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Adobe FrameMaker

Embracing the New Vernacular Instead of Pursuing the Holy Grail of Single Sourcing

Nov 22, 2007 • general

Help should be like having a friend sitting beside youFor a long time, I looked at help authoring tools in terms of their single sourcing ability -- creating the source material in the tool, and then outputting to online help, print, and other targets. However, I've given up on the ideal, at least for now. I'm convinced that the new vernacular, as a SXSW podcast called it, is audio and video.

If faced with a decision between learning via written instructions or audiovisual screen demos, which would you prefer? In most situations, I prefer the audiovisual. When learning software, most users want someone to show them how, to sit beside them and walk me through the steps in a lively, dynamic way.

If audiovisual is the new vernacular (look at the proliferation of online videos, podcasts, gaming, webinars, etc.), why are we wasting so much time trying to single source between online help and printed manuals, confining ourselves to the written medium? Instead, the following deliverables might yield better user results:

  • A 1-2 page Quick Start Guide that gets the user up and running with the core tasks in the application.
  • 5-10 short screen demos that show the user how to perform the tasks.
  • A comprehensive online help that the user can search to find further information in the instant he or she needs it.

For too long I've minimized the importance of the audiovisual. Captivate -- the industry standard tool for creating screen demos -- is actually a relatively simple application. Mastering it and integrating audiovisual into user help will take it to the next level.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.