​ASTC Conference 2018

November 2018

ASTC logo - a blue triangle with rounded edges. Each of the three faces folds into one another.

“One of the joys of being a technical communicator is that we never have the chance to get bored or become complacent about our knowledge. In our role, change is a constant. The ASTC annual conference offers a unique opportunity to keep up with those changes.” – ASTC 2018

It was a privilege and a delight to be invited to the Gold Coast as the TechCommNZ Board representative at ASTC’s 2018 Conference in October. Not only did I get to hear Dave Gash’s upcoming webinar live and in person, and learn from some fabulous speakers, but I got to properly meet several members of our sister organisation that I have only spoken to via webcam.

It was wonderful to talk to some of our former TechCommNZ members who have moved across the ditch, and to get some feedback on TechCommWire from our Australian readers.

I shoulder-tapped a few of ASTC’s speakers to write for TechCommWire while I was there too, starting with Dr Marina Hurley, who generously agreed to an article in the January newsletter!

The theme was “Let's get technical technical”. No, that’s not a typo!

So, how do we get technical technical?

We covered everything from technique to tools when it comes to technical technical writing.

It started with Tony Self. He wowed his audience with his presentation at ITx in Wellington and had further refined it for ASTC. Tony argues that the applications and services that we often document are cutting edge, but their accompanying documentation is rarely so. Impossible documentation never sounded so possible…or so close!

Then Dr Marina Hurley discussed how to be an efficient writer. She said “You can be a good writer and still be an inefficient writer. You can work really hard and still be an inefficient writer,” and it’s a quote that will stay with me. I'm sure everyone reading this will have experienced the struggle it sometimes can be to stay on track, especially if you are describing about your own work.

I got a new perspective on Plain English, listening to Kevin Spink’s Simplified Technical English. So many of us think we know what is meant by simplified technical English, but do we? It’s not the same as plain English and is very specific for documentation in certain industries. After all, most of us would use the word “previous” instead of “preceding” … but both words have a specific meaning in Simplified Technical English and aren’t at all interchangeable. Kirsty Taylor expanded on the idea on the second day when she discussed writing documentation for translation. The world is getting ever smaller and the need for translatable English is increasingly important!

Technical writing tools for the technical writer

From Specification S1000D to Blockchain to opening up a new way of using DITA… the future looks bright for technical tools. We heard from Tracy Wood who adds value to her customer's products with her own unique technical documentation tools. Tracy showed us how it pays to think outside the square when it comes to technical writing as a career. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not as technically minded as I’d like to be, but these guys made it sound easy!

I’m looking forward to finding out how tools like these could change the face of technical writing, especially in light of our own conference next year focussing on sustainable content.

Technical innovation and getting the most out of what you’re doing

It was inspiring listening to all the ways technical writers have already changed the world, in ways we never even knew. After all, simplified technical English changed the face of the aviation industry, plain English is pulling law and engineering into the 21st century, and innovative technical writing tools are not only making our jobs easier but everyone else’s too.

David Stephensen highlighted the effect of technical communicators, not only on the adoption of international management standards, but on how they’re taken up worldwide. ISO 9001, ISO 45001 or ISO 14001 are guidelines for good management and have been refined by experts over many years. Plus, Tony showed us how to really reduce the time for a process for which you never find time and revitalise them using the tools available, while Gareth taught us to supercharge our authoring, with the current crop of software tools that allow us to write tagged text (i.e. xml) with ease.

Technical technical?

I don’t know if I left the ASTC Conference more technically minded, but I certainly left educated and inspired! I’d like to say a huge thank you to Janet Taylor, who organised the ASTC Conference, and the ASTC Board for making me feel so welcome.

I look forward to next year!