Author Archives: Gere Hirsch

Wiki Writing: Whipple: An (Ole) First-Timer’s Learning Curve

I’m a wiki novice myself, and yet I’ve had two semesters to get familiar with using a wiki. Have we, in either class, used the wiki as a wiki? Not really. In my first class using a wiki, we created help topics and also used the wiki to post policies for online students. The only thing collaborative was the location of the documents, and the fact that we attempted to make our individual documents look alike, for cohesion on the wiki. The policies for online students ended up being one document that was separated into different parts to be written by each student. We then put the entire thing together as one document and published it on the wiki. Again, the platform was a wiki, but the document could have been published via email, a blog, D2L discussion board or Google Docs. It wasn’t a true wiki collaborative work.

In this class, we have a wiki to apply what we are reading in the two books. So far, my group has managed to create individual profile pages and post comments about presentation on the discussion page. A page for Technical Communication references has been created. Only one member of the team has posted anything so far. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will participate before the end of the class. Another team member posted the syllabus in sections and the time and effort worksheet. As an overall statement, the wiki has been more of individual web pages or documents, than any collaborative work in true wiki fashion. So, like the author, we haven’t “used the wiki as a wiki.” (227)

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Wiki Writing: McCorkle: GlossaTechnologia

McCorkle discusses using a wiki for the GlossaTechnologia project, a resource wiki for an electronic version of an annotated bibliography. There are two issues McCorkle identifies in getting a wiki started and making a wiki project successful. These issues are 1) getting people actively involved in the project, and 2) keeping the project going and growing. This reminds me of a project that grew out of a whole class assignment in our Fall 2012 Social Media class.

Like McCorkle, our Social Media class spent a good deal of time identifying the correct platform for our social media project. We weighed a lot of the same factors as McCorkle, such as function, categories, organization and “strategies to maintain site cohesion.” (220) In the end, we determined that LinkedIn was the correct platform for a MSU, Mankato Technical Communication group. It have the right amount of security, while being open enough to invite in those we wanted to participate.

Getting the LinkIn group started was easy. Dr. Perbix created it and sent invitations for us to join. From there, we had great hopes that the group would take off. To date, the group has 68 members. That really is quite good, considering the original intention was to have the group announced at the beginning of each semester, in each class, so students would become aware of its existence. So far, I am unaware of anyone announcing its existence. I can only hope that the momentum that has helped the group grow to 68 members will keep it alive and growing.

Wiki Writing: Martin and Dusenberry: WikiLore and Politics

This chapter is all about the pros and cons of using a wiki in a classroom. Group projects can be a rewarding experience or a complete nightmare, depending on the assignment and the participants in the group. A wiki only serves to highlight the rewards and downfalls of collaborative projects.

As the author points out, “A class wiki provides an ideal online interface with which to address the fissures and overlaps between creative, collaborative, and theoretical work, while also providing students a space they can access and edit.” (205) This is a great sentiment, as long as the class utilizes the wiki in the way that the wiki is intended to be used. In other words, a wiki is a great environment for equality of authorship and collaboration. It is not a good environment if concerns over ownership, plagiarism and editorial control exist.

Some of the benefits of wikis the author points out are the ability to use a wiki for quick and informal means of editing and collaborating content. In addition, a wiki creates equality of authorship and collaboration. The biggest question the author poses is “whether a wiki truly provides a common, collaborative space.” (206) In my experience in using a wiki in two classes, I have not seen a wiki used as a wiki is truly designed to be used. A wiki, in two semesters of experience, has been no more of a collaborative space than using Google Docs.

Of the downfalls the author identified in his class is the ability to publish misleading information, hurtful words or opinions. In addition, works that are published in a wiki are available for the whole world or community to see. Another concern is that someone can follow along and have the ability to wipe out another’s work. Students are taught from an early age to have ownership of their written material, so it is disconcerting to find out in a wiki no one’s thoughts and entries stay untouched by others. One of the biggest concerns expressed by a student was “if other people plagiarized or changed my content, I would be upset.” (213)

 

Redish Chapter 13: Using Illustrations Effectively

We read in a previous chapter about too much text on a web site being a bad way to attracting visitors. Balancing illustrations and pictures with text helps make a site visually interesting and inviting. It attracts visitors, helps support the conversation and makes the visit memorable. There is such a thing as overdoing the illustrations and pictures. Moderation in all things is the key.

