What kind of “easy” authoring are you looking for?

I was reading JoAnn Hackos article on easy DITA authoring solutions and it got me thinking about what the word “easy” means in regard to DITA or any similarly complex technology.

Can an editing interface make DITA easy? Some DITA consultants that I know complain bitterly about tools that make that claim. DITA may be many things, they say, but easy is not one of them. To present it as being easy is only going to set people up for disappointment and failure.

If they are right, can any DITA editor legitimately claim to be “easy”? read more

The Best Job I Ever Had

The best job I ever had spanned the full spectrum of technical communication.

In a response to a comment in a discussion related to my post Content Engineering is not Technical Writing, Scott Abel said:

Who cares what tech writers do. There’s no future (read: great paying careers) in documenting things. That ship sailed a long time ago. Now, companies pay top dollar for someone with a hybrid set of skills.

I’m not sure if I would go that far. I know lots of tech writers who still make a good living. And frankly, for anyone who wants to make a career as a writer, technical writing is a godsend, since there are few other writing jobs that provide middle class incomes. read more

Dumb vs. Smart Revision

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Improving the content creation process

Several readers of my posts on revision have pointed out that content gets revised for many reasons. Peter Fournier suggest a distinction should be made between dumb and smart revision. I’ll attempt to do that here.

An initial distinction between dumb revision and smart revision might be that smart revision adds value and dumb revision does not.

Am I a Content Strategist?

I’m a fan of emerging technology, and generally tolerant of emerging terminology, but when it comes to job titles I tend to the view that if it was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, it isn’t a real job. I have, on diverse occasions, decried attempts to replace the title “technical writer” with something else, maintaining that as long as that is what the job ads call it, that’s what the job is called.

Thus I have been reluctant to call myself a content strategist. Scott Abel’s recent interview with Barbara Saunders indicates I am not the only one having doubts about the title. Yet many of the people I interact with professionally call themselves content strategists, and more than once those people have used the #contentstrategy tag when tweeting about my articles or blog posts. I seem to write a lot about the issues that content strategists care about, yet still I find myself reluctant to get the content strategist tattoo. read more

The Segmentation of Tech Comm

Segmentation

There is a growing segmentation of the tech comm profession.

I was flattered that my post Technical Communication is not a Commodity was used as a catalyst for Scott Abel’s discussion with Val Swisher, Jack Molisani and Sarah O’Keefe on The Changing Face of Technical Communications, What’s Next? I had a fair amount to say in the comment stream that followed to defend my assertion that Tech Comm is indeed not a commodity, but since then a few other interactions have convinced me that there is another important trend in tech comm that should be recognized: the growing segmentation of the field. read more

Tech Comm’s Place in the Choir

All God’s creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Bill Staines

Birds on a wire

A place in the choir

Traditionally, technical manuals have been written as if they were the only source of information on a product. Of course, the manual was never really the only source. There have always been neighbors, friends, colleagues, retailers, user’s groups, and professional associations to learn from as well.  But access to these other sources of information was not universal, and those groups themselves had to learn from somewhere — information had to propagate through the network before it became available to the ordinary user, and the propagation was usually quite slow. It was reasonable, therefore, for users to look on the documentation as their principle source of information, and it was reasonable and necessary for the documentation to be written as if it were the sole source of information on a product. Not any more. read more

Why documentation analytics may mislead

I was rereading some material in the long-running do-people-read-the-manual debate (such as Tom Johnson’s If No One Reads the Manual, That’s Okay), and it struck me that there is an assumption that people on both sides of this debate are making which deserves some scrutiny. We all assume that technical documentation operates at first hand. That is, we assume that when a user wants help, they get that help directly by reading the manual or the help system or by watching a video, etc. I don’t think that assumption is correct. In fact, I’m convinced that it is naively and dangerously wrong, and that measurements and decisions based on this assumptions may be fundamentally flawed and harmful to a company and its customers. read more