Tag Archives: structured authoring

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Alvin Toffler, quoted by Jack Molisani in Be the Captain of Your Career

I’d seen this quotation before and liked it. But either the quotation stopped, or I stopped reading, after the word learn.

"My brain is full" cartoon

By unlearning things, I hope to avoid situations like this. (Source: The Far Side)

When I encountered the whole quotation I was brought up short. Sure, I recognize the need to learn — and keep on learning — in today’s world. (I even wrote about it recently.)

But do we need to unlearn and relearn too? What in the world does Toffler mean?

Then I thought of some things I’ve had to unlearn in my own life. Continue reading

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An appeal for DITA keys: Powerful, useful, and mostly ignored

Last week, in his webinar on conditional content, Noz Urbina showed a demo of content reuse using DITA’s conref attribute. I took the opportunity to ask for Noz’s opinion of keys and keyref.

old fashioned keyKeys provide a powerful and useful function, Noz replied. But few people use them because the authoring tools don’t do a very good job of making them easy to use. And the tool manufacturers haven’t added the functionality because they don’t think anybody wants to use it.

It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario.

Noz is one of the smartest people in the content publishing space (and I highly recommend viewing that webinar, if a recording becomes available.) But is the story of keys really as simple as he makes it out to be?

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

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

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.┬áIf 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