Book Outline — Every Page is Page One

NOTE: There is a new book outline posted here: Revised Outline: Every Page is Page One. Comments on this version of the outline are closed. Thanks to all who commented.

As I announced a while back, I am working on a book called Every Page is Page One: Topic-based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web. The book is in pretty good shape at this point, so I wanted to share the outline with you to see if you have any feedback that I can incorporate before the last i is dotted and the last t is crossed.

As an added incentive, XML Press will present a free copy to one person, selected at random, who comments on this post.

Here’s the outline:

Every Page is Page One: Topic-based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web


Part I: Topics and the Web

The Web is a hypertext medium. It has a million paths, but no starting place. In such an environment, every page is naturally page one. Why would people prefer to seek information in something so large and unruly as the Web when they have been provided with a nice orderly manual? And what is a topic in a hypertext environment, and how does it differ from a topic in a book? Part I looks at how the Web has changed the way people seek information, and what it means for those of us who create content.

Include it all. Filter it afterward.

In the book world, filtering information was expensive and people preferred to let authors and publishers do it for them. The Web is a giant information filter that lets readers filter content for themselves. It gives readers effective access to information on their specific issue. That is why people would rather search the Web than read the manual.

What is a topic?

The word topic is used in technical communication to mean both a independent unit of information, and a building block from which larger information units are built. You might build the first kind of topic from a number of the second kind, but it is important to know which you are talking about at all times.

Part II: Characteristics of Every Page is Page One topics

What does an Every Page is Page One topic look like? How do I write one? How do I know if I’ve done it correctly? Part II covers the purpose and anatomy of Every Page is Page One Topics.

EPPO Topics are Self-contained

An Every Page is Page One topic is self contained. It does not rely on a previous topic or presuppose a next topic. But while it is self contained, it is not all sufficient. Every Page is Page One topics depend on the web in which they are located.

EPPO Topics have a Specific and Limited Purpose

An Every Page is Page One topic serves a specific and limited purpose for the reader. Its purpose is not to contain facts, but to serve reader’s needs within well defined boundaries.

EPPO Topics Conform to a Type

Every Page is Page One topics that serve a well define purpose also seem, quite naturally, to conform to a definite type. These types are not invented; they arise because to serve a certain kind of purpose, a topic must contain certain kinds of information. Those information requirements define a topic type.

EPPO Topics Establish their Context

Because a reader can arrive at an Every Page is Page One topic from anywhere, a good topic must establish its context. Information without context is meaningless, so topics are most efficient when they establish their context quickly and accurately. Context does not mean the place of a topic in an information set or a table of contents but in the real world of its subject matter.

EPPO Topics Assume the Reader is Qualified

A topic can only stick to its specific and limited purpose, and conform to its type, if it is written on the assumption that the reader is qualified to read it. Readers who are not qualified should be directed to other topics that they can use to get up to speed.

EPPO Topics Stay on One Level

Books often change levels many times, from abstract heights to the most intricate technical details. Changing levels is a necessary part of the study of any subject. In a book, the author decides when the reader should change levels. On the Web, the reader decides for themselves. A good Every Page is Page One topic should stay on one level, while facilitating the reader’s desire to change levels, should it occur.

EPPO Topics Are the Narrative Minim

Information is meaningless without context. Two things can establish the context of statements: narratives and structured references. Narratives can place information into a decision making context, so topics are about decision support. The smallest effective topic on any subject is that one that enables the reader to decide and act effectively on a single issue. That is the narrative minim.

EPPO Topics Link Richly

Because Every Page is Page One topics permit the reader to form their own curriculum, to include everything and filter it afterwards, and because they assume the reader is qualified, and stick to one level, they need to provide the reader with many options about where to go and what content to consult next. Good Every Page is Page One topics link along all lines of subject affinity in the text.

Part III: Organizing Every Page is Page One topics

While every page is page one in a hypertext environment, the difference between hypertext and a miscellaneous jumble is the relationships between pages. Without organization, readers can become hopelessly lost in a sea of topics. But Web organization is not like book organization. Part III looks at the differences, and how you can create both Web organization and book organization for your Every Page is Page One topics.

