Kai Weber - Addicted to Meaning - STC13 130507

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This presentation explores how “meaning” works in technical communication, why it fails, and how you can create meaningful documentation. Drawing on the cognitive psychology of mental models and user experience design, Kai shows with examples why minimalism works but FAQs don't, and how to write for users without irritating them.

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Kai Weber - Addicted to Meaning - STC13 130507

  1. 1. ADDICTED TO MEANINGMENTAL MODELSFOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORSKai Weber@techwriterkai #STC137 May 2013
  2. 2. PROGRAMIntro: Who am I and what do I know?1. What is meaning…… and why should technical communicators care?2. How does meaning work in communication…… and why does it still fail in tech comm?Semiotics3. How and why we create meaning…… and how to create meaningful documentation?Mental models
  3. 3. WHO AM I AND WHAT DO I KNOW?
  4. 4. WHAT IS MEANING?WisdomKnowledgeInformationDataDon„t put into fruit salad.It„s a fruit.
  5. 5. WHAT IS MEANING?WisdomKnowledgeInformationDataNothing lasts...Used to be File menuOpen, Save, PrintOffice 2007
  6. 6. WHAT IS MEANING?WisdomKnowledgeInformationDataNothing lasts...Used to be File menuOpen, Save, PrintOffice 2007MEANING
  7. 7. WHAT IS MEANING? Can be in information, more valuable in knowledge Allows us to “connect the dots” Answers “why should I care?” and “what should I do?” Turns information into relevant & applicable knowledge
  8. 8. WHY SHOULD TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORS CARE?It‟s what we do:Turn information into relevant & applicable knowledge Know your audience! Task-oriented documentation
  9. 9. HOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATION Shannon & Weaver (1949) – process theoryOmits meaning!
  10. 10. Sender Receiver Fiske (1990) – semioticsHOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATIONMessagesConventionsMedia
  11. 11.  Fiske (1990) – semioticsHOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATIONMessagesConventionsMediaIn semiotics… In tech comm…Represent “stuff” arbitrarily Clarify w/ definitions & glossaryInclude or exclude groups Can ensure comprehensibilityAllow or restrict feedback Invite feedback & collaboration
  12. 12. WHY DOES MEANING FAIL IN TECH COMM? Aren‟t message, conventions, and media clear? von Foerster (1949ff.) – radical constructivism There is no meaningbut the one created by the reader. Each individual situation isa new beginning, another page one…which is why FAQs fail.
  13. 13. HOW WE CREATE MEANINGWe compare each individual situation…… with personal past experience…… by matching…Mental models Semi-consciously selected, incomplete images What (we think) we understand of the world How we face the world: Options? Solutions? Confidence?
  14. 14. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  15. 15. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  16. 16. HOW WE CREATE MEANINGImagecredit:jwarletta
  17. 17. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  18. 18. HOW WE CREATE MEANINGMental models Flexible and adaptable, within limits Support meaningful knowledge How we approach a task How we react to a problem How we look for help Inert, uncontrollable
  19. 19. HOW WE CREATE MEANINGMental models Flexible and adaptable, within limits Support meaningful knowledge How we approach a task How we react to a problem How we look for help Inert, uncontrollable In tech comm:Designer vs. user Norman (1988)
  20. 20. WHY WE CREATE MEANINGWe are addicted to meaning! Conspiracy theories Pop lyrics, “mondegreens” Logos Janoff (1977)Image credit: Marcin Wichary
  21. 21. WHY WE CREATE MEANINGWe are addicted to meaning! Because we want to understand and do stuff:What does this mean? How does this work? Because we seek order:How does this hang together? How to connect the dots?
  22. 22. WHAT IS MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE?1. Relevant to user, applicable to situation2. Or a way ahead, a workaround3. Or an explanation4. Or even understanding and sympathy
  23. 23. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCEMeaning needs understanding (cognition and empathy)1. Understanding your audience2. Understanding semantics3. Understanding mental models
  24. 24. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCEUnderstanding your audience1. Help users connect the dots.2. Beyond information, deliver applicable knowledge.3. Beyond the “how”, include the “why”.
  25. 25. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCEUnderstanding semantics1. Messages are best clear and consistent.2. Conventions are best inclusive.3. Media are best serving people‟s communication.4. Receivers need “random access”.
  26. 26. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCEUnderstanding mental models1. Translate designer‟s model into users‟ models.2. Observe diverse audiences.3. Support with options, solutions, and confidence.4. Invite to explore; don‟t teach to control.
  27. 27. BETTER GRASP ON MENTAL MODELS...?
  28. 28. FURTHER READING AND SOURCES1. DIKW Pyramid2. Shannon & Weaver‟s process theory (1949)3. Fiske on semiotics (1990) (chapters 3 & 4)4. Mental models in user interfaces Norman: The Design of Everyday Things (1988)5. Mondegreens in pop lyrics; Phil Collins‟s “In the Air Tonight”6. Janoff, designing the Apple logo (1977)7. Carroll on minimalism (1998), (esp. chapter 2)
  29. 29. THANK YOU! KEEP IN TOUCH!kaiweber.wordpress.com@techwriterkai

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