15 Feb

Balancing Academic and Practical Reading: Intercultural Communication + The Culture Map

This is rare. I usually avoid making book recommendations, but I actually enjoyed an academic textbook so much that I’m going to recommend it to anyone who works for a global company or works with a multi-cultural team. (If you work in ‪#‎techcomm‬, I’m more than recommending it. I’m insisting you read it.)

Unplanned Coincidence

I recently read an “academic” textbook at the same time that I happened to be listening to a “for leisure” audiobook on a similar topic (unplanned, but nice coincidence). I found the combination of the academic and the practical book very interesting and informative. It was like listening to two different versions of the same story but from very different storytellers. In addition, having to make connections, find similarities, and identify differences between the two books helped me to process and internalize the information better.

Plan Going Forward

This unplanned coincidence helped  me realize that I enjoy the combination of “scholarly” text with “non-scholarly” text.  I often read scholarly articles and practical articles in combination, so I’m not sure why I didn’t make this connection with books sooner. My brain craves variety,  so from this point forward (when available), I’m going to find a practical-skills book that compliments any academic textbook I’m reading and read/listen to them in combination.

Book-Combo Recommendation

Finally, here’s my first book-combo recommendation for anyone interested in practical skills and academic learning related to culture and communication.

 

 

01 Feb

How to find, store, and share Twitter Gold

I enjoy all the wonderful information shared on Twitter, but this fire hose of information is sometimes overwhelming. I’m a working mom and non-traditional student, so my social media time is very limited and, therefore, very valuable.  Finding “Twitter Gold” as fast as possible and with as little effort as possible is critical to me. I’ve done my best to automate and simplify the process–and I’m sure there are much better ways of doing this–but here’s how I find, store, and share my “Twitter Gold.”

Step 1. Twitter Lists  (Categorize) —  Hello, my name is Yvonne, and I am a Twitterholic. I love it. I can’t live without it.  I use Twitter to connect with people and organizations that share common interests with me (i.e., #techcomm, #scicomm, #marcomm, #highered, #elearning #edtech #womenintech, #dataviz, #openaccess #openeducation, #openscience, etc). Therefore, if I follow you on Twitter, it’s likely that I’ve added you to one of my  curated Twitter lists. (The majority of my Twitter lists are public, so feel free to peruse or subscribe to them.)

Step 2. Paper.li  (Aggregate) — Because of the amazing number of individuals and organizations that share my interests, I follow a healthy number of Twitter accounts, which means, it’s impossible to read all the tweets from these accounts. My curated Twitter lists help me address this issue (and so do #hashtags), but it’s still very likely that I’m missing some really amazing tweets. Therefore, I use Paper.li (which is a news aggregator) to filter out little nuggets of gold from my curated Twitter lists and my favorite #hashtags.  (I currently produce two papers using Paper.li: One is a news aggregation of communication stories, and one is a news aggregation of education stories.) 

Step 3. Storify (Curate) — Paper.li is a huge time saver, but then what do I do with all these lovely nuggets of gold I’ve found. Of course, I retweet them, but then what? That’s where Storify comes in. Storify allows me to create a curated list of tweets (and also add notes or annotations). I can then access these nuggets of gold, which are now categorized as “stories” at any time.  (My curated stories are also public.)

Step 4. Share — It’s too easy for me to find an excuse to avoid this last step.  I tell myself I just don’t have the time, but in reality it’s pretty simple. I have a blog and a LinkedIn profile (with access to the new publishing platform), so there is no excuse for not sharing my gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Jan

“Why telecommuting can be dangerous for your company culture,” said no minority woman ever.

Facts

I just finished reading the Fast Company article titled: Why telecommuting can be dangerous for your company culture, and I’m dumbfounded. The article starts by sharing research that supports telecommuting:

One Stanford study shows that telecommuting increases work productivity by 13%. It cuts down on the emotional costs of commuting and arguably increases workplace satisfaction. Most companies offer some form of telecommuting, contributing to its 80% growth since 2005.

