Tag Archives: content

You Have a Right to Ketchup and Salt

Did you see the news story about the Florida chef who refuses to let his patrons put ketchup and salt on their burgers?

If you’re older than 10, says chef Xavier Duclos, you have no business adding any flavoring to the dishes I’ve prepared. I’m the chef. You have to trust my judgment. And that’s that.

burgerIf I were a customer of Mr. Duclos’, I’d beg to differ. Having plunked down $12.95 for one of his burgers (that’s the going rate, according to his menu), I’d say that I’d bought the right to season my food as I liked.

Mr. Duclos has heard that argument, and he rejects it. At best he and I would agree to disagree.

At the same time, I understand where Mr. Duclos is coming from. Continue reading

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What’s Lurking in Your Content?

Fellow technical writers, admit it. You’ve all done it. You’re writing along, and you come to a spot where you need to insert place-holder text. Your creative juices are flowing, and a simple lorem ipsum just won’t do.

So you insert something clever. Lyrics from your favorite Stones song. Lines from the Dead Parrot sketch. Maybe even a rant about what a dopey product you’re describing.

Then you delete it forthwith. Because if you don’t, those little place-holders have a way of lurking unnoticed until one day they find their way into print.

Cover for the Hello Kitty Dictionary

Image source: mirror.co.uk

Don’t believe me? Check out this horrifying story of what a mother recently found in, of all things, the Hello Kitty Dictionary. At the entry for necklace were two definitions: a piece of jewelry, and a brutal method for killing people.

Improbable as it sounds, the story appears to be true: it was cited by a number of different online sources. Even if it’s a fake, it’s a good object lesson for all of us who publish content.

Reportedly the publisher, Harper Collins, reacted promptly by pulling all copies from the shelves and destroying them.

But I have to wonder: how did that ever make it to print in the first place?

About the author: Larry Kunz lives in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of his block. If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up daisies.

Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances

Though it’s probably the most low-key reality show on television, HGTV’s House Hunters has uncovered an overwhelming, and heretofore unknown, passion lurking deep in the American psyche.

Photo of a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliancesThe show follows a set formula. A real estate agent asks the home buyers how much money they have to spend and what features they want. Then we watch as they tour three homes, commenting pro and con on each one. After the buyers choose one of the homes, we visit with them post-move and hear them tell us how happy they are with their choice.

The overwhelming passion expresses itself in the features they want. Every buyer, to a man (or woman), wants the kitchen to have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Things that look great but are pricey and don’t make the kitchen any more functional or easier to cook in.

Anyway, I got to thinking: What are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances of technical communication? What are the things that every company, every client, wants to see in their technical and marketing communication projects — regardless of cost or actual business value?

And what should be on everyone’s wish list — but too often isn’t considered? Continue reading

The heart and mind of technical communication

I’ve seen the future. I turned my calendar to today’s date, and there it was.

And when I saw the future, do you know what I realized?

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of Technical Communication had better learn structured authoring.

I invite you to look into the future too. Just observe what’s going on today. Here’s what you’ll see:

  • Content comes from all over the organization — and sometimes from customers and others as well. Gone are the days when all of the technical content came from the Tech Pubs department. With all of that collaboration going on, we need to have formats in which everyone can contribute content so that it’s easy to mash up together.
  • People read content on all kinds of devices: tablets, smartphones, desktop PCs. If the content can’t at least be adapted to the screens where it’s displayed, it’s of no use. The industry leaders are going beyond adaptive content: they provide content that’s responsive (it changes format to fit the screen) and smart. Smart content changes based on the readers’ attributes: the product features they’ve purchased, their geographical location, and their preferences.
  • Our employers demand content that affects the bottom line. One way to provide bottom-line value is through efficiency: content is developed once and then reused in many different contexts without the need for reformatting.

StructureNone of these scenarios would be possible without structured authoring. Structured authoring allows each piece of content to be tagged for a particular display format or for a particular user attribute, and it allows content to be reused.

Continue reading

Are you ready for the future of content?

Guess what’s become a hot topic in the content strategy blogs? Good writing.

Brittany Huber laments that there’s so much bad writing out there, and offers some keys for finding the “really good stuff.” For Brittany, the good stuff is clear, scannable, accurate, and inventive.

Meanwhile Kathy Wagner sounds a call for well-written content, saying that good content engages, persuades, and just plain feels good. Kathy points out that “[a]udiences are typically affected in a positive way by one of two things: a truly compelling story, or well-crafted writing.”

quill penAs a writer I’m thrilled. This is right in my sweet spot. Despite what I’ve said about “good enough” being the new measure of quality, I’m delighted to hear content professionals reassure me that craftsmanship still has value.

So if everyone’s in favor of good writing, why aren’t there oceans and oceans of good content out there?

Continue reading

Come down to the river: Structured authoring immersion

You can tell that Mollye Barrett has spent time in the South. During a recent talk on the content lifecycle, the Milwaukee-based content-management expert observed that when it comes to structured authoring, “you need to be immersed. It’s no good just to be sprinkled.”

Amen, sister!

Whether your platform of choice is DITA or something else, structured authoring is different from traditional authoring. Continue reading

The technical writer as storyteller

A big pile of bananas

It’s a song about a fatal highway wreck. So why did concert audiences love “30 Thousand Pounds of Bananas“? Because Harry Chapin was such a good storyteller.

Storytelling is hot right now. The social-media and marketing gurus tell us that we reach our customers by telling stories: stories they want to hear, stories they relate to. Case in point, from just a couple of days ago:  Why Every Tech Company Needs an English Major. (I love the catchy title.)

But we reach our customers through more than just marketing. Can we technical communicators also apply the principles of storytelling? Continue reading

Adapting to the modern web

New York Times website

The New York Times website, recently redesigned to deliver more curated content, more dynamic content, and more paid content — all adding up to a “sleeker, faster, more intuitive” experience. (Source: nytimes.com)

Hypertext means more than just text with a bunch of links in it.

So begins Mark Baker’s timely and illuminating article on the nature of hypertext. If content on the web began as a set of articles linked to one another, it’s grown to encompass search results, social curation (for example, liking, tagging, and retweeting), and dynamically generated content.

As technical communicators, have we really grasped that? Reading through Mark’s article I’m struck by the dissonance between the way I develop content at work and the way I consume content after hours. Continue reading

Get the details right: It’s part of your job

Details matter. In life, in art, and in technical writing.

Matt Damon in The Bourne UltimatumIt’s hard to think of three better action movies than the Bourne trilogy, in which the protagonist — Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon — spends a good bit of time being chased by bad guys. Bourne hopscotches across Europe, eluding his pursuers in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and London. Finally, Bourne arrives in a city where I know my way around: New York. And that’s where it gets weird. Continue reading