Wide World of Tech Comm

The discussion around Larry Kunz recent blog post The Salt of the Earth raises some interesting questions about the part that those of us who call ourselves “Technical Writers” (or some cognate thereof) can and should play in the wider world of technical communication.

In the comments, Larry says:

As technical communicators, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re content with a narrow role — merely producing end-user instructions — or whether we ought to become contributors, and even leaders, in the work of producing documentation in the broader sense. read more

We Must Develop Topic-Based Information Design

There is a lot of talk in tech comm today about topic-based writing, but very little about topic-based information design. This is a problem, because, in the age of the Web, and particularly of the mobile Web, topic-based information design is essential.

Topic-based writing is often perceived (and practiced) as nothing more than writing in small, potentially reusable, chunks. As such, it says nothing about what kind of information design those chunks will be assembled to create. Often, such topics are assembled to create books, or, sadly, the monstrosities I have dubbed Frankenbooks.  Seldom are they used to create something that a reader would encounter as a usable topic — that is, a sufficient treatment of a single subject of interest. read more

Everything Else is not a Concept

In any system that attempts to classify the whole of something, there is usually a category that essentially constitutes “everything else”. In the terrible troika of task, concept, and reference, that role belongs to “concept”.  In Tom Johnson’s shapes of help graphic, which have quoted before, and repeat here, task has the shape of a procedure, reference the shape of a table, and concept the shape of plain text.

Tom Johnson's "Shapes of Help" graphic.

Tom Johnson’s “Shapes of Help” graphic.

Concept, then, stands for the plain, the generic, the featureless and structure-less. read more