Opinions

It goes downhill from there when the author begins sharing his opinions (not substantiated by research) about the dangers of telecommuting  (e.g., missed opportunities and missed human experiences). What?! Dude, if you’re doing the best job you can and your efforts aren’t getting you noticed (whether you’re working remotely or not), you might want to expand your horizons.  And if you need more together time with other human beings, and you currently seek that closeness from people who are paid to interact with you, then you might consider making more friends,  being more active in your professional organization,  joining a church group, getting a membership at a health club, or hanging out in the produce section of a grocery store.

Perspectives

Let me share with you what I don’t miss as a minority woman who now works remotely.

  • I don’t miss spending 15-20 hours of my week commuting. I now spend that time with my family or volunteering in my community.
  • I don’t miss the expectation that I should be wearing uncomfortable shoes and fashionable clothing in order to perform my job. I now spend almost nothing on dry cleaning, and my feet don’t ache in the evening. In addition, what I wear, how nicely my clothing fits, and how high the heel is on my shoe has no influence on how my performance is judged.
  • I don’t miss inappropriate looks or comments related to my sex or ethnicity. I’ve never had to endure an uncomfortable situation or listen to an off-colored joke from my home office. In my remote-work environment, all my communications are professional and related to work tasks and situations.

Hopes

Working remotely in my opinion is the great equalizer. I am judged on what I produce and how well I communicate. How I look, how dark my skins is, if I speak with an accent, if I use a wheelchair, how much I weigh, how old I am, or whether I have another human growing in my belly has no relevance in the remote-work environment.

Resources: 

27 Oct

3 Must-Dos if You Want to Work Remotely

The desire to work remotely is widespread especially among working moms. I’ve transitioned from working onsite to working remotely, but it took effort to get here. Here are 3 must-dos for anyone looking to transition from working onsite to working remotely.

1. Earn and keep the trust of others 
The reason I work remotely is because people trust me. Period. It’s that simple. Before I was a freelancer, I was an employee. My clients are usually former bosses. Therefore, they know me. They know my work. They know my skill set. They trust that I know what I’m doing, that I’ll get the job done when I promise, and that I’ll deliver a high-quality product. The more trust people have in you, the more likely you will find yourself working remotely.

Takeaway: I trust you. Therefore, I don’t literally need to keep an eye on you.

2. Do on to Others as You Want Them to Do on to You
You must provide flexibility to receive flexibility. If your client  allows you to work remotely, and this arrangement provides you with comfort, convenience, and flexibility; then, you better be prepared to reward your client in kind. Therefore, expect to work a few late nights, a couple of weekends, or maybe even during a vacation. I’ve worked harder from home than I have ever worked in an office, and that’s because I highly value my current situation, and I work very hard to ensure my clients never experience a moment of regret for providing me with the opportunity to work remotely.

Takeaway: You need to give as well as you get.

3. Be Heard in Order Not to be Seen
Most good managers have no desire to micromanage. They just want tasks completed and projects to progress. If you want to be counted present, whether you are physically or virtually onsite, then you need to make your presence and, most importantly, your progress known. In other words, you need to be your own project manager by clearly setting expectations, tracking progress, and communicating status on a regular basis. No one should ever ask you how well your project is going or when you will be done. If your client or boss asks you these types of questions, then you’re probably not going to find yourself working remotely.

Takeaway: If I can hear the kids upstairs, I don’t worry. It’s when they’re quiet that I get concerned.

Resources:

21 May

How to find amazing free images for your elearning project in Wikimedia Commons

I’ve known about Wikimedia Commons for a while, but a repository of over 21 million images is a little intimidating to tackle.  In addition, the search feature on the site can be frightening because you never know what you might find.  I’ve come across some disturbing photos.  (Read these two articles for some background: SignPost Commons Deletions and  How Wikimedia Commons became a massive amateur porn hub.)

I personally avoid the search on the main page, and now I narrow my search to the following pages:

Here are just a few of the amazing free images you can access and use in your deliverables:

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Resources:

 

08 Apr

How I learned that pets trump people and other benefits of the V-word

When graduates and individuals looking to transition into my field ask, “How do I land that first job?” My answer is always the same. “Experience.” Predictably, the next question is, “How do I get experience if no one will hire me because I have no experience?” My follow-up answer is always the same. “Volunteer.” I KNOW. I JUST USED THE V-WORD. Calm yourself and just keep reading. It’s not all about the giving. There’s some receiving involved as well. You’ll see.