Organizing Topic Sets

There are three ways of organizing topic sets: the book way, the database way, and the Web way. All three methods work with Every Page is Page One topics, though the book way is the least desirable.

Every Page is Page One Topics and the Big Picture

How do your cover the big picture in an Every Page is Page One information set? In the book world, the big picture was often implied by the organization of the book, but never stated. When books are split into topics there is no big picture topic and the big picture is lost. In an Every Page is Page One topic set, the big picture should be covered explicitly in a topic, and other topics should link to it wherever the reader might be curious about the big picture.

Sequence of Tasks vs. Sequence of Topics

Writers often worry about how to document a long sequence of tasks using topics. The answer is essentially the same as for the big picture. If there is a workflow that sequences many tasks, write a topic to cover that workflow. On a smaller scale, don’t fall into the trap of supposing that one task topic must contain only one procedure. It is a task topic, not a procedure topic, and it should contain as many procedures as are necessary to complete the task.

EPPO and References

Every Page is Page One is about recognizing that readers don’t follow a curriculum defined by the author. They access content randomly as they need it. The best way to support random access to content is actually not through topics, but through structured references. Topics are required where you need a narrative to frame the business decisions that impact a task, but for every other purpose, a structured reference is preferable. An EPPO content strategy builds on a foundation of structured reference material.

Part IV: From books to Every Page is Page One topics

Once you have learned how to write and organize Every Page is Page One topics, the next problem you will probably face is the mass of book-like legacy material you have to deal with. As we have learned, you can’t make Every Page is Page One topics by mechanically separating books at section breaks. Part IV looks at how you deal with migrating your existing content to Every Page is Page One topics.

From Textbooks to User Assistance

There have long been two model of technical communication: the textbooks model (focusing on education) and the user assistance model (focusing on immediate aid in the course of the workday). As Minimalism showed us, the user assistance model actually fits better with the way adults learn. The Web, by assuring people of instant access to information  further tips user’s preferences toward the user assistance model.  In moving from books to EPPO, it is important to bear in mind that you are also moving from a textbook model to a user assistance model.

From Books to Every Page is Page One

If you have a lot of legacy content in book form, you need to deal with it during your move to EPPO. This chapter looks at how to go about dealing with your legacy book content.

From one-time to continuous publication

In the paper world, content development generally stopped before the product was released. But useful information about your product, particularly the kind of task and troubleshooting information that users need most, continues to be created long after the product is in the market. Web users expect content to be always up to date and current. You can no longer simply publish a manual at release time and forget about it. You will be adding information to your content set throughout the product’s life. You will need to adjust your workflow and procedures accordingly.

Part V: Common concerns

Do I have to choose between EPPO topic types and Concept, Task, and Reference? What about reuse, style, or minimalism. How does EPPO fit with content strategy? What about metadata? And is there still a place for books? Part V looks at how the Every Page is Page One approach fits with common tech comm and content strategy concerns.

Task, Concept, and Reference Reconsidered

DITA has cemented the trio of concept, task, and reference as the three main topic types in technical communication. But EPPO topics require much more specific types to ensure they meet their defined purpose. This chapter will look at the differences.

Reduce Reuse Recycle

Reuse is the hot topic in technical communication today. EPPO is not a reuse theory in itself, and you can produce EPPO topics using reuse strategies if you want to. But reuse in an EPPO environment on the Web can be quite different from reuse across multiple discrete book-like information products. This chapter looks at the differences.

Style and consistency

Should every topic sound like it was written by the same person? Some companies want all their communications to sound alike, but that can reduce customer identification. Other companies recognize that customers respond better to distinct human voices. Certain reuse strategies can put you in a box style-wise. EPPO gives you options.

EPPO and Minimalism

In many ways, minimalism was developed before there was an information medium that really fit the model of user behavior on which minimalism was based. Trying to accommodate the self-directed behavior of users in a linear book has always involved some form of compromise. EPPO was made for minimalism, and minimalism for EPPO.

What About Videos?

Video is a naturally Every Page is Page One medium. You will very rarely find a video that is produced as part of a defined sequence of videos. As such, all the characteristics of a good written EPPO topic also apply to a good video EPPO topic.

