Babel Not: Machine Translation for the Technical
In today's global marketplace, translating technical
documents by machine can give technical communicators
and their employers an edge
but also presents risks
and challenges. Translation expert
describes what's at stake.
Acting Your Way to Professional S
Our favorite actors and actresses can teach us a lot about
stage techniques can help us speak and present as
fluently as we write.
No Compromise for Quality
Sign in a bakery window: "Good pastry is not cheap.
stry is not good."
compromising on document development costs,
schedules, and quality can leave a bad taste in customers'
Babel Not: Machine Translation for the
By Sandra Bologna
ong ago the world had one language and few words. One day, a group of
architects decided to write a manual containing sensitive information on the design
of a tower they were building in their city. The tower was to reach the sky and would
termine their greatness. Their pride and confidence took over and they
soon ignored their boss. As punishment, their boss scattered the architects across
the entire earth and made them all speak different languages. This created much
confusion, and so the
city was named Babel. Many years passed and no
unlock the secrets of the tower, at least until the birth of the great Babel Fish.
What is Babel Fish and why is it so great? Babel Fish belongs to a larger category of
translation called Machine Tr
anslation. Machine Translation will give you a rough
translation of that German document that's been sitting on your desk baffling you, in
less than one minute. How's that for great?
As amazing as that sounds, Machine Translation is not perfect, and it do
es have its
drawbacks. So how do you know if Machine Translation is right for you? Researching
MT software and reading feedback from actual users will help you get the full picture.
For starters, I’ve outlined the major points below.
For those of you new
to this term, Machine Translation (MT) is the automatic
translation of text from one language (source language) into another language
(target language) without human intervention. In general, MT use is grouped into
two categories. Figuring out which of the
se two categories best suits your needs is a
first step in determining if MT is right for you:
enabled (Unassisted MT): the automatic translation of text
with no human post
editing. This can produce a translation
that is unpolished, but is extremely us
eful for material that
would be impossible or inconvenient for human translation due
to overwhelming volume, time
consuming nature, immediate
around requirements, and/or the expense of human
enhanced (Assisted MT): automatically tran
slating text with the intent of
using a human translator for post
editing. Used in the form of Computer
Aided Translation, Assisted MT is useful for creating a base translation for
proofreaders, which drastically decreases the amount of time they have to
When Is MT Useful?
MT works well for translations where source documents are controlled, such as
technical documents. Controlled authoring avoids ambiguity; clear and concise
source text produces clear and concise
machine translation. Documents to be
machine translated should feature both of these traits. Please see Basic Controlled
Authoring Methods: Getting Ready for Machine Translation.
Weather reports and stock market data use controlled authoring. According to
, "The classic example of MT that works is the Météo system, developed
in Montreal, which has been translating Canada's weather bulletins between English
and French on a daily basis since 1977. In the world of Météo discourse, ‘front’
s means a weather system."
Large Repetitious Documents
Large volumes of documents, particularly those with much repetition, are ideal for
MT use. Machine Translations usually contain terminology dictionaries that can be
tailored to fit the subject materia
l and updated and modified as needed. This is a
good thing, because constantly updating highly repetitious documents leads to
translator attrition. According to
The translation of forecasts was
that before Météo took over, the C
anadian government had a hard time
keeping translators on the job for more than a couple of months."
When Human Translation is Impossible
Extremely large volumes of material with impractical turn
around times where
translations must be updated frequently
make human translation impossible. As one
wrote, "I run a site full time for a company and we
use the machine translation service … 90 percent of our content is dynamically
generated each week from a database of about 12,000 ne
w products each week so it
would be a huge translation job where we'd need full time staff on doing it. The
machine translation works quite well for us and gets customers who have no clue of
English. We also use the machine translation type text in box for
a translation for all
email contact with them
even though the translation is vague!" What is MT used
To use MT for obtaining a rough idea of the source text content is called ‘gisting’
(from the phrase ‘get the gist of it’). Individuals or
corporations who must obtain
information from documents in a foreign language use MT for gisting purposes when
they don’t need an official translation or to determine if an official translation is
necessary. Gisting is the most popular use of MT in use to
Depending on the language, a translator can translate approximately 250 words per
hour. Let’s say that you outsource your weather report indicating a sunny forecast to
a French translator. Two hours later you receive the transl
ation, but now it’s raining.
You outsource again. Let’s face it; data is constantly changing. MT provides
translation of real
time data, such as weather reports and stock prices quickly. For
time information, delays are not acceptable, and the cost of
would again be enormous due to the high volume of data.
Think about the dozens of emails you receive and send in one day. Now think about
a US company who receives hundreds of emails weekly from their international client
in Italy who doesn’t know English. This demonstrates only one aspect where human
translation would be out of the question.
Emails, instant messaging, and chat all require extremely fast turnaround.
Translation needs to be immediate and needs to be availab
le 24/7. Since translators
cannot produce immediate translation, are not free, and live in different time zones,
it is impossible to have these forms of communication translated by human
translators. MT is available 24 hours a day regardless of multiple ti
me zones and can
produce the high
volume automatic translations necessary for real
communication. MT for communication purposes also increases privacy of
confidential information by eliminating third
parties such as translators and editors.
It is idea
l for companies working with international vendors who receive emails and
data in foreign languages.
Assimilation refers to translating material from a variety of languages into one target
language. Translating foreign text into your language
is necessary for intelligence
gathering. MT allows you to identify what information is relevant in documents
written in a foreign language with little to no delay. MT can automatically translate
large volume of material that would be impossible, time
uming, or prohibitively
expensive for human translators.
Dissemination is the need to transform material in one language into several other
languages. The traditional process of localization is a prime example. MT for this
purpose is used as
assisted MT. It can speed up the localization process by
providing a draft translation for human translators to edit instead of requiring them
to start from scratch. Since MT automatically maintains consistency of terminology, it
also saves translat
ors time in having to research and check terminology.
Right now you’re probably wondering why you should still bother using human
translators; MT easily replaces them, right?
MT will not replace human translators. As I mentioned before, MT works well
technical documents because they use controlled authoring, and the MT dictionary
can be tailored to their specific terminology. MT does not work as well for literary
works. The machine translation of
Romeo and Juliet
would produce a train wreck of
t, leaving Shakespeare that much more difficult to understand. It is difficult for
MT to properly translate such documents because literary texts are not structured
and often use word play, metaphors or other non
literal phrases. Human translators,
other hand, have the ability to grasp the message of the text, and can
properly translate the material even if it is conveyed imprecisely.