Getting started

If you’ve never volunteered or you’ve had a bad volunteer experience, you’re probably thinking, “What?” She’s telling people who are looking for a job to volunteer (i.e., work for free). She’s insane. This may  be true, but I’ve personally received more references, accolades, job leads, benefits, and access to influential people through volunteering than though any former employment opportunity. If you’re thoughtful and selective about volunteering, you’ll find that it’s a great way to increase your professional visibility.

Keeping the momentum going

Once I realized the benefits of volunteering, I haven’t stopped. It is a fantastic way to build experience, learn new skills, receive feedback, and build your network of contacts. This is, of course, if you are a hard-working volunteer. Volunteering is like all things in life. You get out what you put in.

Preparing for the future

I often use volunteering as a way to prepare for future employment. If I have an interest in something and there are no opportunities in my current work environment to experiment or stretch, then I will seek a volunteer opportunity that matches my interest. For example, social media has had a tremendous impact on the field of communication. It’s changed the way that people expect and demand to receive information. I communicate for a living, so to learn more about social media from the producer’s point of view versus the consumer’s point of view, I began volunteering for non-profit organizations as their social/digital media manager. During this time, I’ve acquired new skills and knowledge.

Learning and skill building is never-ending

I’ve learned some fascinating things through volunteering.  For example, as the social media manager for a non-profit art organization, I learned that my target audience showed more engagement with images compared to text –no surprise. For example, the audience showed a decent amount of engagement when shown an image of a handsome older gentleman holding a plate of cookies at one of our events.

OlderManwithCookies

Fig 1. Man with a plate of cookies engaged about 150  followers

The audience showed more engagement when shown a beautiful older woman smiling and holding a glass of wine and a paint brush.

Olderwomenwithwine

Fig 2. Woman with a glass of wine engaged about 200 followers

And, of course, an image of a cute child working with clay engaged even more followers.

ChildrenPlaying

Fig 3. Children playing with clay engaged about 250 followers

Now what’s interesting is that videos blow images out of the water in regard to engagement, and the shorter the video the better. For example, sharing a video of an attractive couple (instructors) dancing sent engagement through the roof.

People Dancing

Fig 4. Dancing couple engaged over 400 followers

What beats cookies, wine, children, and a dancing couple? That’s right. Pets trump people.

PetsandContest
Fig 5. Pet-art contest engaged about 650 followers

I can go on and on about the benefits of the V-word, but until you give it a legitimate try, you’ll never know what you can learn and gain from the experience.

Resources:

03 Apr

When someone wants more than the 20-second elevator speech about techcomm

People have heard of novelists, journalists, columnists, essayists, bloggers, etc., but not as many are familiar with technical writers.  I rarely offer up to strangers that I’m a technical writer because this usually leads to the need for further explanation, and that’s more interaction with a stranger than this introvert can handle. Just kidding. Not really.

When someone wants more than my basic 20-second elevator speech, I share the following:

The Anti-Writer
A technical writer is someone who seeks to present information in a clear and concise manner.  My goal is to share knowledge and information, not craft the perfect or most poetic sentence. I sometimes feel like I’m the anti-writer because I spend most of my day eliminating words that cloud meaning. If I’m not eliminating words, then I’m taking apart and restructuring sentences to improve readability. Few things bring me more joy than shortening a sentence and at the same time enhancing its meaning.

Takeaway:  We’ve been tweeting before Twitter was a thing.

The Organizer and Curator
Technical writers are highly skilled at organizing information. That’s the true key to being a successful technical writer.  In some companies, technical writers are referred to as information architects because we organize and structure content to reduce the reader’s cognitive load or improve the reader’s processing fluency, which allows the reader to absorb more information faster. Additionally, we ensure information is complete, accurate, and up-to-date, and that’s what makes the content we produce valuable to companies and organizations.

Takeaway:  In my world, only usable information has value.

