This isn’t my favorite section in the supermarket. But I can’t afford not to visit it.
This week we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S.
What’s your favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast? Turkey? A family favorite like sweet potato casserole? The desserts? (That’s mine.)
Did any of you pick the vegetables? Probably not. Yet we’ve all known since childhood that we have to eat our veggies if we want to be healthy.
It’s like that in our work as technical communicators too. I love doing audience analysis. I love writing a procedure or a product description that connects perfectly with my readers.
There are other aspects of the job I don’t love as much. But they’re indispensable for creating good content. I think of them as the veggies of my job.
Here are a few examples.
Following the style guide
I have nothing against style guides, of course. But when I’m writing and things are flowing, it’s hard to remember the preferred way to write a phrase like “we recommend,” or whether to spell out numbers below 10. I don’t want to stop to check, so I make my best guess and go on, promising myself that I’ll come back and fix it later.
It’s essential that I keep that promise. The style guide is there for a reason. For several reasons, actually.
When your content is translated, consistent phraseology means lower costs and higher quality.
Your company’s brand is strengthened, and the user experience enhanced, when all of the content is consistent in tone. When every piece — from my user guide to Marketing’s datasheet to the corporate website — speaks with one voice.
Check all of the output formats
I’ve written my web help, and It looks great in my Chrome browser. But have I tried to open it in Firefox and Internet Explorer?
Have I tried to view it on a tablet or smartphone? In ePub format? PDF?
You need to consider all of the ways your readers will display your content. (This, of course, is a key ingredient of audience analysis.)
You might not like doing all of this testing, but it often exposes an unforeseen problem with poor formats, rogue characters, or poorly sized images. It’s much better when it’s me, not a customer, who finds those problems.
Metadata, according to content strategist Theresa Grotendorst, can unlock the full potential of your content. Metadata “tells systems what to do with your data.”
But maybe your company isn’t using metadata. You’re already busy just getting your content finished in time. Your readers will never see the metadata anyhow.
Consider this: Web developer Jason Scott calls metadata a love note to the future. Even if you don’t exploit metadata today, someday your properly categorized and tagged content will be ready for targeting to specific audiences, for adapting to different output formats, and for easy management.
In other words, even if metadata isn’t useful to you now, it’ll be very useful to you — or to someone in your company — later.
If you’re really too busy to develop the metadata before the product ships, go back and do it afterward. Your future self will thank you.
What veggies will be on your content-development plate this year?