This is not to say that human translators always create perfect translations, for even
will not know the source text better than the author.
Still, using highly qualified, professional translators will produce better translations
than MT software. MT systems have a more limited knowledge of grammar and
vocabulary than human translators and
MT dictionaries are limited to what
developers were able to implement, which is generally much less than what is
necessary. It is important to determine what your needs are and what you plan to
accomplish with a MT system.
What Are the Costs of MT?
ou purchase your MT system, the initial costs will be in the license,
customization, annual fees, and maintenance fees. Initially, the cost is high, but
using MT regularly for repetitious, large volume documents pays off quickly.
For five languages, the i
nitial cost and maintenance could be close to $154,000, but
let’s look at the long
term cost. Let’s say that in one year you translated 1,000,000
words. After only the second year of using MT, the total cost for 1,000,000 words
would be $116,450 ($100,000
for revision, $7,000 for maintenance, $9,450 for the
annual fee) and would take about 250 days to complete. The cost to have the same
1,000,000 words translated by human translators into five languages at a rate of
$0.10 per word would be $500,000 and woul
d take about 400 days to complete.
MT runs at a fixed cost independent of volume; this means you can end up saving
money over time due to reduced translation cost, reduced delivery time, around the
clock availability, and consistency in terminology.
commercial MT systems are Transfer
based MT systems. This type of MT lets
linguists build grammar rules for the system. The system can then analyze the
source language text, map grammatical structures to the target language, and then
generate the translat
based systems are time
consuming and expensive to develop.
When the rules have not yet been developed, poor analysis of sentences will result.
Also, this approach can take up to two years to develop since it is knowledge
Another type of MT system is Data
driven MT. Only a few commercial MT systems
use this method. This method uses statistical methods to calculate which parts of the
source and target languages match by gathering large numbers of example
dictionary and translation correspondences are built automatically
since text can range from single words to entire sentences. This method may only
take a few weeks to develop, but the output is generally of lesser quality.
It is also important to realize
that MT systems cannot handle every language
combination. Generally, MT systems can translate common language combinations
such as French to German or English to French. But rarer language combinations
such as Japanese to Swahili have not been developed.
Basic Controlled Authoring Methods: Getting Ready
for Machine Translation
Have you decided to buy a Machine Translation system, but can’t produce good
translations from your new purchase? MT requires a controlled authoring writing
style. Here are a few po
ints on using MT efficiently.
The most important rule for MT writing is: limit sentence length. Sentences
longer than 25 words often become ambiguous and too complex for MT to
correctly translate. Keeping sentences to a minimum word length will improve
e quality of the output.
Avoid metaphors, jokes, slang, puns, idiomatic expressions and regional or
national expressions. Since these are often translated literally, they tend to
lose their meaning, creating an unintelligible translation. The literal
slation of ‘break a leg,’ for example, will not make sense to the target
: "You say that your sales will increase by 10 times by the end of
this year? Don’t count your chickens before they hatch."
: "You say that your sales will inc
rease by 10 times by the end of the
year? Do not be too confident. Wait until you get the final results."
: "Don’t get me wrong; I love sports, but I hate basketball."
: "Do not misunderstand me; I love sports, but I hate basketball."
abbreviations, acronyms, contractions, and common Latin terms (etc.,
i.e., e.g.) as these do not always have equivalents in different languages.
Spell out the entire word instead. Machine Translations do not always
recognize abbreviations and will leave t
: Sr, Jr, FDA, TV, etc.,
: Senior, Junior, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Television, et
Keep pronouns to a minimum. The meaning of pronouns can be lost after
translation because different languages use differ
ent word orders and gender
specific languages may use different genders for certain objects. For example,
in French ‘il’ could mean ‘he’ or ‘it’, so your subject may be unclear to a
French reader. Replace pronouns with nouns wherever possible.
: He is interesting. It is interesting.
When translated into French, this becomes: Il est intéressant. Il est
is interesting. The book is interesting.
This avoids ambiguity when translated, becoming:
est intéressant. Il est
Use simple, direct sentences with basic grammatical construction.Ensure that
the sentence structure is grammatically correct and do not omit words.
: Make sure you use grammatically correct sentence structure.
: Make sure that y
ou use grammatically correct sentence structure.
Avoid ambiguity. To produce a clear translation, reduce the amount of words
and sentences with multiple meanings.
: The word ‘right’ can mean ‘correct’ or ‘right’ in terms of direction
(right or left)
: The sentence ‘They fed her dog biscuits’ can be understood as
‘she was fed dog biscuits by them or ‘her
dog was fed biscuits by them’.
: ‘They fed her dog biscuits’ to mean ‘her dog was fed biscuits by
: They fed biscui
ts to her dog.
: ‘They fed her dog biscuits’ to mean ‘she was fed dog biscuits by
: They fed her some dog biscuits.
Avoid compound verbs as they are often mistranslated. Use a thesaurus to
simplify uncommon usages.
Use the Internat
ional Standard Date Format (International Standard Date
Format) for writing dates. Date order varies from country to country, but the
standard numerical year
DD) format will eliminate
problems arising from translating dates.
e infinitive form of the verb rather than present participles because
present participles do not always have equivalents in all languages.
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iew the images.
Include a list for the translator of all words that should remain in the source
language. These can be anything from proper names and titles to product or
After completing the source document, run a draft through the machi
translation and back into the source language to see where problems may be
Following the above points will prevent many common translation problems
Machine Translation, though useful in certain cases, is still not and may ne
ver be the
all solution for translation needs. Any translation used for commercial or
professional purposes must be at the very least checked and double
human translators, if not translated by human translators altogether. For thos
cases where the benefits of using an MT far outweigh the drawbacks, MT may be that
key that unlocks the mystery of languages. And so, as the story goes, with a little
help from the Fish, architects all across the globe were able to read and underst
the secrets of the tower and climb to the top.
Sandra Bologna is a translation project manager with WTB Language Group, a
Canadian based translation company that provides
(http://www.wintranslation.com) in over 140 languages. Sandra can be
reached by phone at 519
8897 ext. 101, or by e
mailing Sandra at
Acting Your Way to Professional Stardom
o be a star technical communicator, deliver good performance
and be a
That's not as redundant as it sounds.
delivering results that surpass your manager's or customer's expectations, on
time and at or under budget
gains others' respect and appreciation. But it's
you do, it's
you do it. Demonstrating what
actors call "stage
presence" (that is, acting like a confident, articulate communicator) strongly
signals to others that you're a key player in your field.
