Write the Docs Podcast Episode 17: Structured Writing -- reasons and approaches, with Mark Baker
In this Write the Docs Podcast episode, we chat with Mark Baker about structured writing, specifically focusing on his new book Structured Writing: Rhetoric and Process. After introducing and defining structured writing, Mark explains the four domains you can add structure: media, document, subject, and management domains. He explains the advantages of working with structure in the subject domain, and why mixing structure across subject and document domains can be inefficient. We also chat about how structured writing connects with SEO and microformats on the semantic web, the limits of structure in Markdown formats, how to implement structure in linking, and more.
Brainstorming by transposing patterns from one category to another
Last week during an internal writers conference at Amazon, Carla Johnson (co-author of the Experiences: 7th Era of Marketing and other books) gave a workshop that ostensibly was about how to create more persuasive pitches for change within an organization. But what resonated with me a bit more was the novel technique for brainstorming by transposing categories of experience, which despite my background in literature and writing, I had never encountered.
The ideal number of slides for an hour-long presentation, and other thoughts on preparing slides
When giving an hour long presentation, about 15 slides is ideal. Although having fewer slides might make you panic about possibly forgetting what you want to say, in reality fewer slides gives you more flexibility to narrate your idea journey in a dynamic way. If you have too many slides, it locks you into a fixed, rigid structure that can actually make presenting harder. Additionally, a good essay is often the foundation for a good presentation because many of the rhetorical elements of an essay (the introduction, thesis, evidence, argument, etc.) are reflected in presentations as well.
Tech comm trends -- why tech writers will be collaborating more with engineers
Trends in technical communication can be hard to decipher, even when looking at data. But one underlying trend is that technology seems to be getting more specialized and complex. This trend toward specialization is driving up the value of technical knowledge, making it more prized than writing skills. To handle the complexity, technical writers must play increasingly collaborative roles with engineers to create documentation.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part I)
Technical writing jobs have shifted more from the end-user domain to the developer domain. This creates challenges because most technical writers are generalists, not specialists, when it comes to technology they document. In these specialist contexts, technical writers can add value by focusing on authoring/publishing processes and tools, knowledge of the user experience, and information usability.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part II)
Thanks to UX design, technology is becoming a simpler experience for end-users; however, the code is becoming more complex behind the scenes. As a result, more technical writing jobs are transitioning to the areas of complexity in the developer domain. Because content in the developer domain is so technical and specialized, many developers are collaborating and assisting with the documentation. As developers get involved in docs, they usually adopt docs-as-code tools, writing in simpler Markdown files.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part III)
When specialists write docs, they tend to stick with simple formats and tools. As a result, incorporating structure or writing to specifications often gets overlooked. This is one area where technical writers can add value.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part IV)
Specialists often lack user feedback to guide and inform their decisions. This is an area that technical writers can provide value, especially in helping identify problem areas in the user experience.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part V)
When specialists write, they often neglect principles of information usability that can make their content more easily consumable by readers. Some of these principles include letting users switch between macro and micro views, making information discoverable as the user needs it, ensuring information harmony in the larger landscape, and reducing and distilling vast information down to its essence.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part VI)
My discussion of information usability principles continues here. Some additional information usability principles include conforming to the patterns and expectations of the genre and schemas, reducing the complexity of technical language, and iterating and incrementing on content following an agile approach.
Tech comm trends: Providing value as a generalist in a sea of specialists (Part VII)
Wrapping up this series, the conclusion recaps the argument highlights and information usability principles.
Tech comm podcasts roundup and survey
The latest Cherryleaf podcast lists the available tech comm podcasts and how to get started with your own podcast. I created a short survey about podcasts to gather some feedback about your listening habits and preferences.
Pages at a glance -- the importance of the first two sentences of any topic
Showing users the 'Pages at a glance' when they click a folder title in a sidebar can help users get a quick understanding of the whole without slogging through the details of each page. The first two sentences of a topic should encapsulate the point of the whole topic is a condensed and informative way.
Write the Docs Podcast episode 16: An open-source Grammarly for tech docs?
This episode focuses mainly on testing tools. Last month, some rockstar WTD community members spent a few days at the Pronovix offices in Szeged, Hungary, trying to create a series of open-source testing tools. Specifically, they wanted to create a ‘create a container deployable solution that can automatically check docs’. In more blunt terms, a kind of open-source Grammarly, but integrated into deploys and repositories and focused on tech docs.
How I handled data for about 10 device specifications on the same page -- the advantages of a flexible, customizable web-based framework like Jekyll
Jekyll provides flexibility and customization in ways that make it extremely attractive for addressing complex scenarios. You can separate data from the presentation layer, define templates, and iterate through data to populate the templates. In this post, I explain how I approached a device specifications page that has specs for about 10 different devices all shown on the same page.