Every Page is Page One as Content Strategy

One of the central challenges of content strategy is to maintain the integrity of an information set that is in constant flux, with new items being added constantly by many authors, and older items being removed. All this has to happen in real time with a minimum of overhead and disruption. Every Page is Page One provide the ideally adaptive content model that makes these aspects of content strategy easier to manage.

Is there is Still a Place for Books?

Is there still a place for books in an EPPO world? Yes. (There had better be of I’m wasting my time writing this one!) But the role has changed. Many functions previously performed by the book are now better performed by the Web, and the role of the book as the debut medium for ideas may be over, in favor of a role as a means of summation and recapitulation.)

Part VI: Implementation notes

How do you adapt your current tools and processes to produce Every Page is Page One topics and present them on the Web, and, if necessary, on paper? Part VI looks at tool and process issues involved in the move to Every Page is Page One topics.


This chapter will review the tools typically used in technical communication and Web development, including DITA, and look at how they can be adapted to create EPPO content. It will also suggest that some common Web development tools might now be good candidates for technical communication as well.


Linking plays a major role in writing and organizing EPPO topics. This chapter will look at some techniques for creating and managing links along the lines of subject affinity, and for doing so efficiently.


Metadata plays a vital role not just in finding content, but also in creating and managing it. This chapter will look at the role of metadata in creating, managing, and organizing EPPO topics.


This chapter will look at the workflow issues involved in the writing and publishing of EPPO topics, and at some of the workflow issues that are made easier to deal with in an EPPO system.


This chapter will look at the publishing issues for EPPO topics.

Appendix: List of Every Page is Page One Documentation Samples

A list of EPPO topic sets currently available on the Web, with commentary.




That’s it. What do you think? What am I missing? I need your help to make this book as good as it can be. Please chime in in the comments! Thanks.


Author: Mark Baker

Mark Baker is a content strategist and content engineer who helps organizations produce content that matches the way people seek and consume information on the Web today. He is the author of Every Page is Page One: Topic-based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web. He blogs at His website is

51 thoughts on “Book Outline — Every Page is Page One”

  1. Mark,

    You’ve covered a lot of really important areas with the outline, and I am looking forward to reading the book! One area I’d be interested in seeing you address: do the marketing-oriented SEO principles many of us have had to master have a place in your approach. Since the line between tech comm and other forms of communication with audiences and users has blurred, are there techniques outside of tech comm and minimalism that should be considered? Perhaps in your metadata and linking sections?

  2. Good work, Mark. For the novice l would think section two is the key section. l am a fan of yours for a long time from writing forums ,so thanks to you l fullly embrace EPPO. Your outline and content is excellent. Just wondering, are you going to introduce graphics or illustrations to add colour.? Congratulations sheila leahy

    1. Thanks Sheila. There will be lots of graphics and illustrations, though mostly in black and white, since this is a print book, as well as an e-book.

      1. The illustrations will be created in color and will be available in color for ebook platforms that support color. The print book will probably be black and white interior, though if there is enough color in the images to justify it, we might go with a color interior. The problem (of course:-) is that cost goes up with a color interior.

  3. I thought of a few things, but as I re-read each section carefully, it seemed you have covered everything I came up with but one. The only thing I thought might be missing was a discussion on localization – if you don’t plan for that from the beginning it can be very difficult to manage later, and in connection with that topic, creating a glossary or term sheet can be critical to consistency, whether in one language or multiple.

    1. Laurie: I think that an EPPO structure would be better for localization than a long book or convoluted, intertwined topics. Topics that are self-contained can be sent to translators with fewer instructions, in groups instead of all at once, and with less worry that they’ll be put together in the wrong order once they’re translated.

      The writing style is a different matter, of course, and is always a major consideration.

      1. Thanks Neal,

        Agreed about writing style and localization. EPPO is a form, not a style (just as the book is a form, not a style), so I would expect that what is true for style in a book context would be similarly true for style in an EPPO context.

    2. Thanks Laurie, I think Neal is right on this. I’ve also read that translators can have trouble translating really small building-block topics, because of the lack of context.

