Subject First; Context Afterward

In communication, they say, context is everything. Actually, “everything” consists of context and subject. Useful information is subject in context. The question is, which comes first: context or subject?

In the book era, the content search pattern was: context first, subject afterwards. That is, suppose you deliver three different products and have released three different versions of the product. Assuming only a single manual per product/version that meant you had 9 manuals, each with a page on feature X. read more

On the Web, Context is Vital

Supply subject area context; avoid institutional context.

In a recent blog post, On the Web, context kills, speed saves, Gerry McGovern states:

A key difference between web writing and writing for print is that on the Web you need to avoid context and instead focus on instructional, how-to, task-based content.

Since one of my seven principles of Every Page is Page One is that an EPPO topic establishes its context, this quote made me think that either Gerry McGovern had gone bonkers or he was using the word context in a very different way than I use it. Turns out that it is the latter. (Sorry if you were hoping for fight here.) I actually agree with almost everything that McGovern says (I’ll get to the part I don’t agree with a little later). In fact, I have said many of the same things before, but in a different way. read more

Characteristics of EPPO Topics: Establish Context

This post is the third in my series on the characteristics of Every Page is Page One topics, which I introduced in Every Page is Page One Topics are Everywhere, and continued in topics on the properties  standalone and specific limited purpose.

This series is not a attempt at designing something new; it is an investigation into the properties of the millions of page-one topics that already exist, and that are being created everyday. At this point a reader might fairly ask why such a study is necessary, and the simple answer is that while technical writers in large numbers have come to embrace topic-based writing in principle, many still struggle to create topics that really work, and in many cases they quickly retreat to some form of book-like heirarchy of information. 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