenges to implementing the process as procuring the wearables, connectivity and file sharing issues, technical and financial support, and getting familiar with the technology.

The study is a qualitative developmental study. It has credibility because the students could freely share their opinions, and Tham relied on his observations and not just the students’ self-reports. The study also has transferability because it was conducted in a real-world classroom scenario. Tham shares his course material with the audience, thereby providing material to replicate the study.

Article Review: Academics Are from Mars, Practitioners are from Venus: Analyzing Content Alignment within Technical Communication Forums

Note: I had written the following article review as part of my Annotated Bibliography project during my graduate program.

Boettger, R. K., & Friess, E. (2016). Academics Are from Mars, Practitioners Are from Venus:Analyzing Content Alignment within Technical Communication Forums. Technical Communication63(4), 314-327.

Boettger and Friess’ article investigates the content misalignment in the technical communication publications for academics and practitioners. In this empirical study, the authors conducted a quantitative content analysis of 1048 articles published in four leading technical communication journals and one published magazine over a period of 20 years. The study confirmed the disconnect between the academic and practicing communities and helped the authors formulate recommendations to bridge the disconnect.

The authors sought to understand how is content broadly classified across the publications, what primary content areas do the publications address, and who are the primary audiences for the publications. The authors selected the four leading publications (JBTC, TC, TCQ, and TPC) based on previous studies which found these publications to be the leading publications in technical communication. They selected Intercom as the longest published magazine in technical communication. Because Intercom has been published as a magazine since 1996, the authors selected January 1996 as the starting time for the time period of analysis. They analyzed the articles from 1996 to 2015, when this study was published. The authors populated the 3605 articles published in all five publications in the 20-year timeframe in an Excel sheet and used a random number generator software to randomly select 30% of the total articles.

The authors coded the 1048 articles for four content variables: forum, broad topic, primary topic, and primary audience. Over six norming sessions, three raters used an independent sample of articles to test and refine the coding categories. Then over 10 coding sessions, three raters coded the sample set of 1048 articles. Inter-rater reliability was calculated with Krippendorff’s alpha coefficient. The results of the agreement were: forum (100%), broad topic (80.2%), primary topic (82%), and primary audience (76%).

The authors analyzed the data through descriptive statistics and correspondence analysis (CA). CA is a geometric technique used to analyze two-way and multi-way tables containing some measure of correspondence between the rows and columns. CA reveals patterns in complex data and provides output that can help researchers interpret these patterns.

Based on the analysis, the following results were obtained: Intercom published more process-oriented articles, whereas the journals published more education-oriented articles. There was a strong association between the following forum and broad topic: Intercom and profession, TCQ and education, and TC and product. As for primary content, professionalization and technology content areas were prominent in Intercom, whereas content on pedagogy, rhetoric, assessment, comprehension, and design were prominent in the journals. Rhetoric as a topic was identified only in journals. A strong association was found between the following forum and primary topic: Again, Intercom with professionalization, TCQ with rhetoric, and TPC with pedagogy. With respect to the primary audience, the primary audience for the journals were academics and managers, while for Intercom, the primary audience was writers, content developers, managers, and so on. There was a strong association between the following forum and primary audience: Intercom and writer/content developer, JBTC and TCQ with academic, and TC and manager.

Based on the results, the authors verified the disconnect between the publications and recommended remedies to bridge the disconnect. They recommend unifying the existing forums, identifying new audiences, and involving practitioners in technical communication research.

The main question about the study is the premise that the content forums for technical communicators need to be unified. As we learned in the History of Technical Communication course, the different publications were started to serve different audiences and meet their varied requirements. Unifying the forums would defy the original purpose of the publications. Another concern is the publications excluded from the study. Not all academics and especially practitioners read the publications studied in this article. In today’s Internet age, popular online blogs such as I’d rather be writing and ffeathers need to be considered to ensure maximum readership is accounted for.