WritersUA Conference, 2011: Day One

March 15, 2011

This week I’m attending the WritersUA Conference in Long Beach, California. I’ll try to write short notes on all sessions I attend and post them on this blog. However, as there may be five sessions on at once, I cannot cover everything! NOTE: All commentary is MY OPINION and does not reflect the opinion of anyone else at the conference.


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

As in 2010, 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. Here’s a summary of the top responses:

  • Most important skill in your career: 45% said ‘ability to learn quickly’
  • Favorite way to learn a new authoring tool: 42% said ‘trial and error’, with 25% indicating ‘classroom training’
  • Most important skills we will need for the future: 35% said ‘delivering information via a hand-held device’, with 25% indicating ‘eLearning design, development, tools’
  • How we describe ourselves at a party: 42% said ‘I’m a writer’ and 33% indicated that they’d say ‘I’m a technical communicator’
  • 66% had no idea what A and K links were. As these were a feature of WinHelp and as WinHelp was replaced with HTML Help more than 10 years ago, this answer was no surprise to me.
  • Your biggest challenge to adopting a new tool: 45% said ‘enough time to do it’, with 29% indicating ‘resistance of personnel’
  • When asked where we thought AIR Help would be in 5 years, 37% chose ‘What is AIR Help?’, with ‘isolated cases’ a close second at 36%
  • Have you considered using a wiki for SMEs to review our content? 33% said ‘Yes, but doing nothing about it; 26% said ‘No, we don’t want SMEs fooling around with our content; 25% said ‘No, but it’s worth looking into’, and 15% said ‘Yes, we’re using one now’.
  • When asked how we keep users up-to-date on the software (newsletters, blogs etc.), the highest response (56%) was ‘Other’!
  • How often do we telecommute? 31% ‘never’, 30% ‘less than 1 day a week’, 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 to 4 days a week; 12% full time.
  • Our primary method on non-sales contact with users regarding their needs: 30% indicated they had ‘no contact’ with their users, 25% indicated ‘other’ and 23% said ’email’
  • For the question on what type of SmartPhone we have, some 40% indicated they don’t have a SmartPhone, 23% have an iPhone and 16% have an Android. In 2010 (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/writersua-2010-conference-day-1/), 57% of attendees indicated that they weren’t using a SmartPhone; in 2011, that number has dropped to 40%. I’d be interested in the reasons why so many don’t have a SmartPhone — reasons such as locked in to existing contract, cost, cost of data downloads, etc.

For more details on the questions and all responses, see Sarah Maddox’s blog post: http://ffeathers.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/writersua-2011-monday-quick-survey-of-technical-communicators/

Adobe Captivate Tips and Tricks

Joe Ganci’s session on Captivate 5 was full of useful information for Captivate users. I learned a lot about things I haven’t yet touched, such as variables, master slides, and scripted actions. I’m looking forward to getting home and putting some of these into practice!

Comparison of Current Help Authoring Tools

Matthew Ellison took us on a quick 60-minute summary of the major HATs out there, using the same criteria for his comparisons. He discussed key strengths and weaknesses of each tool’s features, and even analyzed whether or not the vendor had used their own tool to create the tool’s Help! (Adobe’s RoboHelp failed on that). Ultimately, the big ‘takeaways’ from Matthew were that the tool had to fit into our workflow (not the other way round), and that we needed to thoroughly test a prospective tool using our own data, not that of the vendor’s slick presentation.

Creating a Strategy for Video to Attract Users and Market your Help Content

Harry Miller from Microsoft used examples from some of the Microsoft Office demonstration movies to talk about how Microsoft has gone about developing videos for their Office website. They use their own staff as the voice talent and, in some cases, video the staff member in their office showing what to do. Miller didn’t just offer an interesting case study — he also gave us a whole heap of ‘lessons learned’ from their experiences.

Graphic Tips and Tricks

The final session for me today was Paul Mueller’s excellent presentation on dealing with graphics for print and web deliverables. While I knew a lot of this (I recently had an article — Questions about Graphics from Word to Web — published in the February 2011 issue of Southern Communicator, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Technical Communication (http://www.cybertext.com.au/SouthernCommunicatorFeb2011.pdf), I still learned something new. Paul showed us how to do some tricks in Microsoft Paint to prove that we didn’t have to use a high-end graphics package to take simple screen shots etc. and to manipulate those graphics.


At the end of today’s sessions was the ‘Networking Mixer’, sponsored by Adobe Software. Thanks Adobe!


  1. Hallo Rhonda
    Great summary, thanks! It’s really useful to see your notes on the sessions that I couldn’t attend. As you mentioned too, it’s a bit difficult to attend all five sessions in each time slot. ;)
    Cheers, Sarah

  2. […] Bracey has posted great summaries of day one, day two and day […]

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