Confidence comes naturally to some people. If you aren't among them, don't
worry; you can borrow and
practice acting techniques to create a stronger
presence for yourself at work.
An actor goes on stage knowing what the audience wants and expects. Consider the
people you interact with at work as your audience. Your impact on them in
when you do the following:
Tell or give them something they didn't know or have before.
Act like yourself. Be genuine, but clean up your language if it tends to
be rough in more private settings.
Be truthful and forthright. Lies and "weasel words
" will come back to
bite you later.
Use a vocabulary that's suitable to you. If you're well educated and
your normal conversation includes big or difficult words, go ahead and
use them. But people will know if you're faking or putting on airs.
ctly and respectfully to others.
Make people feel comfortable; they'll relax and that will make you more
Speak clearly and at a pace that helps people absorb your words.
Remember that others have a right to hear you and you have a right
be heard. It's OK to ask others if they can hear or understand you.
Inform, entertain, or persuade. Audiences expect any of these, so it's
important to deliver.
Becoming the Audience
When you get ready to walk into a meeting, conference, or interview,
where you will deliver a presentation or be a key participant, put yourself and any
nervousness or anxieties aside. Visualize yourself as part of the audience ready to
enjoy your performance. This both calms you and helps you connect better
Carrying Yourself with Presence
An actress with good "stage presence" carries herself confidently when performing.
Your posture at work can exude confidence if you do the following:
When standing, distribute your weight evenly on the
balls of both feet. Carry
your rib cage high and contract your stomach muscles.
When sitting, keep your rib cage high and lean very slightly forward. If you're
at a table or desk, rest your forearms on the table midway between your
wrist and elbow with yo
ur hands clasped. And don't fidget.
Breathing and Speaking with Control
Controlled breathing helps you project your voice (important if you're a quiet type)
and increases your stamina. Always breathe from your diaphragm. You want to
control the intake and
outflow of air; uneven breathing puts you off balance.
Practice breathing in. Put your fist at the top of your rib cage and inhale slowly,
picturing yourself breathing "into" your fist. When you've taken in as much air as you
think you can, hold for three
seconds and exhale.
To practice exhaling, shape your mouth as if you were saying, "Shh." Slowly push
the air out through your mouth; the object is to keep the flow of air perfectly even.
If you practice regularly, you'll be able to project your voice easil
y in a large space,
and you'll have command over your voice.
When speaking, speak in as low a tone as feels natural to you. End your
sentences on a lower pitch, never with an upward pitch? That makes you
sound as if you're not sure of yourself? Know what I
mean? When answering
the phone, say "Hello?" in a low tone so that the person on the other end will
feel as if they're in good hands.
Using Eye Contact
If your eyes aren't up when you speak, you won't command attention.
If you're talking with a single per
son, look directly at one of the person's eyes,
then the other, then back again, and so on. Doing this makes your eyes
sparkle, and also touches the listener and makes you appear more sincere.
If you're speaking to a group, it's natural to want to scan the
audience. Don't; you'll
eyed. Instead, lock eyes with different individuals at various points
around the room, moving your gaze to a new person as you finish each thought.
Trusting the Worth of Your Words
Trust your knowledge of the topic you
're speaking about, and your audience will trust
you. Ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable when you watch and listen to other
speakers, or what signs lead you to think that a speaker is faking it. If you come
across as unsure of yourself, needy, subse
rvient, or too anxious to make a good
impression, you'll make others uncomfortable; they may even recoil. Believe that
you and what you have to say are worthy.
Enter the room radiating purpose and energy. As Nobel Prize
once said, "You should go on stage as if to a a hot date, not as if to give
Let your voice show enthusiasm too; this communicates your interest and
excitement for your topic and helps get others interested, too.
"foot in mouth disease"
saying or doing something wrong and looking
is a common reason why people hesitate to speak up in meetings or give
presentations. But no one is perfect; even experienced performers slip up now and
then. And really great
performers turn errors to their advantage.
concert I attended a couple of years ago, the former Beatle
inexplicably forgot the words to one of his biggest hits, a song he's been performing
for years: "I Saw Her Standing There." But
has learned a few things about
showmanship over the years; cannily, he began waving his arms in the manner of an
orchestra conductor, turning the gaffe into an audience sing
along. At the end of the
applauded the audience, complimen
ted us on our singing, then
made the self
deprecating joke that "You guys know these songs better than I do."
The audience roared. He had effortlessly turned a potentially embarrassing moment
into one of the high points of the show.
If you do make a mistak
e, accept it, acknowledge it and quietly correct it, then move
on. You can use gentle humor, but never call yourself "stupid" or anything that
undermines your self
Staying on Your Toes
Some additional tips for conducting yourself with "presence" i
If you don't know the answer to a question, don't try to bluff; admit you don't
know and offer to find out the answer and follow up.
If someone challenges your knowledge (as in "You're completely wrong..."),
tell the person you appreciate her or
his input and will definitely do more
If the conversation dies, restart it by saying something like, "Does anyone
else have a comment or question about this idea?"
Finally, follow the advice that
in one of the
show episodes: "Always leave on a high note."
took this advice
seriously, leaving in the middle of his boss's board meetings after he cracked
especially funny jokes. I don't recommend emulating
s example quite tha
literally. But if you want to be remembered and brought back for another "curtain
call" or "return engagement"
always say or do something that leaves 'em wanting
No Compromise for Quality
, Senior Member, Washington, DC Chapter
hen pondering the meaning of quality, I found the answer in
. Each recipe required specific preparation, ingredients, oven temperature,
and baking time. There is no compromise in the time and effort to bake a cake. For
example, substituting ingredients would change the taste and raising the
temperature would burn t
he cake. You probably can think of many examples where
effort and time cannot be compromised without changing the expected outcome.
Many of us are facing a dilemma of a work ethic
called "faster, cheaper, better." It comes from
the notion that this is the
ideal solution to
delivering products to a competitive market.
Behind the scenes are product development
teams working to unrealistic schedules and not
dedicating resources and time to plan and build
the product and thoroughly test it with actual
question the rationale behind the faster, cheaper, and better ethic. Let me use the
recipe for baking a cake as an analogy.
