WritersUA 2010 Conference: Day 1

March 23, 2010

Finally, the 18th Annual WritersUA Conference for Software User Assistance started today in Seattle. I attended the opening session and four others. Here’s my summary of the sessions I attended. Please note: This is MY personal summary; if you attended the same sessions, you may have different opinions than mine — and that’s OK!

Let’s Look in the Mirror and See What We See

The opening session featured Joe Welinske, Matthew Ellison, and Tony Self — and us, the audience! We were all given little hand-held devices as we entered the room and had to press buttons to indicate our responses to certain questions about what we do and how we do it. The guys started off with some fun questions just to get the audience warmed up, then we got down to business. Some of the results were interesting, particularly the one about smart phones — remember, this was a techie audience of some 360 people, so I would’ve expected a much different result on that question. Here’s a summary:

  • Percentage of time spent actually writing versus planning etc.: Fairly even spread between each option (0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75-100%)
  • Reasons why we use PDF: 55% said it was because it’s common
  • Importance of a Table of Contents in online user guides: 81% said it was of moderate to indispensable value
  • How often we telecommute to work each week: 26% never; 27% less than one day a week; 27% 1 to 2 days a week; 8% 3 to 4 days a week; 12% full time
  • How flexible are our work hours: 84% said they had just enough flexibility or whatever they needed
  • Our primary method of non-sales contact with our users: 36% had no contact with their users; 21% via email; 15% in person; 11% by phone/conference call; and 17% by other means
  • Where did we think DITA would be in 5 years time: 39% said only the DITA ‘fan boys’ would be using it; 41% thought only large companies would be using it; 14% thought it would be widely adopted, and 6% thought it would be obsolete
  • Did we know what the SCORM acronym meant: 84% no, 16% yes (though I think many knew what it was used for without knowing the meaning of the letters)
  • Did we care what SCORM meant: 37% yes, 63% no
  • When asked what type of smart phone we were using: a whopping 57% of us said we weren’t using a smart phone; 22% iPhone; 10% Blackberry; 5% Android; 4% Windows Mobile; and 3% Palm
  • Hiring health of UA professionals in your organization in the current economy: 16% are hiring new positions;  23% are refilling empty positions; 51% are neither hiring nor firing; 10% said ‘You don’t want to know’
  • How do we get help when have problems with our Help Authoring Tool: 39% use the Help; 30% use Google; 31% ask or email a colleague or peer
  • Which would we most like to offer our customers: 56% animations/simulations; 19% YouTube-like videos; 12% line drawing/flowcharts; 5% audio content; 8% cartoons
  • How effective is customer-provided content (e.g. online communities, wikis) to your organization: 48% said they don’t do this; 21% said users mostly loved it; 19% said user reactions were mixed; 2% said user reactions were mostly negative; 10% said user reactions were mostly indifferent

The questions finished with a silly one from Tony on double negatives.

This was a neat idea for a session. Based on the description, I didn’t know how this session would fly but it was great ice breaker for a conference. And what a clever way of getting instantaneous feedback.

High-end Captivate Tips and Tricks

Joe Ganci’s presentation was great. I learned a lot — and I especially learned about some shortcuts to make adding narration and editing captions in Captivate much easier and quicker. All sessions at this year’s conference are an hour long, so Joe didn’t get to cover anywhere near as much material as he had in his slides. His session would make a terrific workshop or a double hands on session. I left wanting more and fully intend checking out all his slides.

The Power of Controlled Language in UA

Dave Gash is a terrific speaker with a lot of presence. He took us through the history and development of  controlled language, especially Simplified Technical English, and gave us lots of resources to check it out for ourselves. He also went through the pros and cons of using controlled language, and the benefits to the organization, the writers and especially the users. I got enough out of his session to want to follow up his list of resources and check out whether this would be a good option to pursue.

Structure, Semantics, Controls and More: HTML 5 is Here!

Another top speaker at this conference is Char James-Tanny. And with everything that went technically wrong at the beginning of Char’s presentation, she showed how much of a  professional she is. Her recovery from every presenter’s nightmare was exemplary, and she gave a terrific presentation under some pretty trying circumstances — lesser mortals would’ve fallen in a heap! Char’s presentation was full of information and examples of some of the new HTML 5 tags, and some of the changes to the rules in HTML 5 (simple DOCTYPE declaration, no need to close void tags, tag case not important, quotes not important, no attributes allowed in the BODY tag, etc.)

Building Support for Content Strategy from the Grassroots Up

My final session of the day was this one on content strategy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t engage with it — it didn’t match my expectations based on the published abstract. It seemed to be mostly about Google Analytics, and, while I use Analytics for the websites I manage (and have managed), I didn’t get a lot from this session. Maybe I was just tired and jet lag was catching up with me.

Social time!

The day finished with a Mixer (free drink and finger food), after which people split off into their own groups for dinner. I went with three others to the Icon Grill across the road from The Westin, where I had the Grilled Flat Iron Steak (with Roquefort dressing). Then it was back to the room to write this blog post, and get some much needed sleep before it all starts again tomorrow!


  1. Thank you Rhonda for this great summary. I can’t be at WritersUA this year, so it’s awesome to be able to read about it. Have a good sleep and a great day tomorrow.
    Cheers, Sarah

  2. I agree, not attending so these writeups are always great to read.

  3. Thanks Rhonda, I’m looking forward to your next daily summary. I know most of the speakers you mentioned, and I am sorry I’m not there with you

  4. Thanks Rhonda for the newsletter. I almost feel like I was there. Hope you maintain the momentum for the rest of the conference.

  5. […] For a full list of the results, Rhonda Bracey of Cybertext Consulting fame has provided them here. […]

  6. […] and 12% were telecommuting ‘full time’. This question was also asked last year (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/writersua-2010-conference-day-1/) with the respondents saying: 26% never; 27% less than one day a week; 27% 1 to 2 days a week; 8% 3 […]

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