Tag Archives: documentation

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.

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Good, not perfect

Like you, I’ve sat through all of those motivational talks. Quality is Job 1. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Nothing less than your best.

And I get it. I strive for quality. I try to do my best all the time.

But a funny thing is happening: the definition of quality is changing. Some people are very uncomfortable with that, but that makes it no less true. I wrote about this change a while ago, in a piece called Redefining Perfection.

What’s causing the change? 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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide and today’s technical documentation

Thirty-four years ago this week, Douglas Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was released in book form. While the version that I read was a plain old printed book, the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide—the one that Ford Prefect carried with him—was a pretty cool example of 21st-century technical documentation. Continue reading