A cake cannot be baked in half the time simply by raising the
temperature of the oven, without burning the cake. The cake
could be baked
faster in a microwave oven, but cake bakes better in a convection oven.
The use of cheaper ingredients lowers the cost of the cake, but
the cake doesn't taste the same as when the higher
quality products are
ly. Consumers realize that the cake isn't the same as it
"used to be" and switch to a baker who bakes cake "the traditional way."
It seems that it is not easy to deliver a product faster, better, and cheaper without
compromising on quality. I favor deliver
ing products to the market before the
competitor if it results in satisfied customers or seizes the opportunity of a new
market niche. Effort must be made to maintain high levels of quality at the same
Several approaches to achieving this goal includ
Understand the context of use (that is, what the customer wants). So simple
is this statement, but so often is it overlooked because insufficient time and
effort are dedicated to it.
Avoid making feature
rich products and concentrate on improving produ
design (that is, usability), especially if the current design fails to satisfy the
context of use.
Encourage designers to use cost
effective production methods, and forgo the
adage, "That's the way we always did it."
Subcontract work that cannot be acc
Do these things, and you can reduce development time and production costs, and
maintain quality. The years 1999 through 2002 saw unprecedented market booms
and busts. For organizations to remain in business, they must either adapt to
nsumer trends and maintain high levels of quality, or face bankruptcy.
There is no compromise for quality.
's article originally appeared in
, the newsletter of STC's
Lone Writer SIG.
June 2005 Meeting: Awa
rds and Honors
ll year long, Phoenix Chapter volunteers generously donate their time to help run
the chapter and help other members e
xpand their professional skills through monthly
meetings, educational workshops, articles on topics of interest to technical
communicators, and judging for writing or art competitions. At our June meeting,
we'll close out the 2004
2005 Society year by reco
gnizing our volunteers with
awards and honors.
Prior to the meeting, the Chapter will host a reception in the Radisson Hotel's lounge
to welcome new members, recruit new volunteers, and say "thank you" to existing
volunteers. Come, and you'll mingle with a
great bunch of people and learn about
some cool opportunities to put your skills to work for the Chapter. You'll also receive
a coupon entitling you to one drink at the Chapter's expense. (For subsequent
drinks, you're on your own.)
To allow us to tell t
he hotel how many people to expect, RSVP by noon on
Thursday, June 9
, by doing one of the following:
Please, RSVP separately for the dinner meeting and
for the New Member/Volunteers
Seating for the meeting is not guaranteed for walk
ins or late reservations.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
New Member/Volunteers Reception
Radisson Hotel & Suites Phoenix Airport
427 N. 44th Street, Phoenix
Exit Loop 202 a
t 44th Street and head south. The hotel is on the east side of
To be announced. Meals include garden salad, rol
ls, dessert, and coffee or
dinner reception is
. Dinner is
for STC members,
time students. Pay by check or cash at the
door. Pay by credit card with the
Dinner price includes tax, tip, and program.
$5 charge for late
Program Only (includes dessert):
$10 for members, nonmembers, and
Outwit, Outlast, Outsource
, Managing Editor
V producers have based reali
ty shows on all kinds of premises, some absurd and
some grounded in everyday life issues. I wonder how soon we'll see a reality show
that tackles one of the great controversies of the early 21st century: outsourcing.
Here's what I think such a show might b
let's call it "Outwit, Outlast, Outsource"
documents the adventures
of an American technical communicator named
. The show's key gimmick is,
doesn't know that it's a show and she's the star.
The first show commences with
awakening on a glorious Saturday morning.
The sun is shining. Birds are singing. She rolls over in bed to say "good morning" to
and cries out in shock and fear! It's not the same old
married to for 15 years; a stranger is ly
“Aaack! Who are you? How did you get in here? Where's
?” she cries.
The stranger replies, “Oh,
, he is gone.”
“Gone?! You mean,
you killed him
“Oh, no, do not worry,
. He is merely outsourced. I am
. I will be
“But, I don’t want a replacement! I want
“I am sorry, but outsourcing
is in your best interest. I have seen our family
finances, and they are not looking so good. I can be your husband for only 15
percent of what it cost to maintain
. I do no
t golf. I do not play Texas Hold ‘Em.
And I only purchase new clothing once a year.”
.” Joan stares as
picks up the dog, who's been lying on the bed.
was an American cocker spaniel, Today, she's become a Tibetan
"Lhasas eat much less than cockers, you know,"
explains. "We are saving at
least $10 a week on dog food and biscuits. That's $520 a year!"
scrambles out of bed, shaking her head. “This must be a dream! It has to be a
dream!” She rushes dow
n the hall to the kids’ room and throws the door open.
Sitting up in the pink
canopied youth bed is a little Chinese girl, about four years old.
,” she says. “I’m
, your new daughter, replacing
jerks a thumb in the direction o
f a toddler lying in her crib. “
over there. She’s from Chile.”
The toddler begins to whine, “
I desea mi leche!
I ahora desea mi leche!”
! I want my milk! I want my milk NOW!”)
“This is insane,”
mumbles. She pinches herself. Again. And again; nothing
changes. Before she can decide what to do next, both girls begin screeching for
, now fully dressed. Adjusting his pocket protector, he asks,
“When will we be eating? I need t
o place a call to New Delhi, and then call a Dell
representative in Mumbai about our PC networking problem, and then I have a lawn
in the kitchen, post
is in the den logging on. The girls
are playing together happily
at the table. Dirty dishes are everywhere; it’s amazing
how big a mess happens when you have to whip up a baby’s bottle, corn flakes,
goo gai pan
all at the same time. She begins to clean up and decides
to watch some TV while she loads t
She switches to the channel for TV Land. They’re showing what seems to be a rerun
of “Star Trek: the Next Generation.” But instead of
, a smaller,
hairier Hispanic man is playing the
role. The actor pl
looks much more like
, but both he and “
speaking a language that
can’t identify but sounds vaguely like Spanish.
“What the…?” she says.
“It’s Portuguese, Mommy,” pipes up
. “I learned it last year
when I was
contracting for a company in Brazil.”