      I can also see that it would be easier to add locale-specific topics to a topic set to fit a particular market.

      That said, localization is a discipline in itself so I don’t plan to address it deeply. Hopefully folks who specialize in localization will find occasion to address how to localize EPPO content, and how to write EPPO content that is easy to localize.

  4. This sounds great! I currently have a bunch of topics that are well written but totally unorganized, and I believe your book will provide me with many answers to my questions. I can’t wait to see it! To me, it sounds like you’ve got everything covered.

  5. Mark, this book will be a fabulous resource for people who’ve decided to move from a book-based paradigm to EPPO. But has everybody made that decision? I know you’ll agree that it’s not sufficient to say “the Web simply works this way” or “this is how people want to get their information.” There needs to be an ROI-based justification for EPPO.

    Therefore, you might want to include a section on the business reasons for EPPO. It need not be a long section, but I think it belongs here.

    1. Thanks Larry. You make a good point about ROI. In may ways, it is a stop loss argument. That is, you don’t necessarily move to EPPO to gain eyes on your content (though you may well gain them), you do it to stop losing eyes on your content.

      If you have any thought on how to approach making that case, I’d love to hear them.

  6. Mark, it looks very promising. Based on what I’ve read from you here and on CW, I have no doubt it’s going to be good. To Larry’s objection, I suspect part 1 would address that, at least implicitly. Newcomers might be quicker to embrace the “web way” of information architecture, but I think it would make sense to explicitly highlight both the benefits and the shortcomings compared to traditional tech doc content models. I think Mark has done this in other places in his writing, so I imagine it will be covered to some degree here too.

    I’d be particularly interested in the section on reuse. I don’t do much tech writing nowadays, but when I was involved in large-scale XML/DITA implementations in the past, this was one area I always felt was oversold. Info architects loved talking about how much time and money would be saved through reuse. Ultimately, we found that only highly generic, very static, and relatively small pieces of content could see wide reuse. That ended up being a very small part of the content, so we really never saw a huge benefit here. The problem may have been a legacy of poor information design or the content itself being a poor fit for re-use. Either way, it’s a reality I think many organizations with large bodies of content have to face, and I’m eager to read Mark’s insights on this.


    1. Thanks Paul.

      I too tend to think that reuse is oversold. For some people, it is a huge win, but not for everyone. I also thing it can lead to quality problems that are not often captured in the ROI. I also think (though this is out of scope for the book) that the other benefits of structured writing are gravely undersold, and that if companies understood and used them, they would realize there were other ways to save money, without the quality risks and content management overhead that reuse brings.

      As far as this book is concerned, however, the main point I intend to make is that many occasions for reuse occur simply because you want the same topic to occur in more than one sequence. But if you create a web of EPPO topics that the reader sequences for themselves, this type of reuse is simply moot.

  7. Mark,

    The outline of this book makes relevant points about how to create great topic-based documentation. I can’t wait for the book to come out so I can have a read-through!

  8. 1. I’m with Laurie. I’d like to see localization discussed a bit. I find myself defining topics with localization in mind even though localization is not a part of the regular documentation.

    2. Your section style focuses on writing style. I’d love to read about the visual aspects of style: font, color, images, etc.

    1. Thanks Valerie.

      I think things like font, color, and images are a little out of scope for this book. I’m not sure that the principles that govern these things apply any differently in an EPPO context, though I would love to hear other opinions on this subject.

      1. I recognize the challenge of staying in scope, but what about possibly including a list of recommended resources for topics like those in the original post? Or would that be a huge challenge too?

  9. I’m actually most excited about Section V. Previously, I worked on some very large DITA projects in XMetal, Oxygen, and a Microsoft in-house tool. Now, I am one writer creating a much smaller software documentation set for a cloud product. I am using and loving MadCap Flare. While I like doing topic-based authoring and multiple roadmaps, I often found DITA a bit too constricting. Flare gives me more flexibility. I look forward to your discussion on “Task, Concept, and Reference Reconsidered”.

  10. I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve skimmed/speed-read your blog with interest for a long time now and find myself generally agreeing with what I find. When your book comes out, I plan to read it carefully. I’m not sure why I rarely do more than skim blog posts but typically read books carefully, but I observe that it’s true.

