Structured Writing and Free Trade

In my last post, I promised I would reveal the unifying idea that I developed for my new book on Structured Writing. This is the post. So what does it have to do with free trade? Mostly it is that I see the same pattern in discussions of free trade that I do in many discussion of structured writing: a failure to focus on the big picture.

Free trade has been pretty much a given for the last several decades with nations and trading blocks negotiating ever freer trade. But of late the virtues of free trade have been called into questions by the Trump/Sanders wing of American politics, which has those of us in Canada, for whom America is our largest trading partner, a little anxious. read more

Reuse is a good tactic but a poor strategy

I’m hearing people talk more and more about developing a reuse strategy. This is troubling. Reuse is a tactic at best. It is not a strategy. At least, it is not a good strategy.

Content strategy has an acronym COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. But COPE can mean something a little different from tech comm’s idea of content reuse. Here is Mike Teasdale’s definition of COPE from

I’m forever seeing great bits of content thrown away on a single tweet or Facebook post. read more

Revision, Waste, and Evenness

A couple of weeks ago, in a post titled Improving First Run Quality, I cause a kerfuffle, and some questioning of my sanity, by suggesting that rather then celebrating revision as an essential part of the writing process, we should regard it as a sign that the writing process is flawed.

Today I wish to expand on this idea that we should be regarding revision as a bad thing. One of the key principles of lean thinking, which takes it inspiration from the Toyota production system, is the reduction of waste in the production process. Waste is anything that does not add value to the product. Rework is waste. If work is done, and then has to be done again, that is wasteful. Revision is rework, therefore revision is waste. read more

Improving First Run Quality

The enormous improvements in quality and productivity that have occurred in industry over the last several decades can, in large part, be attributed to a focus on improving first-run quality. In traditional production line environments, the golden rule was never to stop the production line. Any faults that might occur or be noticed while the product was on the production line were to be allowed to pass on, to be found and fixed in post production testing. Come hell or high water, though, the line must never stop. read more

We Need a New Economic Model for Tech Writing Tools

Tom Johnson’s correspondent, Sam from Canada, asks if tool vendors are not more to blame for the slow pace of change in tech comm than tech writers themselves:

Hi Tom,

I’ve been enjoying your posts along with Mark Baker’s. You both have good points about technical writing trends. I could be totally wrong, but maybe it’s not the tech writers that are resisting change. Maybe it’s the companies making the tools/money that are resisting change.

I don’t think the problem is so much that the tool vendors are resisting change. Tool vendors need a certain amount of change in order to create a reason for people to buy upgrades. But vendors also need, and therefore support, changes that provide a viable economic model for creating and selling software. They won’t support a change if there is not a viable way for them to make money by supporting it. read more

Approximation, Correction, and Tech Comm

Charge of the Light Brigade

Charge of the Light Brigade

At the Battle of Balaclava, an order reached a brigade of light cavalry to take the Russian guns. The general who sent the order was referring to a small artillery position that had been abandoned. But the commander of the light brigade could not see those guns. He could only see the main Russian battery at the end of the valley. He charged, and the light brigade was cut to pieces. The Charge of the Light Brigade can tell us something pretty interesting about the development of technical communication today. 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