. She changes channels again, and this time sees a newscaster
describing a robbery in yet another foreign language. “What’s wrong with her?” she
asks. “I can’t understand a word she’s say
giggles. “Oh, silly
! Don’t you know Romanian when you hear it?”
is half convinced that she’s either lost her mind, or somehow she’s
been transported to some strange Planet of the Weird. She wonders if the rest of her
is still normal. Sticking her head into the den, she asks, “Um, excuse me.
? I just remembered that I have to go in to work today so I can finish those
maintenance manuals by next Friday. Do you think you can watch the kids?”
looks up, surpris
? You do not work anymore! Do you not
remember? That company in Singapore acquired your employer, and they sent all
their technical publications work over there.”
! Trying hard not to show how deeply this news has rattled her,
, then replies, “Oh ... that’s right. I, um, forgot. But … I do have to go to the
market! We’re almost out of, um, kumquats. And you know how quickly the girls go
through them; they just love kumquats!” Quick as a blur, she grabs her purse and
car keys. “I
won’t be long. Bye!”
Barely noticing that her Dodge Durango has mysteriously morphed into a Hyundai
sedan (What savings! Many more miles to the gallon!),
drives to the
nearest shopping plaza. She nearly plows into the back of a 1996 Honda Civic
she sees the new signs that dominate the storefronts
all in Arabic or Chinese
characters. Quietly muttering to herself,
parks, then walks through what she
thinks are the doors into Goodfoods.
’s jaw drops. She sees nothing but acres
of bare shelves and a few data
entry terminals. The only other person there is a woman wearing a Goodfoods
worker’s uniform. “May I help you?” the woman asks.
loser to hysteria,
croaks, “Where is everything? What’s going on? Has
ne out of business?”
The woman smiles. “No, ma’am. But we’ve outsourced all our inventory management
to a subcontractor.”
“But, how do people shop?!”
The woman gestures at one of the terminals. “Right here. You select what you want
and enter the quantity
for each item. The system will total your bill, and then to pay
you just slide your credit card through this reader here. In three weeks, your order
will be delivered.”
sputters. But ... but I need milk and bread now! And the baby’s
ost out of diapers. Why will it take so long to have my stuff delivered?”
The woman shrugs. “Well, ma’am, you have to realize: our food orders go through
our clearing house in Antarctica. And our warehouses are in Ulan Bator now. And
then there’s the shipp
ing checkpoint manned by pygmies in the Amazon rain forest.
So shipments take awhile. But outsourcing helps keep our costs and prices low. And
we deliver as just as fast as we can.” She smiles brightly. “Can I help you with
Fade out and fad
e in on
, now a desperate housewife taking refuge in her car.
Leaning her head against the steering wheel, she moans, “I can’t stand any more!
Where does it all stop? What can I do?” She thinks for a moment. “I know; I’ll stop
by the church and say a f
ew prayers. It’ll be nice and quiet there, and maybe that’ll
help me find a way to cope with all this.”
as she enters the church and bumps into her pastor. She’s so happy to
see him, she nearly knocks him over. “
! Am I glad to see you
! I'm in so
much trouble. The world's gone crazy! Everything’s wrong with my life.” Her hand
trembles as she touches his arm. “I need all the prayers I can get! Can you please
arrange some prayer services for me?”
beams, “Of course,
.” He pu
lls out a PDA and presses a few
buttons. “Let’s see … we can have three congregations pray for you at services in
Bangalore. In three weeks.”
stares, completely in shock now. “Bangalore! You don't mean …?”
He nods. “Oh, yes, didn't you know? Because o
f the priest shortage in the U.S.,
we’ve had to outsource ‘special intention’ services to priests in India for years now.
Canada and other countries do it, too.”
The background music swells, and the camera registers
's dismay as the
man slumps to the floor.
(Author’s Note: Although there’s no such reality show as “Outwit, Outlast,
one element of this story isn’t fantasy. On June 23, 2004, the
New York Times
printed a story (subsequently picked up by
around the world) entitled, “Short on Priests, U.S. Catholics Outsource Prayers to
, STC Phoenix Chapter President
he STC 52
Annual Conference was great! In case you were
wondering, it’s probably the best I’ve seen in 5 years. Here are some
interesting facts about the conference:
Attendance at this year’s conference exceeded that of the 2002 Nashville
conference and of Dallas
, and Baltimore conferences. The devastating effects
of the travel prohibitions and budget cuts appear to be behind us. My
conclusion from the statistics is that
is a very good time to start lobbying
your management for the 53
Annual Conference in La
s Vegas. It’s about
time to boost that budget! You can also add that the content of this year’s
conference was the best I’ve seen (Chapter President’s honor), and that
bodes well for the content at Las Vegas.
Leadership Day started off with a keynote pres
entation by technical
communicator and CEO
is also a mountain climber who
climbed mountains in Nepal and Pakistan. He correlated beautiful pictures of
his experiences on several climbs with thoughts on leadership. Most important
of those t
houghts were the priorities the climbing teams had, which were:
safety first, friendship second, summit last. He made the point that after
months and years of hard training, $18,000 of expenses, and risks that are
impossible to recreate in this column, whe
n it all came down to it, sacrificing
safety and friendship did not always help attain the summit. In fact, in
preservation of safety and friendship, the personal goal of attaining the
summit was sometimes deliberately set aside. Although I will never be a
mountain climber, setting the summit aside for safety and friendship
resonated strongly for me.
Opening session on Monday began with President’s awards, followed by
correlating his work in field studies with usability.
hat “asking the customer” has an inherent flaw in logic because
customers are not always conscious of what it is that makes something
usable. He cites, among other examples, a potato peeler causing an
inventor’s wife difficulty to use because of her arthri
tis. His invention, the
“Good Grip” concept has spawned OXO International, a multi
company which uses field studies to identify what common gadgets people
use that don’t work as effectively as they should. It must work. They are very
’s presentation made all of us technical communicators a
little more aware of the influence of field studies on our products for
communications of their use and value.
’s presentation, I had the pleasure of “interning” with
for the awards for Region 5. I’m pleased to report that Phoenix
Chapter and Southern Arizona Chapter both received awards of Excellence.
Southern Arizona Chapter won the “Distinguished” Chapter award on Tuesday
evening at the Honors Banquet. F
urther, I take great pride in reporting that
the annual President’s awards held a surprising and stunning moment. Our
2005 STC President
awarded the President’s award to
the Senator from Washington,
, a member of the 911
sion for the 911 Commission Report.
cited the report’s
chilling conciseness and clarity. To a standing ovation and the teary
enthusiasm of hundreds of technical communicators,
accepted the award on behalf of the 911 commission. I
t was truly a
remarkable moment in our profession, and one I’m thrilled to have witnessed.