    Btw., I think it would be hilarious if every page of the book were numbered “1”.

  11. Mark, the book outline is comprehensive. I shall look forward to use my understanding and gain from this book in preparing business cases that I plan for my current clients.

  12. You have some great information in the book, and I look forward to reading it. We are converting legacy documentation to topic-based help via DITA. I am especially interested in learning more about subject affinity and helping users find the next piece of information they need to get their jobs done. And I agree with Valerie: I see lots of books and other resources talk about minimalism and writing style, but very little about how effective the use of images can be, and how to hone your images for maximum impact. Do you plan to cover images in the book?

    1. Thanks Patty. The think to be aware of in such a conversion is that DITA uses the word “topic” to mean two quite different things. The “topics” that are the building blocks of books are not the same as the “topics” that make good independent help topics.

      I agree on the importance of images, but I’m not sure there is anything EPPO specific to say about them. As I said, though, I’d love to hear a good argument to the contrary.

  13. Hi

    I’d like to know if EPPO is more like a DITA-style scientific taxonomy of self-contained topics by subject matter, or a non-linear bank of STOP-style arguments.


    1. Thanks John. I believe EPPO topics work with all organizational schemes, though I do think they are most powerful in a web-like organization, in which every page is a hub. I’m not sure how well that fits with STOP. I don think scientific taxonomies are great things if your audience happens to be scientists trained in that taxonomy. But learning the taxonomy of a field is tantamount to leaning the field itself. Taxonomies don’t help people who don’t know the taxonomy in their bones.

      I think all experiments in findability have to face one fundamental truth: people are not interested in learning your navigational scheme. People forage for information, so the scent of information is vital to findability. Taxonomies are like a bouquet of roses to a nose that knows them. But they are stinkweed to the rest of us.

  14. Hi, Mark,

    This looks like an important book. I am really looking forward to reading it.

    I wonder whether you will offer ready proposals for EPPO topic types beyond concept, task and reference, or whether instead you’ll discuss ways to decide on specialized types. That’s an important decision point for companies using DITA: how far to go down the road of increasing specialization, and how to identify the specific topic types you need. If you do have ideas about useful topic types beyond the “terrible troika,” I think the tech comms community would receive them with interest.

    1. Thanks Tom.

      It’s not my plan to define specific EPPO types beyond those used as examples. DITA cause a lot of confusion in this area by using the word “topic” for what Information Mapping calls a “block”. Horn’s idea was that a document was made up of blocks and each of those blocks was of a particular information type. They did not stand alone, but worked together.

      DITA muddies that distinction completely.

      EPPO, as a theory of information design, is more about the shape of the whole, than the shape of the pieces. You could certainly make EPPO topics as IM maps. In fact, I’m sure many IM maps are EPPO topics.

      An EPPO topics type, though, it about the nature of the whole, so the type is “recipe” or “configuration task” or “used car review”. Whether you see a recipe as being made up of different types of generic information “blocks”, or as simply being made up of the standard parts of a recipe, is outside the scope of what EPPO seeks to define.

  15. What I am missing here is the influence of intercultural and regulatory demands on EPPO topics. How do EPPO topics deal with different approaches to learning (i.e. western/asian style of learning), how do they deal with local regulations without becoming frankentopics?

    1. Thanks Alex. You are right that those things are missing. They are big issues, and I’m not sure they are issues that I am the most qualified to address. I think they deserve a different book, and a different author.

  16. I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while now, and am glad you are producing a book! The outline looks good, but Part 1 doesn’t seem to align with Parts 2-6. I found myself asking in Part 1, “why should I buy this book?”. You might consider replacing the historical narrative in Part 1 with more “goals of this book” or “what you will learn”.

    1. Thanks. I do intend to include a “goals of this book”. The aim of part one is largely to assist readers in understanding and explaining why the move to EPPO is necessary. They rest of the book is about how to make the move.

  17. Hi Mark,
    It looks very promising. Great! I believe your outline covers what you want to know. But I have some few questions:

    1) You will discuss minimalism and EPPO, but in the early days of the minimalism, people talked out something called a guided exploration card. This card I believe is somehow the role model for a DITA topic, but many design principles you’d see in a guided exploration card seem to have been lost in DITA. Are you going to relate EPPO to guided exploration cards, which to me look very much like an EPPO topic?

