Reconnecting Across the Divide

December 7, 2016

My company tagline is, “Communication for a Connected World”, and I firmly believe that it is only by communicating effectively that we can solve problems and work together.

The events with the U.S. election show how deep the divide can be when we are stuck in an echo chamber and do not heed the cries of people who are different from us and who are suffering, and how easy it is for the wingnuts on both sides to hijack the process and the relationships.

I normally don’t post political stuff in this space because I generally focus on professional topics here. However, what is happening in the U.S. is directly relevant to other conversations about multicultural communication, and the techniques we use to manage virtual, multicultural teams are also useful here. Make no mistake; this rift is a cultural one as well as a communication one.

Here are some practical things we can do to help get the conversation started and to protect the vulnerable members of our communities.

Listen with an Open Mind

Many people surveyed said that they didn’t know anyone who was voting for the opponent of their preferred candidate. This is how bias and entrenchment grow, and it is deadly to solving problems.

  1. Read articles written by the opposition. Try to look past the ugliness and vitriol to the core issues.
  2. Seek out people who think differently from you, and ask them to explain their point of view. Listen to what they say without interjecting judgments.
  3. Ask lots of questions to better understand the goals and dreams of those around you.
  4. Make a list of the issues that you have identified where you can find common ground.
  5. Focus on goals and objectives, not positions.


Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t make it true (even if we want it to be so). The proliferation of fake news sites is disturbing, particularly with how easy it is to share it on social media. We need to be wary of confirmation bias, propaganda, and social engineering.

As professional communicators, we have a responsibility to stop the spread by making sure anything we share is fact-based, accurate, and well-researched. We need to actively debunk misinformation when we see or hear it.

Stand Up and Speak Out

North America is a land of immigrants, and has always been glorious melting pot of cultural and linguistic diversity. The first languages spoken on this continent were Native American/First Nations languages. Norse, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew were spoken here long before English was. Approximately 11% of the US population and approximately 40% of Canadians are non-native English speakers.

Yet, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported 867 incidents of hate crimes and harassment in the week after the US election. This ugliness erodes the safety of our communities and harms all of us, not just the people being targeted.

When we see such harassment, we have a duty to speak up and to stand up for those being targeted. This is not what America is all about. For some helpful instructions on how to stop bullying, check out this anti-harassment infographic.


In an era of demonization of the opposition and when it feels like blind partisanship on both sides has hijacked the conversation, it can be challenging to hold the middle and refuse to take the bait. We must remember that compromise is not a dirty word, and that it is only by coming to agreement and working together that we succeed as a society. We must remember that disagreement and civil discourse are important to a healthy democracy.

We must find common ground and reach out to people who think differently than we do about the important issues of the day. By keeping in mind the larger ideals of truth, equity, justice, and compassion, and by communicating respectfully with each other, we can continue to move forward and make the world a better place.


Here’s a list of articles and other resources that you might find helpful for continuing the conversation.




interviews, STC, thought leaders

An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin: 2015 STC Honorary Fellow

November 17, 2015

In April, I had the privilege and honor of interviewing Dr. Temple Grandin when she was selected as one of our STC Honorary Fellows for 2015. Here are the links:

As I mentioned in the Notebook blog post, it was a delightful and fascinating conversation, covering a wide range of topics from leg conformation in cattle and cattle chute design, to autism and education, to Web design and mobile, to 3D printing and augmented reality. The power of her observations transcends disciplines and fires the imaginations of everyone from livestock managers to UX designers.

getting started in tech comm, global communication, localization, Uncategorized

5 Things You Need to Know about Global-Ready Content, Part 2

September 24, 2014

Earlier this week, in Part 1, I shared the first two things you need to know about global-ready content. Here are the other three.

3. Manage Change

One of the biggest reasons for content strategies and content management systems to fail is poor change management, both the human kind and the technical kind. 

You can have the best technology and the most user-friendly system in the world, and it won’t matter one iota if you are having team issues that prevent you from maximizing the benefit. If you are asking people to significantly change the way that they approach their work, you need to prepare them properly, give them training and support, and reward the new behaviors that you want to see.

On the technical side, if you are not being proactive about your change management, you are costing your company money. Making changes to source content while it is being localized costs the company money and time, especially if the change is not vital. (Yes, I know everyone thinks their changes have to be done right now, but they are wrong.)

4. Watch Your Language!

English is a difficult and confusing language, even for native speakers.  Homonyms and false friends abound, the grammar is inconsistent, and often has more exceptions than rules…and then there’s the fact that “English doesn’t just borrow from other languages, it drags them down dark alleys, knocks them over the head and rifles their pocket for loose grammar and vocabulary.” (from a t-shirt I saw at a gaming con).

According to Global Language Monitor, there are ~1,025,109 words in the English language as of 1 January 2014 (up from 1,009,753 in 2011). This statistic includes all words (jargon, idioms, variations of a word, neologisms, etc.).

