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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Tagging

Last night on Twitter I asked “Looking for a way to tag topics in an authoring platform. Not part of Author-it, does any app do it?” and a few helpful people gave me suggestions. I later clarified and thought I’d expand on that here. My clarification was that “Re tagging: we want to tag topics in the authoring tool so whatever the output, the user can filter on tags eg, v1.0/email or v2.3/document”, it was at this point I realised I needed more than 140 characters to explain what I was looking for… Our product is in the throes of moving to a modular/component delivery. We will no longer have one installer to install one big product with everything in …

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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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Conference Connections

I’m still tweaking my presentation for the Technical Communications UK conference, Thursday morning is looming larger and larger in my view so I’m distracting myself with considering the other good things that happen at conferences. For me people are the primary reason for attending a conference. Don’t get me wrong, the value can be measured by the quality of the speakers and the information provided, but that tends to be transitory, so it’s the connections you make that count in the longer term. I’m lucky that I’ve met some of the people I know through this blog, and I’m hoping to add to that tally this week. Part of me did consider trying to organise a little “meetup” of bloggers …

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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 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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Back to DITA?

I’ve mentioned DITA a few times on this blog, and my DITA is not the answer post is still attracting attention. As I’ve said, I think the DITA standard is an excellent one for software documentation and the DITA movement is slowly catching up to the hype. I’ve never given up on DITA and had always planned to use it as the basis for the next stage of our content development, and as it happens the switch to a full DITA/CMS based solution may be closer than I had anticipated. We have been considering how best to publish up to date information in keeping with patches and minor releases, and if we can tidy up and publish useful information from …

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Recently Read

Another week (and a bit) has passed. Time is tight for me at the moment, and I’m not posting here as often as I’d like so, for now, here’s a quick roundup of everything that’s zipped past my inbox in the past week: Resources on presentation design … advocates an assertion-evidence design, which serves presentations that have the purpose of informing and persuading audiences about technical content Needless to say, with my first ever conference presentation looming, I’m fairly focussed on both topic relevant stuff and anything that will help make my presentation better. An XML CMS is simple as 1-2-3 Creating an XML-based Content Management System to single-source technical publications is as simple as 1 – 2 – 3. …

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Explosions: keeping ahead of the blast

Is it just me, or are we seeing a notable growth in the tools and voices linked to our profession? Are we, the technical communicators (writers, authors, designers, whatever..) finally clued in to the internet and making the best use of the global space? Are the tools we use starting to touch other areas of our organisations, thus raising our profile, which raises the bar for the tools, which expands the reach, which raises the profile… It’s just me, isn’t it? I’ll happily admit that, a couple of years ago, I was growing apathetic with this industry. I dreamt of working in a zoo, tending to cute fluffy animals and having nary a worry in the world (and likely not …

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