Four people shared a car from Lisbon to Aveiro in order to attend the third technical communication meeting by APCOMTEC, the Portuguese association of Technical Writers. In particular, I had the company of Maria Spínola, Laura Barros, and Carlos Costa.
Everyone agreed that getting out of bed early enough to meet at 7h00 was too much of an effort. So, we met at Póvoa de Santa Iria (km 7 of A1) at 8h30. We took a little over 2h to reach Aveiro, with lively conversation during the whole trip.
Bruno Campos, “The complexity of simplicity”
It was a pity that we could not attend the presentation by Bruno Campos Santos. The work during the coffee breaks was that he explained how Euroconsumers gathers information, and the efforts that it takes to make the information understandable by consumers. After attending the presentation of Susana Vilaça at UX-Lx a week later, I have a feeling for the level of effort that Euroconsumers is doing.
Perhaps APCOMTEC could reorder the presentations, placing the keynote in another time-slot? For example, ISDOC already takes the unorthodox strategy of placing the keynote Friday afternoon, so that working people can attend the keynote after work.
Morning break with lots of company
We reached the University a few minutes before the morning break, as planned. Since the room was closed, we could not join the period of questions and answers of the first presentation.
The coffee break was actually too much of a coffee break. There was a larger meeting taking place in the same building, and the two coffee breaks were in the same room.
I am glad to report that the APCOMTEC vice-president fought valiantly to defend our cookies from the never-ending hordes of attendees from the larger conference! We helped by erecting a natural barrier by the side of the table, meaning, we raised the EuroSIGDOC roll-up banner.
António Oliveira, ColorADD
The creator of the ColorADD system, Miguel Neiva, could not speak at the meeting, and was replaced by António Guedes de Oliveira.
ColorADD seems to be sitting on top of a good but simple idea that depends on network effects to become widespread. At this growth rate, ColorADD risks being overtaken by a competing standard, leaving ColorADD with nothing more than a moral victory.
Another warning sign was how António Oliveira mentioned several times the name of Miguel Neiva with unnatural awe... Perhaps ColorADD believes that the creator of the idea is more important than the idea itself?
Lunch at “O Refúgio dos Drinks”
After the extended conversation with António Oliveira, the (mostly local?) attendees had left for their favorite lunch spots, while the organizers were busy organizing both the complex and the mundane.
I had come to Aveiro looking forward to deeper conversations with senior APCOMTEC officials, but that clearly it was not possible. The meeting apparently hit them at a very bad time, and people clearly had other things to do besides the meeting. For example, Ana Remígio (the president of APCOMTEC) only managed to talk to attendees for 15 minutes in the afternoon, after working outside Aveiro for the whole day.
A quick consultation with the students standing outside the building lead us to a restaurant just outside the University with the curious name “O Refúgio dos Drinks”. It was a good opportunity to dissect the ColorADD presentation in detail, and there were different sensibilities around the table. We paid €7 for the daily meal, and hurried back into the room.
Frances Gordon, “How to write in plain language: more than only words”
I was surprised to realize that only six people were attending the workshop that had the four of us travel all the way to Aveiro. There were a few sit-ins for the first hour, but they withdrew during the afternoon break.
On second though, however, it does make a lot of sense. APCOMTEC communicates in Portuguese, therefore many of the members are actually translators. Since translators work mostly in their native language (Portuguese), a workshop on writing in English has little appeal for them.
On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that Portugal does not have technical communicators further North, where most of the Portuguese Industry is traditionally based.
Of course, having Frances just for six students was a treat. The initial historical background was great, and the practical part was clearly mature, certainly part of a course that has evolved through many students. You just know, because the exercises are polished, seamless, without a single rough edge.
I believe that Frances lost track of time a bit, probably because everyone was very engaged, and questions and clarifications took their time toll. Which means that we had a single afternoon break instead of two, which kind of messed with the food calculations of some of us.
Drive back through Tomar
As the day ended, we headed back to Lisbon, with a detour through A13 to leave one of us in Tomar for the weekend (yes, she enjoyed the “Festa Templária” very much; thank's for asking!). BTW, the whole car trip cost €18 to each of us.
We kept talking during the trip, discussing the events of the day, and the possibility of creating a post-graduate course in Technical Communication.
It was a good Meeting in Aveiro (even without Bruno Campos), and it was a good opportunity for the four of us to talk during six hours in a single day...
Aftermath by Maria Spínola, 27-May
A few days later, Maria Spínola shared a few materials on Plain Language in Portuguese.
- How to write clearly and Redigir com clareza (PDF, 16 pages)
- This guide will help you to write clearly whether you are using your own language or one of the other official languages, all of which are also working languages of the Commission according to Council Regulation No 1/1958 (still valid today!) These are hints, not rules, and when applying them you should take account of your target readers and the purpose of your document.
- 4MAT (8 slides)
- 4MAT is a method for helping anyone learn anything. It has been used in thousands of teaching settings for over 25 years.
- Escrever Claro (exemplo real) - de 43 para 11 PALAVRAS (video, 10:53)
- And last but not least, a trailer! By no other than Maria Spínola herself, an animated video that is almost 11 minutes long (skip the first four, she says), and that Maria promises to complete this Summer. As far as I am concerned, this video is an excellent introduction to an important part of technical writing.