Let's Tech Communicate

June 2017

Grant Mackenzie and his pokémon

This month you can all pat yourselves on the back. That is because in this world of Brexit, alternative facts and fake news, we as technical communicators stand out as a beacon of truth, light and intelligence. But our human intelligence could be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Either way our intelligence won’t help us to understand what is being said in videos and other online learning tools if we are deaf. For that we need captions. Open captions, closed captions and subtitles each have their place, so should we be using captions? Captions are not just for the spoken word. They can also be used for the clock’s tick-tock. So what does tick-tock have to do with ablaut reduplication? Perhaps even, more importantly; should we Save the Semicolon?

Read on and all will be revealed.

Facts, Ethics, and Technical Communication in the Post-truth Era

Leah Guren is from Cow TC. For this alone she should be congratulated. In her recent tcworld post, when talking about current events, the blatant lies, and attacking truths as Fake News, she says “For those of us in technical communication, the challenge creates an almost visceral cognitive dissonance. We carry on our shoulders the responsibility of providing clear, accurate information for users. We know that truth is important and facts matter.”

You Could Be Replaced

It started with Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. It used to be that nobody liked to be talked back to. Times change. Alberto Ferreira has written Rebooting with bots: The future of (assisted) technical documentation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made being talked back to cool. Read on and be afraid.


Earsny Liu pointed me towards this radio interview. In the USA instructional videos must include closed captions or as they are called in the foreign movies, subtitles. Chair of the Captioning Working Group - Doctor Louise Carroll has 20 mins to convince you that they are necessary. Strangely, after listening to this I have made my last 19 videos with captions.

As an aside, the difference between subtitles and captions is that subtitles are placed at the bottom of the screen and are only what has been said. Captions are for the deaf. They can appear anywhere on the screen and can be placed to help the deaf understand who is talking. Captions are not restricted to the spoken word. They can include sounds such as the screech of brakes, the revving of engines and the report of gunfire. Open captions are always in view. Closed captions can be turned off by the viewer.

Tock-tick, Dongding and Kong King

So why do these all sound inharmonious to our ears? Well, of course it is because of ablaut reduplication. Not sure what that is? Read on.

The Fun Version

The Cambridge Academic Version

The Wikipedia version

Thanks to Melissa Kearney for pointing me towards this.

Save the Semicolon

If it were up to me the semicolon would have gone the way of the dodo and the dribble glass. Save the Semicolon is Robert Levy’s blog which has some entertaining and useful articles and links. In particular, there is a list of the technical communication blogs he follows. Have a look. You might like to follow them as well.

Oh and could the pedants among you please note that the use and positioning of the semicolon in the introduction was a joke. It was a poor joke, but a joke nonetheless.

Grant Mackenzie, Board member