Saturday, 19 July 2008

Some places still available for distance learning MA courses in Communications

I am told by my colleagues at Sheffield Hallam University that there are a few places still available for the distance learning MA programme in Professional Communications for the autumn session which begins in September.
The programme offers four courses of study, each with a slightly different emphasis, and all with some shared modules:
Corporate Communication, focusing on communication within organisations, including corporate image, ethics and public relations, looking at both theoretical and practical aspects of the communications process;
E-Communication designed to give you a thorough understanding of human and digital communication, and the growing importance of the web and other contemporary technologies as tools of corporate communication;
Professional Communication a flexible award in terms of the option modules combining theory and practice, and including document design, persuasive communication and communication strategy;
Technical Communication focusing on the means and methods of disseminating technical information and instruction to varied audiences, looking at the role of the technical communicator in a wide variety of industrial and corporate contexts.

I am an Associate Lecturer for the Technical Communications MA course, as well as a graduate of the course myself. I'd be very happy to answer any questions about the course.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

This blog has moved

Correction 19th July 2008
I have moved back now, but with my own domain name. You can now find this blog at

I hope you like the new colours. :-)

Original message 15th July 2008

If you followed a link to you will have found a redirection notice to send you here. I've moved my blog to a new home on my own ISP's server, rather than on Blogspot. This is an experiment, and I'll decide in a few weeks whether I am going to keep it this way. I am still using Blogger software to write new posts, for the time being at least.
I've lost a couple of features, such as the blogroll and the Technorati links, and if you have any ideas on how I can get those features back, or any suggestions on alternative blogging software I could use, please let me know.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Lure of Modular Writing

Since I started being more involved with a specific DITA product, I am seeing opportunities for modular writing everywhere. This may be a case of "when the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail", but every new prospective technical writing assignment looks to me like an opportunity for a modular approach.

A modular approach to technical writing doesn't mean adopting a particular technology or tool, it means adopting a different way of thinking about what you write. In an August 2001 article in Technical Communication, Michael Priestley of IBM urged writers to "ditch the book as the basic structure" in order to maximise the potential benefits of content reuse using DITA.

But even without adopting DITA, thinking of content in a more granular way can have benefits. Don't think I'm writing "three books for this client's product", rather think "I'm writing seventy-five topics". Ask yourself how this material can be split up into smaller stand-alone portions ("chunks")? Where are the concepts, and where are the procedures? What user steps are needed in more than one situation? What material needs to be repeated in every publication?

You can then decide separately how to assemble those topics into whatever publications and formats are most suitable. There are dozens of different tools to help make that job easier, and each tool has its own pros and cons.

I know that many technical writers think that a modular approach can be artificial and limiting, but I take the opposite view. It liberates technical writers from worrying about the presentation of technical information, so that they can concentrate on getting the content right - timely, accurate, concise, and relevant, and del=ivered as close as possible to the point of need.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Distance Learning at SHU mentioned in "The Independent"

Last Thursday's (10th July 2008) "Independent" newspaper carried an article about the impact of distance-learning postgraduate courses, Distance learning is helping workers' careers – and their pockets, too. The article spotlights the growing popularity of distance-learning MA courses for people trying to get ahead in the workplace, where an undergraduate degree is often no longer enough.

One of the students interviewed in the article is a graduate of the Corporate Communications MA course at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). The student said she was "more confident knowing the theory that underpins what I'm doing every day", which is a key reason for undertaking academic study related to one's professional life. Corporate Communications is one of the four streams in the MA Programme in Professional Communication at SHU. The others are e-Communication, Professional Communication, and Technical Communication. I am of course, an interested party - as I may have mentioned before in this blog, I am an Associate Lecturer for the Technical Communications course.