What works and what doesn’t for illustrations and pictures? The best illustrations create a memorable experience. They are consistent throughout the site, and make sense with the brand and content. Illustrations set a tone that is appropriate for the message. In the early days of web design, there was a lot of use of flashing and moving objects, a variety of colors and multiple fonts. Things have settled down quite a bit as studies have revealed that moving objects alienate visitors, and minimal number of fonts and colors are more effective in capturing attention.

Good illustrations and pictures help augment the text. They clarify information. Charts, graphs and maps can also simplify the message, and replace lengthy text. Illustrations and pictures also set the mood, whether it is serious, inviting, happy or informative. As with writing text, it is important to keep the conversation in mind and test to make sure the message is clear.

Redish Chapter 12: Writing Meaningful Links

Helping visitors navigate a web site is as important as creating clear, simple text. Visitors scan information in an F pattern, and typically do not read everything. In addition, they search for easily identifiable keys, such as blue text with an underline. This is the common formatting for links. Changing colors to indicate a link has been used is another visual cue.

On webpagesthatsuck.com, the author and contributors identify poorly designed website and explain why they are so bad. One of the comments used to describe bad links is “Mystery Meat Navigation.” The use of this term – fondly reminiscent of military chowhall fare – refers to links that are either buried in the design and are not readily recognizable, or that take the visitor to incomprehensible pages. Mystery Meat Navigation doesn’t answer any of the typical questions visitors ask, such as how, what, where or why.

The best links lead the visitor in a logical manner to pages or sites that make sense, in the context of the information. Links should be clearly identifiable and name what the visitor can expect when clicking on it. While labeling a link “click here” may have been acceptable in the 1980s and 90s, it is no longer necessary. The vast majority of people have enough experience with Internet technology to be able to figure out how to use a link. What they really want to know is the why or where of links.

Redish Chapter 11: Using Lists and Tables

This chapter was interesting, because it identifies the difference between lists and tables and how to apply each. I’ve spent the last couple of months writing policies and procedures for a local VA hospital. Some of the procedures were packed with lists and tables. Not only are they time consuming to create, but they are time consuming to read if not done properly.

Lists are effective when ordering items in steps or separating items for easy identification. In a recent trip to the grocery store, I asked my daughter to text the list to me. The grocery list arrived in a paragraph format, which made it extremely difficult to manage. Why? Because I had to read and reread the entire paragraph each time I needed to refer to it to find the items I needed, and to make sure I didn’t miss anything. By contrast, putting it in a list format makes it easy to identify each item and to ignore those I’ve already picked up or am not near.

Tables are useful for comparing different types of information or answering if/then statements. Left justifying data is generally good advice. There are situations where data in a table should be right justified or centered. In columns with currency, the information lines up better if it is right justified. Centering simple numbers or short text, such as abbreviations, can actually help make a column of data easier to read. If more than one word is used, left justifying is still the best option.

Redish Chapter 10: Tuning up Your Sentences

Creating a conversation with visitors does not mean “dumbing down” the information. On the contrary, writing for site visitors means giving them information that is easy to find and use. Personas are a perfect way to make sure your writing is appropriate for the intended audience, and for the various types of visitors a site might attract. Think about the reader as someone looking over your shoulder as you write. Would your sentences and information make sense, or are you alienating or eliminating certain readers through the very words you choose?

Redish tells us to “talk to your site visitors.” I would disagree with this instruction. A conversation is not one-sided, which is implied by the word “to”. Instead, a conversation is with and between two or more parties. Effective writing for the Internet should include the idea of creating a conversation with the visitors, not talking at them. Television and radio programs talk to visitors. We want to engage the visitors, and therefore need to create a dialog that includes the site visitors.

One of the most useful commentaries on plain writing I’ve ever seen is by Dr. Steve Pinker, a professor currently at MIT. He is a Harvard graduate and professor in the field of psychology, with research in the use of language. This video tells us why following traditional style manuals and writing instruction typically taught in a university does not always make us good communicators. In particular, applying conventional writing rules, such as Strunk and White, to current technology does not effectively meet the needs of the visitor. Simple language is not dumbing down, but is actually writing or speaking clearly, and for the audience. His video lecture to technology and science students at MIT is available at: http://video.mit.edu/watch/communicating-science-and-technology-in-the-21st-century-steven-pinker-12644/ . It is worth watching.