Sessions in between the morning session on Monday and the final session on
Wednesday afternoon were filled with topics such as:
Using Customer Feedback to Improve
Making the Move to an XML
based Topic Architecture
Best Practices in Online Reviewing
Information Architecture: What’s In It For Me?
Show It! Clearly, Concisely and Customized
Creating Internal Style and Operational Guides
Using Metrics to Tell Yo
Selecting and Implementing a Content Management System
Gathering Usability Data Through Site Visits
budget Usability Testing
At the Welcome Reception on Sunday night,
of the Southern Arizona Chapter
and I represented our chapters at a special display
table. Some community displays deserved ribbons for creativity (our display wasn’t
shabby!). Food, fun and drinks were available at the reception as well of lots of
networking. The chairperson of the CAA
awards committee made a point to stop by
and compliment the Phoenix Chapter for our consistently strong leadership. This
leadership comes from you, the members, and it is a wondrous, joyful thing for me
to watch all the volunteers come together to provide
value for you.
By the close of the conference on Wednesday afternoon at 5:00pm we were in a
state that I refer to as “conference
stunned.” There is only so much information the
human brain can take in, and you find yourself on over
flow rather quickly un
you pace yourself. And pacing is well worth the effort, so you can attend the closing
session. This year,
gave a very impressive presentation about
incorporating all the things we are as professionals into one person (writer, training
materials developers, usability experts, business analysts, human factors experts,
human cognitive and adult learning experts, communications experts, technical
experts, media designers and so forth) and applying discipline and knowledge to the
ified position of the future. His presentation correlated closely to what I
see my company consultants becoming
an evolving group of experts that use
several disciplines to solve corporate problems.
makes the case that as off
shoring continues to ma
ke hay against the commoditized positions of technical
writers and training developers, we need to evolve to thrive. His case is strong, and
I’ve espoused it in this very column.
I’d like to take this last paragraph or so to thank you all. It’s been a tru
e, total joy to
write to each of you as if you were listening to me across my kitchen table. I’ve
enjoyed sharing chapter achievements, my occasional rant, and my view of the world
from my patio. I can’t express the things you’ve taught me.
In the year t
hat begins next month, I’ll be writing a new column, the monthly letter
from the Director of Region 5. I hope you’ll feel free to write back, to tell me what is
in your thoughts as a professional in our market. I hope you will let me know what
you think yo
u’d like out of STC as we try to shape this association into the best value
to you, the member, today and for the future. Your active feedback ensures STC
association, and remains viable to help you in your career growth.
Thank you for your sup
port as your chapter President and your support in my role as
Director for Region 5.
Lines from Leaders
Read the Documentation
, Region 8 Director
he number one complaint we technical commun
ication professionals seem to have
is this: our audience doesn't use our product. Folks don't use those manuals and
online help that we craft so carefully and laboriously.
We train ourselves to write useful instructions that are geared specifi
and sometimes explicitly to a targeted audience.
We concoct a documentation plan and grind it through management approval.
We project the consumption of resources for completing that plan and we
calculate the benefit returned for those consumed r
We identify and hire or contract the right talent to implement the plan.
We implement the plan.
We review the implementation and compare it to the projections to see
how well we did, and what we might do to improve our effort the next
ur audience ignores the documents, whether printed or online.
The STC board of directors is not immune to this disappointment. Although we've
published information about the Transformation, about the referenda on the recent
election ballot, and about the S
ociety's operations, it's clear that some in our
intended audience aren't reading the documentation. Why else would questions
continue to arise about the Transformation initiative, about the referenda to alter the
Society's bylaws, and about the Society's
OK, I've deliberately led you up a path with this question. I think I know the answer.
Better still, I think
know the answer.
number one complaint is that our consumers don't use our product. Our
' number one complaint overall
is, "I can't find the information I want."
Might this most pervasive of documentation failings have a significant bearing on
why some folks still have questions about the changes the board is attempting to
implement? Could it be that the leaders among us (
not just our elected officers, but
the folks who boldly make initiatives and express their opinions) didn't find clear
explanations about the Transformation in the Transformation Newsletters? Has a
complainant or two not read the rationale for the referend
a? Did some chapter
officers read neither their chapter's not the Society's bylaws? Did they not search the
online archives of
before committing to action?
I don't ask these questions rhetorically. Here's a qualified blow
blow of wh
went through, pretending to be an as
yet uninformed querent, to fund published
information about the Transformation Initiative.
I logged into the STC Web site. The "Login Successful" page appeared,
rather than the home page.
Thinking that this page m
ust be where STC intended for me to begin my
search, I scanned the "Login Successful" page for the word
Not finding what I was looking for, and also missing the teensy
"search" link in the bar across the top of the window, I began
the cursor over each of the menu buttons across the upper part of the
page: "About STC," "Membership," "Publications," "Education,"
"Competitions," "Recognition," and finally "STC Members." I read each
menu and sub
menu in turn. This took me a whil
e, because I thought
that "Transformation" might be
under some of the sub
that happened to be nearer the left side of the page than the right side.
In effect, those were each and all red herrings.
NOTE: Those of you who have enjoyed dinner bu
ffets with me at our
chapter meetings are probably laughing at me, saying to yourself,
"That's what you get, Beau, for not taking your own advice. You always
encourage us to start at the dessert end of the buffet!"
Finally, under the "STC Members" menu at
the right end of the menu bar, I
opened the nondescript sub
menu "Resource Center." There it was,
"Transformation." Who'da thunk it?!
I clicked the long
sought link, and was whisked to the Transformation
Initiative home page. (I have DSL, a 2 GHz processo
r, and 496 MB in RAM;
your mileage may vary.) Without even trying, without even scrolling, I easily
discerned two underlined hyperlinks among the easily scannable text,
" (an e
mail address!) and "
Look at that, five steps. Measuring that effort against the old "five, plus or minus
two" rule for chunking information, it's spot on.
But it's a qualified blow
blow. Let's consider the qualifications.
