Search, Browse, Surf: Pick Three and Add Something Extra

The Web provides three basic modes of navigation: search, browse, and surf. Few web sites, and still fewer doc sets do all three well.

The something extra? “Pick three and add something extra” comes from Peter Sheahan’s book Flip, in which he flips the traditional business motto “good, fast, cheap: pick two” into what he regards as the new price of admission for business: “good, fast, cheap: pick three and add something extra.”

With findability being the new price of admission of content, I’d suggest that search, browse, surf: pick three and add something extra is the new standard we have to meet. read more

The Vocabulary of Tasks

Task orientation is one of the most important principles of technical communication. But it is also a more difficult concept than it might at first seem. Part of the problem is the vocabulary of tasks.

When we urge writers to be task oriented, we usually contrast it to a different style, which we often call “feature oriented”, or “product oriented”. We say things like, “write about the task, not the product”, or “stop talking about the product and start working for the user”. All of this can make it sound like it is a bad thing to even mention the product and its features. read more

The Importance of Feedback to CMS Health

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. read more

Fine chunking and translation apparently don’t mix either

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.) read more

The Reader is the Enemy

Noz Urbina asks, Is Communication Mired in the Past? Well, yes, obviously. Most of the tech comms world is still making books in FrameMaker. But also no, because the problem is more profound than the words “mired in the past suggest”. People get mired in things through carelessness or misfortune. They want to get out, but they can’t. Technical communications isn’t mired in the past, it is entrenched there, gallantly, if with dwindling hope, guarding the battlements against the encroaching hoards of readers. read more

The petrified forest

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.

Crossing the chasm with documentation

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. read more