WritersUA 2014: Day 3: Thursday 6 March

March 7, 2014

Writing for global audiences (Barbara Jungwirth)

Only 500 million people speak English as native language; about 850 million speak it as a second language.


  • controlled/simplified English (very restrictive)
  • global English (more flexible).

Using tables/charts may make info easier to interpret/understand.

In general, short sentences/paragraphs are easier to understand.

Be consistent – use same term for the same thing.

Avoid non standard speaking or usage – e.g. lead a meeting, not chair a meeting (‘chair’ has multiple meanings).

Abbreviations and acronyms are awkward for all.

Avoid unclear antecedents, e.g. ‘it’.

Don’t remove ‘that’ as it helps non native English speakers.

Avoid complex tenses, e.g. has been executing vs executed.

Avoid gerunds: e.g. specifying vs that specifies

Consider cultural issues, especially avoid humour, sports, popular culture, religion, politics, any level of profanity. Date/time and measurements.

Watch for different levels of relationships between writer and reader, e.g. ‘you’ might not be appropriate.

Watch for differing interpretations of visual cues (e.g. STOP sign is not the same shape in all countries)

Don’t assume all users can read your document using bandwidth etc. that you experience.

Use standard fonts as you can’t assume that users computer systems are similar to yours.

Techniques for maximising content reuse (Andrew Becraft)

Many different ways for doing reuse.

Biggest misconception: equating single sourcing with reuse. Reuse can flow into single sourcing but that’s not essential.

Planning for reuse: need a strategy, think about info architecture, decide level of reuse required.

How big should you chunk content? Can be too big, or too small. Should not chunk everything as too unmanageable. What if ‘OK’ chunk actually should be ‘Submit’ or ‘Apply’ in some instances?

Lack of context can mean the chunk is used in the wrong setting, or is translated incorrectly.

Focus reuse on smallest contextually meaningful unit.

Good chunks: topics, tables, figures, lists, steps, alert text.

Content snippets need to be able to be found within the authoring tool too. Organise into folders, files/objects, meaningful IDs for the file/object. Meaningful hierarchy.

Don’t rely on file/topic level reuse alone. It’s too big a level.

Don’t chunk content smaller than a paragraph.

Responsive Web design in user assistance (Tony Self)

Every website needs to be redesigned to give a good experience for those reading on small or large devices.

People on mobile devices want the full experience.

Principle is that one website can be viewed on multiple devices and in multiple orientations.

Tony provided and explained an extensive glossary of terms related to responsive Web design.

User Agent: determines what browser version is used, and whether desktop, mobile etc. Stupid to try to develop different websites for different devices as too many and too many new developments

Media Query: CSS idea beefed up in CSS3.

Viewport: size of the viewing window

Adaptive Layout: trying to solve same problem as responsive web design; uses JavaScript. Design for the least capable device

Progressive Enhancement: opposite of graceful degradation (which is design for the most capable device); progressive enhancement has a different starting point i.e. the least-capable device; relates to ‘mobile first’ approach

Mobile first + responsive web design is best combination. Uses these three principles:

  • flexible, grid-based layouts
  • flexible images and media
  • media queries.

Mobile First: design for mobile first then adapt for larger devices. Lack of space forces you to think about what’s critical info.

Breakpoints: point in the layout where the media query kicks in and the layout changes/adapts/responds. Set these based on device capability, not device itself.

Media Types: e.g. screen, TV, etc.

CSS link in HTML: Tony showed example code for this.

Chrome emulation mode: use for testing; found under Tools > Developer Tools, then open ‘drawer’ and go to Emulate tab, choose device.

Fluid images: users figure and figure caption elements in HTML5


I presented a session on ‘Clear, Concise, Consistent: Reducing User Confusion’


Practical HTML5/CSS3 for real writers (Dave Gash)

HTML5 is still in development and not finished, but some features are still useful and available right now.

HTML5 is a bunch of things, not one thing. Lots aren’t applicable to most content writers. Semantic structural elements are the most applicable — e.g. article, aside, nav, header, section etc. Tag names are semantic and make sense. Many can be nested how you want them to be.

Just using the tags doesn’t work – you still have to style the tags. Use CSS3. Some of the CSS3 features may include rounded corners, drop caps, etc.

HTML5 is much simpler to code. Many divs and classes can be replaced with semantic tags.

Trends in mobile user assistance (Joe Welinske)

Things are changing very fast.

Overlays for UA are quite popular in mobile apps.

How much do you need to put in literal representations of hands/devices? May diminish over time, as instructions for using the mouse has diminished/disappeared over time.

Optional tutorials leading to embedded help can be fairly effective. Just cover main issues, top one or two only.

Opportunity for us to bring what we know to the mobile app arena.

Tablets provide enough screen real estate for UA similar to desktop. But tablet apps are part of ecosystem that has grown up from phone apps, not down from desktops.

If designing for a small device, do all your writing in a space that’s no bigger than the device.

Use media queries to sniff out the device being used.


See also:


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