Kai Weber - Addicted to Meaning - tcuk 130925 - public

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Addicted to meaning: Mental models for technical communicators

This presentation explores how ‘meaning’ works and how you can create meaningful technical communication. Understanding how and why communication is meaningful can help make your documentation more effective. Based on semantics and mental models, Kai explains:

How users create meaning from documentation
When meaning succeeds – and why it fails so often
Why minimalism works, but FAQs often don’t
And how we all are addicted to meaning

Attendees will get a deeper understanding on their work as Kai puts familiar tech comm methods into new context in a romp of aha-moments.

Published in: Education, Technology
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Kai Weber - Addicted to Meaning - tcuk 130925 - public

  1. 1. ADDICTED TO MEANING MENTAL MODELS FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORS Kai Weber @techwriterkai #TCUK13 25 September 2013
  2. 2. PROGRAM Intro: 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? Semiotics 3. 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? Wisdom Knowledge Information Data Don‘t put into fruit salad. It‘s a fruit.
  5. 5. WHAT IS MEANING? Wisdom Knowledge Information Data
  6. 6. WHAT IS MEANING? Wisdom Knowledge Information Data Nothing lasts... Used to be File menu Open, Save, Print Office 2007
  7. 7. WHAT IS MEANING? Wisdom Knowledge Information Data Nothing lasts... Used to be File menu Open, Save, Print Office 2007 MEANING
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. WHY SHOULD TECHNICAL COMMUNICATORS CARE? It’s what we do: Turn information into relevant & applicable knowledge  Know your audience!  Task-oriented documentation
  10. 10. HOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATION  Shannon & Weaver (1949) – process theory Omits meaning!
  11. 11. Sender Receiver  Fiske (1990) – semiotics HOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATION Messages Conventions Media
  12. 12.  Fiske (1990) – semiotics HOW MEANING WORKS IN COMMUNICATION Messages Conventions Media In semiotics… In tech comm… Represent “stuff” arbitrarily Clarify w/ definitions & glossary Include or exclude groups Can ensure comprehensibility Allow or restrict feedback Invite feedback & collaboration
  13. 13. WHY DOES MEANING FAIL IN TECH COMM?  Aren’t message, conventions, and media clear?  von Foerster (1949ff.) – radical constructivism  There is no meaning but the one created by the reader.  Each individual situation is a new beginning, another page one …which is why FAQs fail.
  14. 14. HOW WE CREATE MEANING We 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?
  15. 15. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  16. 16. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  17. 17. HOW WE CREATE MEANING Imagecredit:jwarletta
  18. 18. HOW WE CREATE MEANING
  19. 19. HOW WE CREATE MEANING Mental 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
  20. 20. HOW WE CREATE MEANING Mental 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)
  21. 21. WHY WE CREATE MEANING We are addicted to meaning!  Conspiracy theories  Pop lyrics, “mondegreens”  Logos  Janoff (1977) Image credit: Marcin Wichary
  22. 22. WHY WE CREATE MEANING We 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?
  23. 23. WHAT IS MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE? 1. Relevant to user, applicable to situation 2. Or a way ahead, a workaround 3. Or an explanation 4. Or even understanding and sympathy
  24. 24. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE Meaning needs understanding (cognition and empathy) 1. Understanding your audience 2. Understanding semantics 3. Understanding mental models
  25. 25. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE Understanding your audience 1. Help users connect the dots. 2. Beyond information, deliver applicable knowledge. 3. Beyond the “how”, include the “why”.
  26. 26. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE Understanding semantics 1. Messages are best clear and consistent. 2. Conventions are best inclusive. 3. Media are best serving people’s communication. 4. Receivers need “random access”.
  27. 27. HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL USER ASSISTANCE Understanding mental models 1. 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.
  28. 28. BETTER GRASP ON MENTAL MODELS...?
  29. 29. FURTHER READING AND SOURCES 1. DIKW Pyramid 2. 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)
  30. 30. THANK YOU! KEEP IN TOUCH! kaiweber.wordpress.com @techwriterkai

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