Embracing the New Vernacular Instead of Pursuing the Holy Grail of Single Sourcing
For 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.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.