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May 4, 2018

Event Report

Third cross-border event: Source content optimization and source text control

Birgitta Meex

The cross-border event is a true Euregio event. After successful previous editions in Tongeren and Aachen, the country organization tekom Belgium and the tekom regional group North Rhine crossed the Dutch border to organize their 3rd event in a row.

In the beautiful setting of the city and university of Maastricht and the majestic Karl Dittrichzaal, participants from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands were invited to reflect on and exchange ideas about the quality, cost-efficient use and reuse of source texts. In the technical communication universe, the focus is often on new tools and processes. Sometimes one has the impression that one hype follows the next. But shouldn't we pay more attention to the actual content and the reality that companies are increasingly producing source text material in a variety of different formats, languages and qualities? With this in mind, the third cross-border event dealt with the topic of "source text content", which was examined from different perspectives. Three speakers addressed questions such as the following: How can we manage information from different sources efficiently and reliably? How can we deal with untrained content contributors? How can we benefit from authoring assistance systems?

Presentation 1: Source Control. Shifting from Central to Local, depending on the Content

Constant Gordon (ConstantsTechDocSupport)

Constant Gordon explored the evolving role of technical communication from the perspective of the information source. In the early 90's central electronic document management was growing and with it came the question as to where to store the sources of the pdf renditions. In many companies these were stored in the development team for ease of use, in others they were stored centrally to safeguard future access. With the arrival of modern technologies, re-use of source information is changing the role of the central team as a safe keeper, central source control still being beneficial. Information of different kinds is derived from various content types and sources, but all kinds of information raise the same questions and seek the same answers: What is the source? By whom is it controlled: people or machines? Why is it controlled? Which source needs to be maintained? During his presentation Gordon discussed examples and a few possible scenarios and provided “food for thought” for the audience.

Presentation 2: Snakes and Ladders – Some Simple Tips for Winning the Documentation Game

Niels Grundtvig Nielsen (Worldline)

Source text optimization and source text control are important aspects of efficient communication, but one should not forget the importance of the source text itself. After all, sophisticated systems for retrieving and managing information must be built on solid content. Niels Grundtvig Nielsen stressed exactly this aspect in his presentation. Based on his experience with reluctant (or even enthusiastic but untrained) contributors, he elaborated on “Snakes and Ladders for writers”, after the classic board game in which players race to the top of the board climbing the ladders to zoom up to the top, while avoiding to slide down the snakes. Among his “simple tips for a better source text”, most of which are largely language-independent, we can find the following: DO think about syntax, DO keep list items short, DO include basis doc info in the footer, and DO move to structured documentation. Pitfalls or snakes to look out for are, for example: DO avoid empty sections, DO NOT use dead-language abbreviations, and DO NOT number items that are not a sequence. All snakes and ladders were illustrated with numerous examples stemming from his own experience in multi-language teams.

Presentation 3: Intelligent Authoring Assistance for Content Optimization

Alexander Becker (Congree)

In this presentation, Alexander Becker dwelled upon top challenges that technical communicators tend to encounter on a daily basis: content is created on a large scale by multiple, often non-native writers and in large documentation teams; almost all companies need to translate content; and overall, every process has to be as cost-efficient as possible. To overcome these challenges, technical communicators may rely on powerful authoring assistance tools in order to optimize their workflow. For example, authoring assistance helps to stick to a company’s style guidelines, provides a rule-based language check hence facilitating comprehensibility, and reduces translation costs by optimizing source text. Becker concluded his presentation by means of a live demo of the Congree Authoring Server, demonstrating in practice how the documentation process can be enhanced by intelligent software. Among the benefits of the Congree Authoring Server are its integrated terminology and language check components , its authoring memory, and its ability to be connected to a CMS.

Afternoon tea and coffee break with Limburgse Vlaai…