What do we want?

At TCUK12 this year, I chatted with several people about authoring tools. Vendors, other technical writers, managers, I asked the same two questions, again and again. What authoring application do you use, and why do you use it? The answers were illuminating, interesting and always useful. There are many, many options out there, catering to many different needs, and all of them have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Alas, no matter how hard I tried, regardless of how many ways I tried to bend our requirements, all of those conversations led me to the same conclusion. No-one out there builds what we want so we may have to build it ourselves. As part of improvements to our content, …

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TCUK 12

The time has come, so Gordon said, to talk of many things, of slides and chats, and learning facts, and something else that rhymes but I’m rubbish at poetry (with sincere apologies to Lewis Carroll). Enough of that though, what I want to talk about is the Technical Communications Conference 2012 (TCUK12) and why you should go. Disclaimer: I serve on the Council of the ISTC, who organise this event.  Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time a young (ok, middle-aged) man had started a new job and was trying to figure out the best way to improve things and solve some of his problems. The year was 2007. At the time, the young man (oh shut …

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Technology vs Emotion

Random thought: Has the rise of (talk of) emotional content (affective assistance) been driven by the concentration, over the last few years, on technological solutions? Single sourcing, XML, DITA, DocBook, and all the rest have (rightly) taken our profession forward, so I guess it’s natural that the general trends, as well as refocussing on the content itself, are looking for how to better engage with a modern audience. The evidence suggests that that modern audience is Facebooking, Twittering, and blogging, and wants content in easily digestable chunks. That plays nicely into the hands of single sourcing (chunks) and the idea of emotional content through connecting to the user, using friendly language to make the content easily digestable. So, if you’ve …

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Does single sourcing content work?

One of the more popular posts on this blog is titled DITA is not the answer and, whilst things are certainly moving forward, it’s a little sad that it is still valid. A recent comment on that post suggested that it’s not just DITA that is lacking, it’s the working realities of single source that is flawed. Well, that and the fact that I keep referring to single source when I am actually meaning content reuse (for you can have one source for everything but not reuse the content anywhere). You can read the full comment yourself but the relevant bits are: I have never seen single sourcing work. Maybe a single author who knows the topics thoroughly enough to …

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How do we structure our topics?

I’ve waffled on about single source and our plans for long enough so, as we are finally starting the process itself, I thought I’d capture some information as we go along. However, it’s probably good to set the scene, so I’ll cover that stuff first. Over time you’ll be able to see all the posts related to this work here. Where should it live? Next up in our journey towards Author-it nirvana is to decide how to store our content. Author-it stores information as topics, and as topics are designed to be reused, locating them is a key part of the Author-it solution. One approach would be to simply dump a lot of the topics in loosely appropriate folders and …

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How do we move to single source?

I’ve waffled on about single source and our plans for long enough so, as we are finally starting the process itself, I thought I’d capture some information as we go along. However, it’s probably good to set the scene, so I’ll cover that stuff first. Over time you’ll be able to see all the posts related to this work here. How? – how do we do it? Once we’d agreed that single source would provide us with a good solution (it’s still not ideal, but nothing ever is..) the next question was “How?”. Having followed the technologies in this area quite closely over the past few years my immediate thoughts went towards a DITA enabled solution. The basic topic types …

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Thoughts on HATT Survey thoughts

Tom Johnson has had a look at the survey recently published by the HATT matrix website on help authoring and, by pulling in the results of some other surveys in the same area, has extrapolated some good conclusions from them. He rightly points out that surveys need to be taken with a pinch of salt (he goes into the detail of why this is so), and that whilst the numbers involved would seem to be high enough it’s likely that the questions themselves need further consideration in future. That said, there are two things I took from his post. 1. Know the problem before picking the tool You may not be in the position to switch authoring tools, but if …

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UA Conference Notes – Day 1

Notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the User Assistance Conference Session 1 – Tony Self – Emerging Help Delivery Technologies It’s been quite a while since I heard Tony speak but as ever he provided an entertaining, if somewhat limited, presentation. Covering the various types of help viewing technologies he nicely summarised some of the available choices including the features to look out for, including the ability to wrap up an online help system in its own application (using technology like Adobe AIR). It was interesting to hear some Web 2.0 features making their way into online help technologies, including voting and commenting facilities which would give you direct feedback from the people using your help system. Session 2 …

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Promoting DITA without promoting DITA

Recently Scott Abel posted a heartfelt plea to get people all psyched up about how to better promote DITA to the rest of the world. He backs the idea of the DITA Adoption Technical Committee, stating that: “we need excellent communicators with the gumption, know-how, and network to get the word out about the many ways DITA impacts the world and those who live in it.” I’m a fan of DITA and as I read his post I could feel myself getting quite excited, he makes some excellent points about finding real world examples of the benefit DITA can bring but something just doesn’t quite fit. It’s taken me a while to get my head around this but, isn’t a …

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Hi there

A quick welcome to anyone visiting from the ISTC Communicator magazine. I feel a little spoiled getting two mentions in subsequent pages (10 & 12 if you are wondering) but I’m not really complaining. Over the past year or so I’ve definitely got the feeling that the ISTC is changing, and it certainly feels like a more modern and dynamic organisation than it has seemed to be in the past. Perhaps that’s natural, but it’s amazing how little things like a redesign magazine and newsletter, and hopefully a new design for the website, can refocus the energies of those involved. Anyway, thanks for dropping by, there are plenty of links and opinions to be found in the archives (scroll down …

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