The reality is that most dictionaries contain about 200,000-250,000 English words that are used most commonly. The unabridged Oxford English dictionary contains about 650,000 words.

When you consider that most other languages have fewer than 500,000 words, this difference has significant implications for how we write for localization, for terminology management, and is a strong argument for controlled language initiatives like Simplified Technical English. It is also one of the reasons for text expansion.

5. Be Excellent

Last, but certainly not least, do your best and produce excellent work in everything that you do, no matter how small.

Localization is a garbage in/garbage out process. If you have crappy source content, you are going to have crappy localized content and those issues will increase your costs, increase liability, and decrease usability and customer satisfaction. Make sure your source content is as error-free and high quality as possible with the project constraints. And, this is where an effective QA process comes in as well.

If you are in the habit of excellence and you have good QA processes, you will improve your chances of quality localized content.


getting started in tech comm, global communication, localization

5 Things You Need to Know about Global-Ready Content, Part 1

September 22, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to one of Dr. Pam Brewer’s classes at Mercer University via web cam. We had a great conversation about global-ready content and why it’s important. Here’s a summary of what I told them:

Global-Ready Content Defined

Global-Ready content means applying technical communication best practices stringently and consistently. Localization adds a layer of complexity to your content development process. In the traditional process, 50% or more of your localization costs are associated with DTP. And, anything you do to help alleviate these costs also helps the audience of your source English content.

Global-ready content has these characteristics:

  • Active
  • Consistent
  • Culturally neutral
  • Simple
  • Structured
  • Well-written and well-edited

1. Plan for the Future

Always design with the world in mind, even if you aren’t yet translating your content. It’s a lot easier to design it right in the first place than it is to retrofit it. If your company has a website, it’s potentially a global company.

Content Strategy

The Language of Content Strategy defines it as, “The analysis and planning required to develop a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the content lifecycle.” What this means is that you have to look at your content holistically, and that includes localization. Your strategy and architecture should support and facilitate localization.

Information Architecture and Design

The Language of Content Strategy defines it as, “The art and science of structuring content to support findability and usability.”  The information architecture is the technical side of the content strategy. It is what allows you to actually implement your strategy effectively.

If you only remember one thing, make it this: Design with the world in mind. That means making sure that all your structures, processes, models, etc. all support and facilitate both source content development and localization (and I’m including visual content in this…)

2. Build a Solid Structure

Build a solid structure/architecture, one that won’t collapse under its own weight or get blown away with the first problem that arises. Make it flexible and scalable.


Think about how your workflow supports these things:

  • Multiple users
  • Status tracking
  • Version control
  • Multiple output formats
  • Process efficiency
  • Localization
  • Content chunking
Shows the Author-IT CMS workflow at high-level. Multiple authors contribute to database and then output content in multiple formats

Courtesy of Author-IT Software Corporation

Content Modeling

Creating content ‘chunks’/components/modules allows you to send only the untranslated content to the vendor, which saves 10% or more of your localization costs because vendors charge you even for 100% matches. This charge is because the human translator has to do context verification. Sending only new or modified content eliminates this.

Reuse facilitates consistency. Instead of rewriting a note, caution, or warning every time it’s needed, you write once and reuse. Same thing with graphics, tables, regulatory information, and other content that’s used in multiple places. It bears mention, however, that consistency doesn’t equal quality. You also need to also spend time internationalizing the content to ensure that it is clear, concise, and accurate. But, that’s a whole other discussion.

Shows the text, graphics, and tables as separate content chunks that can be re-combined in multiple ways for different output formats

Courtesy of Author-IT Software Corporation

Structured Authoring for Intelligent Content

Once you have identified how to properly chunk your content, you need to structure it well so that it can be more intelligent. The structure of your XML needs to facilitate flexibility and scalability, as well as support localization. Yves Savourel’s book, XML Internationalization and Localization is a deep dive into the technical aspects of structuring your content for localization.

Good Metadata

Metadata is the key to happiness in a content management environment. It’s what allows you to find, manage, and use your content. When you add localization, suddenly you need to think about which metadata needs to be translated and how you are going to expose it to the translators.

Make this the 2nd thing you remember: Hard-coded strings are bad. Metadata needs to stored in such a way that you can easily identify and extract the strings that need to be localized.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will share items 3-5 on the list of 5 things you need to know about global-ready content.



conferences, global communication, localization, Uncategorized

Lavacon: Interview by Matt Sullivan

September 5, 2014

Last week, Matt Sullivan interviewed Terena Bell and me about our upcoming Lavacon (www.lavacon.org) presentation, The Space Between Us: Managing the Expectations between Technical Communication and Localization.

It was great fun talking to Matt and previewing our presentation.

You can view the interview on Matt’s blog: http://www.mattrsullivan.com/tc2ls006-interview-kit-terena/.

Lavacon is 12-15 October in Portland, OR. Register before 13 September to take advantage of the early registration: http://lavacon.org/2014/registrationecontent/.