The Translator
Technical writers translate technical information into plain English. We work with highly technical individuals who design and provide highly technical products  or services. One of the teams I worked with consisted of two mathematicians, a physicist, a software engineer, a petroleum engineer, and an aerospace engineer (I liked to refer to him as the rocket scientist. BTW, the rocket scientists married a brain surgeon, but they promised not to reproduce–whew). There were only two individuals on the team who did not have a PhD—me being one of the two.  The value technical writers provide in this situation is the ability to translate technical information into something that non-technical users find useful.

Takeaway: We provide a communication bridge between the geeks and the rest of the world.

The Doer
Technical writers work under tight deadlines and are often caught in “hurry-up and wait” situations. Hurry up and get this done, but wait until everyone else is finished.  We often find ourselves hunting for information that our intended audience will find useful, which is sometimes different from what’s available or what the SME (subject matter expert) feels is interesting or important. Therefore, we need to be proactive seekers of useful information. We need to be collaborators and good team members. Most importantly,  we need to be the voice, champion, and advocate of the user.

Takeaway: We’re one of the highest paid professionals in the communication and writing field because what we do is hard and sometimes unpleasant.

In summary, it takes more than 20 seconds to explain adequately what I do for a living, but I’m okay with that.

References and Resources:

02 Apr

Why there is no room in techcomm for the grammar police

You’re probably thinking that as a technical writer my biggest pet peeve would be the misuse of effect and affect or that I’d have a strong opinion about the Oxford comma. Nope. My biggest pet peeve and the behavior I have the strongest opinion about relates to the correcting of grammar.

Grammar Police Bad!

In addition to being a technical writer, I’m also an instructional designer,  so I have a deep appreciation for the power of feedback. The article by FastCompany tilted How Yelp Encourages Users To Write More Thoughtful Reviews highlights the benefit constructive feedback provides compared to the damage destructive feedback provides. When I mentor new technical writers, one of the first pieces of advice I give is to avoid correcting the grammar of others, and here’s why I give this advice.

1. The conversation killer
Implying or stating that someone is wrong is the fastest way to end a conversation. As soon as a person feels that you are challenging, correcting, or judging them or their work, they often stop listening and divert their mental effort to preparing a defense or identifying qualities of the accuser that would negate the value of anything that the accuser shares. In other words, I’m not wrong because of the reasons I can outline here, and you’re an idiot, so who cares what you say, anyway. Once listening stops, communication stops. Once communication stops, the relationship dies. A good part of my job as a technical communicator is collaborating with others. In order to collaborate, I need to communicate. Therefore, I need to be very mindful of the appearance that I am “correcting” the work of others. In addition, my aim is to construct information that is easy to understand. I may have advice and recommendations regarding word choice and sentence structure, but I try never to imply that I’m correcting the work of another author. I am here as the champion of the user, and I’m also here as a guide and advisor to the original content contributor(s).  My goal is to improve readability, not to correct grammar.

2. The problem finder (versus the problem solver)
There is very little value in just finding problems, but there is much value in solving problems. Solving problems requires time and commitment. It involves serving others. The best editor I ever worked with didn’t just circle typos and add or remove commas. He took the time to educate his writers and make them better content developers. For example, if I didn’t follow a particular style guideline, he would refer me to the page in the style guide with the proper construction. Therefore, I had no excuse for making the mistake again. In other words, he identified a knowledge gap and then he helped me fill the gap. If you are only interested in finding mistakes, but not ensuring  that those mistakes do not occur again, then what value are you really adding? For example, I saw a viral post on Twitter involving grammar shaming. An individual had taken the initiative to write what he felt would be helpful instructions for his co-workers, and then taped the instructions on an appliance in a break room. Another co-worker came along and highlighted all the grammatical mistakes in the note, and then photographed the note and shared it  with others. I’m assuming with the intent to ridicule the original author. This example is a good transition to my last point.

3. The bully
I’ve worked on teams with people who are so smart that they are literally frightening, and technology that is so advanced that it takes many to understand and create the parts, and very few who can understand and operate the whole. I’m reminded on a daily basis how much knowledge and information there is and how very little that I have accumulated and mastered. Does this make me feel self-conscious and insecure? Yes. Does this insecurity drive me to bully and belittle others to make myself feel superior? I hope not.

Think about how you want others to perceive you and what value you want to add. Always consider if the feedback you’re providing is constructive or destructive.

Resources: