Where do you start conversations?

The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation – or a relationship. – Deborah Tannen

There are new social media tools being invented all the time, and traditional websites are also finding ways to incorporate tagging, sharing, and other collaboration helpers in their content.

I believe that a conversation doesn’t have to be a direct connection between technical writer and customer. I want to also think about how you help customers connect with each other.

So, let’s discuss ideas for starting conversations. You probably want to study the categories of contributions that you want to ensure match up with your role in your company.

Matching up your strengths and experience to the conversations helps to avoid stepping on toes or stumbling into conversations where you do not have the tools, background, or correct messaging to know how to deal with the situation correctly.

There are plenty of skill sets that are valuable in traditional user assistance deliverables that are easily transferable to a movement towards social network integration for user assistance. These skills include:

  • excellent communication
  • clear writing
  • good design
  • up front planning
  • keywords and indexing (tagging)
  • understanding of semantic markup

What other skills do you think writers bring to the conversation buffet that is the social web?


  • September 5, 2008 - 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I think an absolutely critical skill that professional communicators bring to the table is “synthesis”. Often, the technical writer is one of the few people in an organization that understands (at least at surface level) the entire product. Because they had to actually understand all the moving pieces in order to document them.

    To quote Marc Rettig “The creative organization of information creates new information … Understanding is not about simplification and minimalization, it’s about organization and clarification … The essence of understanding relates to connections.” — (Hat Racks for Understanding; Communications of the ACM, Oct. 1992, and and must-read-first for the IBM team that created DITA)

  • September 9, 2008 - 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Hi Bob – I think that “synthesis” is a good term – also maybe “collation” as suggested by Gordon McLean (http://twitter.com/snowgoon) when I mentioned that writing is “just” review, technical review, editorial review, and re-writing until it’s accurate on Twitter. His mention of “collation” made me pause to think about what happens before you even write a word down – you have to gain an understanding either by trying the product yourself or interviewing others until it makes sense, and writers have to be good at those two things to be successful. Both interviewing and quick learning are part of that synthesis process I guess.

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