First, after I log
ged in, the site displayed the "Login Successful" page, not the home
page. Guess what? If the site had displayed the home page instead of the "Login
Successful" page, I could have been three steps closer to my goal. In a beige box in
the right column of th
e home page, there's the greeting, "Welcome Back! You are
currently logged in as Beau Cain. Here are a few links that might be of interest to
Sure enough, the link at the bottom of that brief list is "Transformation," exactly
what I was looking fo
r. I clicked it, and it took me to the same Transformation
Initiative home page, except that it took about 5 minutes less than the five
tango I stumbled through previously.
Continuing the critique, the third step suggests that a more obvious search li
have reduced my search effort and search time. 'Nuf said.
The fourth step raised my hackles. Why is "Transformation" hidden two layers deep?
Why is "Transformation" under "Resource Center"? Why is neither "Transformation"
not "Resource Center" imm
ediately apparent on that page, instead of being hidden
under "STC Members"? Why wasn't the Transformation information under "About
STC" or maybe under "Publications"? Come to think of it, due to the many questions
the Transformation Initiative has raised
that the board and the Society office have
spent excessive hours answering, why isn't a big, flashing "Transformation" link
displayed on the "Login Successful" page and on the home page?
I'm not going to further belabor my points by dragging you through a
blow for the referenda and operations instances I've mentioned. Instead, let me
state the first of two points of this article. Got a question? Read the documentation.
The board of directors and the Society office make a great effort to pu
information for our members. At least, read the FAQs at
Here's the second point of my article. If reading the documentation proves
inconvenient or unsatisfactory, then here's one more link to help you start your own
. You can't
improve your company's or your client's documentation without user feedback, and
neither can we improve ours without your feedback. Let us know why our
documentation isn't working for you,
so that we can improve our product and make
our communication more effective.
Ubiquitous Microsoft ... Office 2003 Brings Some
... Er ... "Surprises
, Contributing Editor
aybe our company is behind the times, but we
are just now getting Microsoft Office 2003. How
about you? Because it's new to me, I'm going to
assume it might be so for some number of you, too.
Following are some tips about Offic
e 2003 products. First, we'll take a look at a little
privacy issue in Word 2003, and then offer a tip about Outlook 2003's default
Word 2003: Beware!
A change in the way Word 2003 behaves (compared to previous Word versions)
might catch you off
guard. It has to do with revision details and comments in the
you may not know they are in your document (or want them visible to
your readers), but others who open your document in Word 2003 may see them,
unbeknownst to you. This behavior is n
ew to Word. The Microsoft Knowledge Base
article discussing this little anomaly is
Markup text may reappear when you open or
when you save a document of Word 2003
Also note: W
hen you distribute an Office document electronically, the document
might contain information that you do not want to share publicly, such as
information that allows you to collaborate on writing and editing the document, or
hidden information that can be u
sed to track who worked on the document."
If you are concerned about the personal information that is part of Office documents,
you may be interested in this Knowledge Base article and associated tool:
Remove Hidden Data tool for Office 2003 and Office XP
. This tool is free, and it is
easy to download, install, and use. Once you install it, you access and run it from the
menu, as shown in the following figure. One caveat
: you need to understand
that once this tool strips out the hidden data, it makes the file read
only (to keep the
hidden data out). If you open the file again, it will warn you about this fact, and
allow you to leave it as read
only or make edits of you li
ke. As soon as you make
edits, hidden data will be added to your file.
Outlook 2003: Hello
o! It's Me, Outlook! I'm Over
k at Me!
As if we don't have enough distractions in this world, Microsoft Outlook 2003 seems
to have a default "I'm gonna bug you every time you get an e
mail" setting. I
suppose that some folks like to be interrupted the second they receive an e
for many of us, this is a great distraction. If you have not encountered this
phenomenon yet, here is what happens. The instant a new e
mail message arrives, a
little graphic pops up in the lower right corner of the screen, something like the
It is human nature to glance down and skim the mini
message. Instantly, you are
distracted from your work. After a few seconds, the me
ssage fades away on its own,
but the damage has been done. Your thought process and workflow have been
If this interruption bothers you, here are the steps to stop it:
In Outlook, select
Tools > Options
On the Preferences tab, click the
button, then the
In the Advanced E
mail Options dialog box, clear the
Display a New Mail
Desktop Alert (default Inbox only)
through three dialog boxes.
If you like the e
mail alerts, but do not like the appearance or amount of time they
display, you can modify these attributes from the same location. Instead of clearing
the option, le
ave it selected, and click the
Desktop Alert Settings
button. You can
set the duration and the transparency of the message, and preview it to make sure
the settings meet your needs.
Members Making News
Three Chapter Members Invited to Join STC Leadership
ecently, STC announced that as part of its Transformation, it was establishing a
Leadership Community Resource (LCR) to provide mentorship and sponsorship to
STC Communities. The vision for the LCR is one of mentoring, leadership suppo
and sharing among leaders. STC intends to deliver enhanced sponsorship through
the LCR, not just to move sponsorship from the officers formerly called Director
Sponsors to another group of volunteers.
, newly appointed leader of the LC
R, is recruiting leaders and
people with diverse technical skills from communities around the world including the
Phoenix Chapter. She has invited three Phoenix STC members to help sponsor and
mentor other chapters through the LCR:
LCR was just launched at the recent Annual Conference in Seattle. It's a brand new
undertaking, so stay tuned for more news about it.
Proposals Due June 15 for for 2005 STC Region 5
o you have an oasis of experience or exper
tise that ensures your resilience,
survival, and success as a communicator of technical information? If so, the STC
Phoenix Chapter and the STC Instructional Design and Learning SIG invite you to the
2005 Region 5 Conference to share what you know.
ers of the conference, which will take place November 11 and 12 in Phoenix,
seek speakers who can discuss such technical communication topics as:
learning design and development
Usability and human factor
Web design and publishing
Graphics and visual design
The tools of the trade (software, processes, basic and advanced skills)
The Call for Proposals is available on the conference Web site at
oposals are due no later than
June 15, 2005
Networking & Learning
ooking for learning or networking opportunities outside STC over the next few
months? Check out the following list:
For More Information
Annual Meeting in
7586 or contact
Comtech Services at
7586 or contact
Comtech Services at
Group on Design of
STC's 2005 Training Program
he Society has announced a two
day Training Program, to be held
at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA. Registrants can select
one of five in
The Architecture of Content
, presented by
. This workshop
will help technical communicators recognize patterns in their content and
malize those patterns as hierarchies of objects to get the full benefit of
Leadership in Information Management: Developing the Business
Framework and Implementation Roadmap for Single Sourcing,
Content Management, and Knowledge Managem
, presented by
Benhong Rosaline (Roz) Tsai.
