Technical Communication is Not a Commodity

The latest attempt by the STC to promote a certification program for technical communications prompts the thought that technical communication is not a commodity.

What does it mean to say that a profession is, or is not, a commodity? A commodity is any good which will provide the same quality and performance no matter which supplier you buy it from. Gasoline is a commodity. Sugar is a commodity. No matter which brand you buy, your car will run just as well and your tea will taste just as sweet.

A profession is a commodity if you will receive substantially the same service no matter which member of the profession you use. Accounting is a commodity. Your books should be substantially the same no matter which accountant prepares them. Technical writing is not like that. Ask two technical writers to write something on the same topic, and the results are apt to be substantially different. read more

Characteristics of EPPO Topics: Stay on One Level

One of the less obvious but more important characteristics of an Every Page is Page One topic is that it stays on one level. As with the other characteristics I have discussed in this series, being standalone, having a specific limited purpose, and establishing its context, staying on one level is not an ideal, but a common feature of millions of page-one topics on the web. What makes this characteristic worth pointing out is that it is something a topic does not share with books.

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

Why My Titles Suck

Last week I wrote a post on why people have few nice things to say about their CMS. I titled it Content Management and the Problem of Scale. That title sucks. I mean really, who but a handful of content management geeks would be inspired to read a blog post titled Content Management and the Problem of Scale? What was I thinking?

Every Page is Page One Topics are Everywhere

As I have argued previously, Every Page is Page One is the new fact of information seeking behavior. Whether a reader finds information by searching, or by surfing links on other pages, or even by browsing the landing page of a website, the page they arrive at is page one for them. And when they are done with that page, the next page that they arrive at, whether they do a new search or follow a link, the next page they arrive at is not page two, logically following from the page one they have just read. It is a brand new page one. 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

Princes of Erudition?

Just back from JoAnn Hackos’ CMS/DITA conference, where it became clear that even in a conference dedicated to a topic-based authoring methodology, most people are still writing books. Certainly, they are writing them in the form of topics, but then stitching them together into books. The fundamental product is still a book.