Good Enough Solutions Fast and Easy

It is easy to set an ideal for technical communication that it should deliver the best solution — the ideal solution — to every problem. Many critiques of Web search as a tool for finding technical solutions focus on the many less than perfect solutions that any search query returns.

How is the user to find the ideal solutions in the midst of so much dreck? Wouldn’t they clearly be better off confining their search to the official product manual?

No, and here’s why:

The manual does not always have the best solution

First, it would be a stretch — an outrageous stretch — to suggest that a stand-alone manual always contains the ideal solutions to every question. read more

The Role of the Manual and the End of Civilization

An interesting article in Popular Science charts the rise and laments the fall of the manual. Instructions Not Included: What the Disappearance of the Common Manual Says About Us, traces the origins of the manual as a form of technical communication, and notes how many products now come with no manual. It draws from this dire fears of human decline.

By dispensing with [manuals], we could, consciously or no, be setting the stage for something few would relish: a society divided.

This is accomplished by a parlor trick in two parts. The first is to build up the civilization changing role of the manual: read more

FAQs are Still Useful

One of the most enduring and most maligned topic patterns in tech comm and on the Web is the FAQ. Writers and Information Architects frequently regard the FAQ as a sign of poor organization. For best and most consistent access, they argue, information should be in its proper place in the overall site or help system.

If the logic of top-down content organization worked, they would have a point. But the logic of top-down content organization generally only works for those who do the organizing, and then not always, as we can tell from the many sites, manuals, and help systems where any sense of organization peters out as soon as you get any depth into the content. read more

Successful Patterns are the Best Guide to Information Design

I am very grateful to Jonatan Lundin for a lengthy conversation on the subject of topic patterns because it helped me to crystalize something important about the basis for the principles of EPPO information design and how they are derived.

Approaches based on psychology

Traditionally, theories of information design have been psychologically based. Researchers (usually academics) attempted to form a psychological theory about how we learn and then suggested information design approaches based on those theories. The success of such efforts has been mixed. read more

Topic Patterns vs. Topic Types

One of the principles of Every Page is Page One information design is that an EPPO topic conforms to a type. But I have come to think that that formulation is not quite right. It should really be, an Every Page is Page One topic conforms to a topic pattern.

The difference between type and pattern

What is the difference between a topic type and a topic pattern? In structured writing terms, a topic type, or, more generally, a document type, is a formal set of rules about the structure of a topic which is capable of being expressed by a schema. In most cases, that means an XML schema or something similar. This usage is consistent with the use of the word “type” in other computing applications. A type is a data definition. read more