    2) What about the design process of identifying EPPO pages. Let’s say I’m a technical communicator, responsible for documenting a product. Where do I start and how do I identify (predict) the EPPO topics users need? How many EPPO do I need to write for a *typical* product? 10 or 10 000? And which information needs of users can I most often leave out since I can assume that other users will answer the need on the web? Maybe the design process is not part of the EPPO framework, and if not, could you point to some useful methodology besides minimalism?

    1. Thanks Jonatan.

      I do intend to talk about guided exploration cards, and especially about how people used them out of order. Guided exploration cards are definitely an example of EPPO topics.

      I am planning to talk about how to design an EPPO topic set to cover a large subject area, though, as we have discussed before, it is a process I (as a Lean/Agile advocate) regard as being based more on progressive discovery than formal prediction. In particular, I plan to talk about how tracking subject affinities can be key to ensuring proper coverage.

  18. It looks very comprehensive. I’m looking forward to reading it. Mark – I noticed that you mention DITAs trio of information types (Concept, Task and Reference), and that EPPO requires more types. In this sense is EPPO similar Horn’s Structured Writing, which caters for more types?

    1. Thanks Chris.

      As I mentioned in my reply to Tom Storer, Horn’s information types applied to blocks, not documents. DITA muddied the waters by using the term “topic” instead of “block”.

      In EPPO, a topic type is the type of a whole topic document, such as a recipe. It is clearly helpful to analyse a recipe down into parts: description of dish, list of ingredients, preparation procedure, etc. This helps the author write useful recipes.

      Is it helpful, as Horn and DITA both do in their own way, to further analyse those parts into generic categories: concept, reference, and task? Perhaps it has analytic value. But I don’t think it has synthetic value.

      Which helps the author more: to tell them that a recipe must have a description of the dish, a list of ingredients, and a preparation procedure; or to tell them that it must have a concept, as reference, and a task?

  19. Hi Mark,

    I am looking forward to the release of your book. I attended your Every Page Is Page One session at the STC Summit.
    Unfortunately, I feel as if I am a bit lost in the weeds. How do you balance assumptions about user knowledge with the need to provide context for a topic?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Catherine.

      That is one of the most important questions about EPPO (so I don’t think you are lost in the weeds at all!). I believe that the answer is to anchor both the context of topics and the assumptions you make about user knowledge in the real world. That may seem self evident, but it is not how education has traditionally worked. We have traditionally anchored both the topic and the user’s knowledge in the curriculum.

      Since EPPO recognizes that the reader is (and always has been) in charge of their personal curriculum, it can’t anchor either its context or its assumptions anywhere but in the real world.

  20. I am returning to the work force after taking more than a decade off. At times I feel like I’ve been gone 50 years when I look at how users interact with their screens now vs. 15 years ago. When I left, XML and structured content were just in their infancy. Back then documents and online help based on doc structures were the norm.
    I am looking forward to learning all about how to create meaningful screen content. This outline looks fabulous and I can’t wait to read this book.

  21. Fantastic content and well organized. Hope you’ll include examples to help readers relate theory to practice. One thing to consider would be to establish a consistent set examples at the outset and then use them throughout the book to illustrate your concepts (using the term “concepts” in its original sense). You are so right that DITA lacks a theory of information design. As writers and information architects, we struggle to know how to break up the pieces appropriately and then assemble them into a cohesive whole. There are so many ways to get there, and so many ways to go wrong. 🙂

    1. Thanks Suzanne. I do indeed have some examples that are referred to throughout the book. The organization has changed quite a bit since this outline, but hopefully it still works.

  22. I’m really looking forward to this. Is there a firm publishing date yet?

    I’ve really been looking for something for guidance in documenting complex software. Coordinating how to do something and why to do it can be a challenge.

    1. Hi Karen. No final publication date yet, though we are hoping to have it out before the end of October. The best way to find out when the publication date is announced would be to sign up for the XML Press newsletter.

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