Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools?

Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools? Larry Kunz strikes a familiar note in his recent blog post, Tools come and go. I’m still a writer.

I’m a writer. Once I used a typewriter. Now I use XML editors. If I stay at this long enough, other tools will come and I’ll learn to embrace them.

My old typewriter is gone. But I’m the same writer I’ve always been.

The same refrain is sounded over and over again wherever writers gather. It seems almost a badge of honor among writers to proclaim that your work and the essence of what you do is unaffected by the tools you use. 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

The Design Implications of Tool Choices

Every documentation tool has a built in information design bias. When you choose a tool, be it FrameMaker, DITA, AuthorIt, a WIKI, or SPFE, you are implicitly choosing an approach to information design. If you don’t understand and accept the design implications of your tool choice, as many people do not, you are setting yourself up for expense, frustration, and disappointment.

Introducing the SPFE Architecture

Today, I am announcing the launch of a new website, SPFE.info. SPFE.info is a site about the SPFE architecture for building structured authoring systems. Why would the world, need such a thing when it already has DITA? The site will attempt to answer that. Why have I spent the last 15 years or so working on what I now call SPFE? That I will try to explain here.

Structured Writing and the State of Flow

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is well established that we are happiest and most productive when we are working in a state of flow. Accordingly, any interruption of the state of flow can have disastrous results for productivity. The interesting question to me is, what constitutes a interruption, and what is part of the flow.

Is fixing a bad page break an interruption of the writer’s flow, or part of it? What about looking something up in the style guide? What about searching the CMS for a topic to create a link to? If, like me, you answer that these things are all interruptions to flow, not part of the flow, perhaps you will agree with me also that by and large tech writing groups are not set up to make writers as productive as possible. read more