The transition from DTP to structured writing continues to be a bumpy one, and content management issues continue to plague many implementations. In many cases, the content management strategy depends on writers structuring things properly and they fall apart when writers fail to do so. For instance, reuse of chunks of information ought to make translation easier and less expensive, by reducing the amount of text to be translated. But often, chunking presents a problem for translators, as described here, because the chunks turn out not to be as context-independent as they were supposed to be.
The one concession I have been willing to make to the fine chunking characteristic of many DITA implementations is that it was a boon to translation. Apparently not so, according to a recent blog post on Content Rules.
The problem is that fine chunking tends to obscure context, making the content impossible to translate reliably. And the real kicker in this problem is that even if the translator is given the means to see the content in the current context or contexts, the source may be reused in new contexts later without the translator being involved again or ever seeing the content in its new context. (This is where the savings are realized, after all.)
A document may be flower, a rock, or a tree. That is, it may bloom for a day and be dead tomorrow, like a newspaper. It may last forever and never change, like Pride and Prejudice or King Lear. Or it may grow and change over the course of a long, if not endless, life like, say, the way a technical manual should, but usually doesn’t.
I was reflecting today on whether companies are making the best strategic use of their documentation departments. Of course, we doc folk believe that no self respecting corporation should ever let any product go out the door without full, brilliant, richly illustrated documentation — preferable printed on acid free archival quality paper and bound in rich leather embossed with gold lettering. In fact, of course, that virtually never happens, and yet our companies still manage to eek out a return for their shareholders.
Were I asked to characterize the human condition in a sentence, I might choose this: to be human is to make decisions with too little information. All our decisions, great and small, are taken without adequate information: getting married, buying real estate, having children (this especially), saving for retirement, choosing the best route for a journey, taking a job, or hiring an employee. We don’t know nearly as much as we would like to in making any of these decisions.