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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.



consulting, getting started in tech comm

Getting Started as a Consultant: Determining Your Hourly Rate

March 7, 2014

Day 6 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

Note: This article originally appeared as a sidebar in an article I did for STC Intercom in June 2012. The information is still applicable.

Before deciding how to charge (hourly, page, etc), you need to know what your cost basis is. This is the minimum amount you need to charge in order to make money on a project. I calculate it based on an hourly rate, which you can then convert to whatever type of rate works best for the project you are doing.

Here’s how you do it:

Base rate before profit

[(annual salary when you were working for a company)/2080 hours per year] + [(annual salary X 30%–to account for benefits)/2080] + [monthly overhead/160 hours per month] = base rate before profit

Base Rate after Profit

Now, take your [base rate before profit X 10%] + base rate before profit = base rate after profit.

But, this result doesn’t account for hours that you are marketing and not billable (most freelancers are billable about 1500 hours per year.

Average % non-billable time

So, take your [base rate after profit X ((2080-1500)/2080)] = average % non-billable time

Minimum amount you should charge if you want to make money

Now, take your base rate after profit + average % non-billable time = base rate you should charge if you want to make money.

Example Calculation

Here’s an example in USD, assuming a 40-hour workweek (rounded for ease of calculation):

annual salary = $50,000

monthly overhead = $500

 [$50,000/2080 hours] + [$50,000 X 30%/2080] + [$500/160 hours per month] = $24.04/hr + $7.22/hr + $3.13/hr = $34.39/hr is base rate before profit

[$34.39 X 10%] + $34.39 =$3.44 + $34.39 = $37.83/hr base rate after profit

$37.83 X (580/2080) = $37.83 X 28% = $10.55/hr to account for non-billable time

Minimum rate you should charge = $37.83 + $10.55 = $48.38/hr (round up to nearest $5), so your actual minimum rate would be $50/hr.

Once you know this number (it will vary greatly depending on your expertise, locale and so on), you can figure out a per page rate or fixed bid rate, if needed.

Assumptions in proposals

In addition, your proposals should always contain assumptions and risk management statements for each likely scenario for a potential problem.

For example, “This project assumes 2 SME reviews and 1 editorial review. Additional reviews will require a change order. If the SMEs do not return their comments by the agreed due date, this will cause a day for day slip in the schedule.”

These kinds of statements are especially important in fixed bid or per page bids because they give you leverage to go back to the client if there is scope creep or delays on the client side.

If travel will be involved, state how you will charge them for it in the bid. I always charge this as a separate line item from the actual work, and provide an expense report and copies of receipts as part of my invoice.

getting started in tech comm

Getting Started in Technical Communication, Part 1: FAQs

March 4, 2014

Day 4 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

I do a lot of mentoring in my roles as a small business owner and as a Fellow and Board member in the Society for Technical Communication (STC). I love it because I always learn something new, get to meet some really bright and engaging people, and I like to help people achieve their dreams.

Here are 3 questions I get asked frequently and my responses. Feel free to chime in with your own experiences, or to ask other questions.

My degree is in X, but I’ve always loved to write. What skills do I need to get a job in technical communication?

It’s great that you are interested in technical communicaton! It’s a fun career with a lot of opportunity to grow in the direction of your interests. Having technical domain knowledge in X field and writings skills are important, but not sufficient for being a good technical communicator (TC). Certain personality traits and skills lend themselves well to being a good TC.


  • Curiosity
  • Desire and ability to understand how things work
  • Flexibility (in thinking and in attitude)
  • Penchant for asking impertinent questions
  • Exploratory, can-do attitude (most TCs I know have myriad interests and are really interesting people)
  • Somewhat geeky mindset
  • Ability to play well with others
  • Ability to see both the forest and the trees (most people tend toward one or the other; the ability to bridge the gap is valuable)
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Desire to know the story and to tell it
  • Ability to see patterns and relationships
  • Ability to learn and take constructive feedback (you need a thick skin)

Skills (besides the obvious writing and editing):

In the beginning of your career, focus on the basics. Look for opportunities to try new techniques and learn new tools. (I once moved to Fargo, ND so that I could work with a really good online help development team.)

