7 Keys to the Discipline of Linking

Following my recent STC Webinar on Every Page is Page One, an attendee wrote to ask about the discipline of linking. Unfortunately, that email mysteriously vanished from my inbox before I could answer personally, so, whoever asked, I hope you see the answer here.

Linking is important to Every Page is Page One and to a bottom-up information architecture. When readers can enter your content at any individual page, links are what orient them in the larger content set and what keep them in your content rather than sending them back to their search engine. read more

The War Between Content Management and Hypertext

Summary: As content consumers, we love hypertext. As content creators, we still believe in content management, even after years of disappointment. Content management disappoints because it does not scale for culture. It is time to embrace hypertext instead.

I should know better. Every time I put the word “hypertext” in the title of a post, my readership numbers plummet. Hopefully “content management” will help pull them up this time, because as content professionals we need to come to terms with hypertext. read more

The Romance of Technical Communication

Summary: There is a romance to technical communication, because there is a romance to all useful things. But don’t expect the romance of technical communication to be apparent to everyone.

Technical communication is a romantic profession. No, really. There is a romance to any profession if you love it. But why would anyone love a utilitarian profession like technical communication? Because there is a romance to useful things.

This thought is prompted by Tom Johnson’s recent post on trying (and failing) to interest students at his daughters school in a career in technical communication. Tom made the best possible case for tech comm as a compelling career (my book was on the table), and yet none of the students stopped by. Why? read more

PDF in a Bottom-up Information Architecture

This is another in a series responding to questions from my TC Dojo series on Bottom-up Information Architecture.

Q: We are still frequently requested to deliver PDFs. What is the impact of this new way of writing when the deliverable also needs to be PDF?

A: One of the things we have discovered about documentation preferences is that what people ask for and what they use are often different things. So the fact that you are still being asked for PDFs does not necessarily mean people are still using them. On the other hand, they may be, if they have special needs or you are not providing a better alternative. read more

Content is a Republic

I’d thought the Content is King debate was over, but I saw it rearing its jester’s head once again recently. Argh!

“Content is King” is a phrase that seems to have come out of content marketing to express the simple idea that content is now the most important form of marketing. Which is actually a rather weird and restricted meaning of the word content, since it was meant to contrast with traditional advertising which is, after all, content.

What I think those who coined the term were really trying to say is that in marketing content that informs now performs better than content that attempts to persuade. This is a direct result of content being easier to get on the Web, which means that readers can get the information they want while avoiding any overt attempt to persuade them. 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

Transclusion Will Never Catch On

Transclusion is pulling content dynamically from one page into another page. Rather than cutting and pasting text from one page to another, you create a pointer to the page you are borrowing from. That pointer is resolved at run time, pulling content from the other page when your page is loaded. Transclusion was a fundamental part of Ted Nelson’s original concept of hypertext. It has never caught on, except in specific confined circumstances. Despite continued interest, it isn’t going to catch on. read more

Don’t Lean on Development’s Agile Process

Don’t just try to fit into development’s agile process. Create your own lean content development process.

Technical writers are increasingly finding themselves involved in the agile process of the development organization.  The most common way this happens is that a writer gets assigned to the team for a sprint and is expected to produce documentation in the same sprint as the developers produce the feature.

This has one huge plus for writers: development cannot declare the sprint complete until the documentation is done. This means that it is in the interest of every developer to help ensure that the tech writer has what they need to get their work done. Given that getting information when needed is a major issue for many tech writers, this can be a very big win. read more

We Can’t Use “In Tray” Definitions for Content Roles

Everyone in the content industry seems to be trying to define their roles these days. There are a number of new roles and titles being described, and everyone wants to know where to draw the boundaries around them.

Commenting on my recent post on Content Engineering, Jonatan Lundin asked, “So is an information architect a sort of content engineer?” On LinkedIn, Bob Newman protests “I am the Technical Writer – NOT the SME!”. And in the first meeting of the nascent Content Strategy Collective, defining content strategy and content strategy roles was the first thing proposed as a goal for the group. read more