This course will help managers and
experienced professionals provide strategic leadership in their organizations
to meet the needs of information management.
Creating and Using Personas to Improve Usability
. This tutorial will cover the process of planning,
researching, creating, and using personas.
Focusing on Content: Making Web Sites Work for Users
, presented by
Janice (Ginny) Redish
. This highly interact
workshop will help you develop Web documents that enable users to get what
they need, when they need it, in just the right amount.
XML: From Hand
coding to WYSIWYG Authoring
, presented by
. This course will help managers and developers decid
e whether they
need XML, find the right XML authoring tool, and use Macromedia RoboHelp to
Registration for the program will begin in May, so watch this page for further details.
To guarantee a room and discounted advance registration rates,
participants are advised to register for any workshop by
September 21, 2005
New Series of STC Remote Seminars
he STC has extended its series of remote Web/telephone seminars to continue
throughout the summer, continuing through
Cost for all seminars is
for STC members or
members. The fee
charged is for one phone connection and one computer connection. Registration
deadline is 24 hours before each seminar.
The following table lists the new seminars scheduled. Fo
r additional details, visit
June 8, 2005
Adding Interactivity to
One World Publishing:
Editing and Translation
Basics of Operations and
Know Your Audience Like
Before through User
Dreamweaver MX 20
Dreamweaver MX 2004,
On the Job
, Nordic Chapter Member
o you ever practice your communication ski
lls, or, after perspiring over a hot
computer all day, does a past participle make you scream? According to legend, the
wrote eight pages every morning to exercise her
writing skills. Could you do that? For a while I tried writing
just three pages every
morning. I wrote nonstop
that was the idea
and tried constructing coherent
sentences and sharing ideas as words flowed from my brain to my fingers. It was
quite fun, but it only lasted one week. Discipline plays a big role in th
e process, I
Why bother? Don't we get enough practice in our jobs? Perhaps we do, but I would
argue that we should look for every opportunity to improve our skills. Pianists
exercise their fingers, singers train their vocal cords, and so on. Wha
t can we do?
Wiggle our brain cells? Well, sort of! We have to practice communicating. We can
practice using words (written or spoken) or making illustrations. We don't need to
follow the methods that we use daily. Breaking out of our known patters can pro
the exact inspiration and stimulus that can help us improve our talents.
Here's an interesting exercise that I gleaned from a journalist's story about her early
days at a broadcasting company. As a trainee, she was asked by her manager to
stand at the
far end of an office area, opposite his office, and read her news
telegrams to him. She had to speak above the ordinary noises of an office, enunciate
her words clearly, use words that were not misunderstood under these conditions,
and get her message acr
My memory may have garbled some of the story, but I think this is a fascinating
exercise. It challenges you to thing of every single part of the sentence that you
construct. You may not ever have to read your technical specifications manual aloud,
t perhaps you should! For those who are truly loners and never have their material
reviewed, it is a different approach to your own work, and different approaches are
precisely the way in which lone writers can spot errors. Selecting words to
n idea across a crowded room can certainly teach you to shorten
sentences or rephrase an idea.
Another exercise is turning your participation in e
mail discussion lists into your own
writing workshop. It can be debated whether e
mail has led to the deterio
writing and composition skills. Why not make an effort to use e
mail for their
Use the opportunity to practice spelling, grammar, and composition. If you are
describing steps that need to be taken to solve a problem, is the quality o
description suitable for one of your own manuals? If a debate is starting to get
heated and negative, can you write to defuse the tension and calm people down
you are posting a question
, do you provide all the necessary information so that
e have a fair chance of understanding your needs? You may be doing all these
things, but have you thought that in doing so, you are practicing your
Writing for newsletters or newspapers is another exercise in communication. These
rtunities often have word limits, which are wonderful challenges to verbose
So what is the purpose of this effort? The purpose of a technical communicator's
efforts can be summed up nicely in a quote attributed to
all the trouble to ensure that my readers have none."
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in
, the newsletter of
STC's Lone Writer SIG.
Views & Reviews
Book Review: The Guide to Translation & Localization
, Student Member, Willamette Valley Chapter
ithin the 124 pages of
The Guide to Translation & Localization: Preparing for the
may be found a well
written interpretation of what localization is
ow important it is to the company's product, image, and bottom line. This book
9) is a good primer on translation and localization. The
contributing authors, from Lingo Systems and Multilingual Computing & Technology,
have compiled valuab
le tidbits from real
world experience to educate a non
Transforming a product and its documentation from a loc
audience to a global audience, or at least to another culture, may be overwhelming.
This book leads the decision makers through those critical first process steps by
providing guidance through the major aspects of localization.
The authors define key te
rms, explain various options for translating different types
of materials, and offer tips for securing reputable localization services. They describe
the process itself in plain, sometimes humorous, language for those new to
localization. Even experienced
software localization practitioners will find interesting
case studies and a section on the latest publishing techniques.
One side effect of localization is text expansion. While translating a document from
English to Dutch, the text may expand by as much
as 25 percent.
This guide also offers suggestions to technical writers who write for localization,
highlighting many pitfalls the content owner may encounter. Moreover, the designers
demonstrate their craft through the organization of the book. They allow
for plenty of
white space, ample leading, and bold descriptive headings.
The book itself appears to be designed for be translated for localization. Within the
margins are personalized biographies, photos of employees, and witty cultural
bloopers. The gloss
ary of key terms and the resource list located in the back pages
are helpful for the technical writer while educating the decision makers.
This book touches upon the major points of localization and could benefit writers
seeking basic information on the to
pic. Of course, they may always contact Lingo
Systems for a more in
Editor's Note: This book review originally appeared in
newsletter of the Portland, OR STC chapter.)
Basics for Communicating Clearly
Use strong verbs
To achieve clear, concise writing, avoid smothering strong verbs as
objects of weaker verbs.
conduct an inspection, take
the measurement, give
inspect, measure, consider
Avoid Useless Words
To achieve clear, concise writing, avoid words that add no meaning.
You can usually delete or rewrite to avoid these words
any, character, in order, it is,
located, matter of, nature, possible, proximity, purpose
of, serve to, somewhat, there are, there is, various, very
Collected "Grammar Central" topics: