Recently Read

Another grab bag of, hopefully, interesting posts, it’s a varied bunch this week which fits with my current mindset which is grabbing at a large variety of different topics and trying to make sense of them all (and I think it’s finally beginning to come together). Enough of that, on with the links!

Do you write FAQs? How about NAQs?
As Kevin Kelly points out, we’ve all read FAQs which aren’t, instead they are NAQs – Never Asked Questions, “Easily answered questions that no one has ever asked.” He then goes on to make an excellent point, namely that:

…if you don’t answer the FAQs, the internet tubes will. That’s what forums are. Customers, both potential and present, bring their real questions to find real answers. Here people who don’t work for the company will supply answers. Often these answers are good, but often the organization could supply a better answer, if it were really running a FAQ. Why not make it easy for everyone to find the best answer — from the organization’s point of view?

A Quarky new approach?
I mentioned Quark’s new Dynamic Publishing product when it was announced, and after initially being a little excited (“dynamic!” “publishing!”) I became a little confused by what it was actually going to offer.
Sarah at the Palimpset blog took an in-depth look and found that it was really just a form of single source, and suggests that:

if the “dynamic publishing” bit in the name is a preview of coming attractions rather than an accurate label for what they have now, then perhaps there’s hope. But I’m glad I’m not the one trying to pull this off because from out here, it looks like an extreme long shot.

The post is an excellent investigation of what drove Quark down this route.

Information Design Patterns
WARNING: Site requires Flash and is heavy on bandwidth.
If you ever have to create an infographic (a graph or other type of formal diagram) then have a look at this website for some inspiration and ideas for the future, as well as some in-depth analysis of the form factors presented.

Top 8 mistakes in usability
Given that we have recently revisited the idea of using personas and have spent some time trying to guess what they should be point 2 hit home. I know, I know, nothing replaces research based on REAL users.

Let’s pretend our user’s name is Jane. Let’s pretend she is 38 years old, drives a purple Prius, reads mystery novels, loves bulldogs, and likes to go sailing. Let’s pretend she comes to our website and likes feature A but not feature B. Therefore, we should develop more things like feature A. See? We’re very customer-centered.

This is the fun of creating a persona, which allows teams to make decisions based on fictional people, rather than doing the hard work of listening to real customers.

We actually decided to focus more on user roles first, before broaching the subject of Personas, and I’ll be doing my damnedst to make sure we don’t run into these mistakes.

Trends, tools, technologies in online documentation
Sarah Maddox wrote up some great notes from the recent Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference, including these from the session by Joe Welinske which was based on the results of the WritersUA Skills and Technologies Survey. Some interesting observations on Vista, trends in our profession and some things that we should all have on our radar, including:

Structured authoring — affects a growing number of technical writers. Joe sees this as the most important concept for us to learn about. It affects our roles and production process. The author works in a form-based environment, putting the content into pre-determined pigeonholes. Presentation is separate and automated.

I quite like the fact that this isn’t stated as single source which has other connotations. Perhaps more of us are closer to structured authoring than we think? I mean, we all use templates and predefined formats, don’t we?

That’s it for now, time to get ready for the bank holiday weekend here!


  1. > Perhaps more of us are closer to structured authoring than
    > we think? I mean, we all use templates and predefined
    > formats, don’t we?

    It depends on how you define structured authoring. I define it as “authoring with templates that are enforced by the software.” With Word, you always have the option of ignoring the template, and you’ll get away with it unless an editor (a HUMAN) checks your file. With structure/XML, if your file doesn’t validate against the structure, you can’t ignore it.


    PS Glad you enjoyed the Quark post, which took a LONG time to put together.

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