  • Good organizational skills (it helps to like organizing and categorizing things)
  • Topic-based writing/structured authoring techniques
  • Working knowledge of at least 1 authoring tool, 1 DTP tool, 1 graphics tool (once you know how one of each type works, it’s fairly easy to figure out the others in the genre)
  • Working knowledge of the jargon used in technical communication (e.g., content strategy, usability, localization, UX, etc.)
  • Understanding of visual design
  • Understanding of audience analysis
  • Familiarity with XML and content management
  • Familiarity with metadata and with indexing techniques
  • Familiarity with writing for a global audience

There are other skills as well (depending on your focus), but this list is a start. You can get information and access to educational sessions from STC and other associations, or from many universities.

I’ve been looking for a TC job, but there aren’t any advertised. How do I break into the field?

Technical Communication touches every product, process, and service on this planet (and off of it—ala the Space Station). We are everywhere, but we are often well-hidden in the companies, governments, and non-profits that we serve, and sometimes called something else, like publications specialist, graphic designer, content manager, etc. Jobs are often not advertised.

First, pick an industry. Make it something you are interested in. Have a degree in biology? or nutrition? or engineering? or music? or economics?  Narrow your search by focusing on your area of technical expertise and interest.

Start networking. Join STC and other professional organizations (you can see the job bank and make connections). Volunteer for your associations or another non-profit that attracts people in your chosen industry. Join your alumni association (or at least the online communities). Ask people about their jobs and, if it’s something that sounds interesting, dig deeper. Ask for informational interviews. (People love being asked about themselves and generally like helping newbies.) Research the top companies in your selected industry.

Establish your online presence. Most TCs are fairly tech-savvy, so connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Subscribe to TC blogs and forums that interest you. Be diligent about presenting a professional persona. (Make sure that your profiles are grammatically correct and typo-free. We check, and TCs can be a bit anal-retentive about that sort of thing).

A word about LinkedIn etiquette, if you ask to connect with someone you’ve only met once or twice or (only have met virtually), say a bit about who you are and why you want to connect. Most people won’t connect with you if they don’t know anything about you.

Be polite, follow up, and follow through. If someone has taken time out of their day to talk to you, be sure to thank them in writing (email is OK most of the time, but if they really went out of their way, a personal note is better).

I’m changing careers. What should I do about my résumé?

I generally recommend a functional, skills-based résumé for most people. When I’m hiring, I want to know what you know, and really couldn’t care less about where you have worked (except when it comes to checking references, or out of curiosity to see if I know anyone there).

I start with a “kitchen-sink” résumé, where I put in everything that is relevant to what I do. Then, I adjust it for each job (change the order, level of detail, emphasis as appropriate). If you are just out of university, you will probably put almost everything in. Until you’ve been working for several years, keep it to 1 page and to the most relevant information.

The skills-based résumé has the following sections:

  • Related Skills: List 3-5 skills that you have and want to highlight, such as Project Management, Training, Writing/Editing, Content Strategy, Usability Research, etc. Under each skill, put 3-5 bullet points that specifically show your skill in that area (e.g., “Managed 15 content management projects to implement DITA” is better than “Responsibility for a bunch of content management projects.” )
  • Related Positions: In reverse chronological order (most recent first), just list titles, companies, dates, and locations here. All the important stuff is under the skills.
  • Education: In reverse chronological order, list your degrees and certifications. If you are a new graduate, you might want to include some of the coursework you’ve taken, if it’s relevant.
  • Related Technical Skills: List the software packages you know, special knowledge (if it’s relevant).Caution: if you list something here, you need to have a working knowledge of it. For example, if you list MS Office, I will expect you to know how to use templates and styles in Word, pivot tables and basic functions in Excel, and do snazzy presentations in PowerPoint. If you don’t use styles and format things properly in your résumé, I will know that you don’t know Word…

If there’s room, you can include a list of volunteer work and awards (again, only those things that are directly relevant to the job you are applying for. In the US, employers are not allowed to ask about gender preferences, marital status, religion, etc., so don’t include those volunteer activities on your résumé.

Always be truthful in your résumé.

When you are responding to a particular job ad, I recommend using a T-letter. TECHWHIR-L had a great article about these letters. Try it out and see how it works.

I will post periodically on “Getting Started” topics. Let me know if you have a burning question, or need advice.