Using Treejack as a Method for Evaluating Your Help's Navigation

Recently, at my request, one of my user research colleagues did some usability testing on a webhelp file. He did what's called a “treejack,” which is a method that asks users to identify the place in a navigation system they would go to find a topic. For example, if you were trying to figure out how to schedule a projector on a calendar (to use a scenario from my treejack), where would think you would find it in the navigation tree? The u...

The Importance of a Personal Face -- On Halloween

In taking my kids out trick or treating last night, I paraded them past many lavishly decorated homes with "cute spooky" arrangements, outdoor music, and other scary yard setups. One guy's display definitely outperformed everyone else's on the block. It looked like he dropped $500 on Halloween gear and other decorations -- lights flashed with thunder sounds, revealing a ghost and other ghastly figures overlooking a yard cemetery. But as w...

Blog Versus Web Log: Back to Origins

I was talking to a colleague today about blogs. He said he's starting a blog and wants to use it as a professional journal, to write about what he's learning. Our discussion made me reflect on my blog. I've used this blog for a lot of different purposes, it seems. Somewhere in this shuffle, I seemed to have forgotten its original purpose: "web log," or journal. Blogs today are too often focused on specific "brands." They "target" specific...

Adding Captions to Youtube Videos

In Buying Power of Persons with Disabilities, Karl Grove carefully analyzes statistics about the number of users who need your site to be accessible. Despite noting that some of the statistics could be overinflated, he still advocates for accessibility: In some cases, persons with disabilities which require an accessible site can amount to 7-10% of your potential visitors. Can you afford to lose 7-10% of your website's visitors? Or, put a...

Building Trust in a Corporate Blog

Larry Kunz The following is a guest post by Larry Kunz, a consultant with Systems Documentation, Inc. (SDI) Global Solutions. Writing a professional blog—whether you do it under your own name as Tom does, or under a company's banner as I do—is about building a brand. By brand I mean the personality that you want to project. Just as companies have brands in the marketplace, individuals have brands in the professional communities they inha...

The Conference Proposal I Didn't Submit

According to Kindle Author, Craig Stone was a promising young novelist who, at 23, had some book deals and appeared to be on the brink of becoming the next big writer when, for whatever reason, the book deals fell through. Facing financial difficulty, he took up a job at a well-known company and lived the office life until one day he snapped. He writes,  I quit my decent job in the city working for a pretty famous company, left my home an...

Customizing the "No Results Found" Page with Helpful Wayfinding Tips

In Designing Search, Greg Nudelman explains that one of the most overlooked places to help users who can't find information is the page that appears when no search results are found. Greg writes, After the system indicates that the no search results condition occurred, it must now help the customer recover. Whenever you display a no search results page, always provide a helpful way forward to get your customer back on track as quickly as ...

Appearing on The Forge Show from TechSmith Today at 2pm EST

I'm going to be on The Forge show today at 2pm EST. The Forge is a monthly web show put on by TechSmith, posted on their Visual Lounge blog. Here's their description of The Forge: New to The Forge? Wonder what it's all about? It's TechSmith's monthly webshow where we talk about screencapture, screencasting, visual communication and more. We share our tips and tricks and chat with interesting guests about a variety of topics to help and in...

Visual Storytelling Guides: A New Deliverable in Technical Communication?

When I read books to my little girls (ages 5 and 7), the pictures combined with story provide a captivating experience. I've often thought that if I wanted to create documentation that people actually read, maybe I should integrate these two same elements: picture and story. I'm not entirely sure what a product would look like that integrates these two elements, because technical writing usually lacks both visuals and story. It usually co...

Visually Appealing Documents Combine Text with Images

A few years ago, I was scouring magazines to get ideas for quick reference guide layouts. In particular, I found that WIRED magazine has some of the most creative and engaging layouts, often with text laid out in three or four columns, or along the side of a graphic, or in various quadrants about the page. I was trying to figure out the right layouts that would give my quick reference guides the same eye-popping appeal when I realized som...

Why Rubrics Fail as a Means of Measuring Documentation Quality

Alice Jane Emanuel has an interesting post that details her methods for measuring the quality of documentation. The post consists of notes from a webinar she gave on the subject. Alice writes, ... I have never seen anything like what I envisage in my head, which closes the argument by creating a weight or optimal rating for each necessary element in the technical communication being reviewed. When you start to consider necessary elements ...

What I've Learned from Lunchtime Creative Writing Workshops

About a month ago, one of my colleagues approached me and asked if I would be interested in having an informal creative writing workshop every now and then. Huh, I thought, maybe. I floated the idea by the other four writers in our technical writing group, and it turns out everyone was interested in participating in this, except one, who was already busy with another creative writing workshop that had even more participants. We've met a c...

How I Took Back My E-mail Inbox

Feb 20, 2012 update: See my new email strategy. For the past couple of years, my gmail inbox has been flooded with so much email that unless I respond to incoming email within a day, it gets buried with other incoming email. I'm guessing that many others have a similar problem. Gmail has come out with various solutions -- priority inboxes, stars with various colors to note importance. But I finally bit the bullet last Sunday afternoon and...

Recordings of Fathers Blessings

Here are recordings of father's blessings that I gave to the kids this year and last. I realize I probably shouldn't post this online, so I originally made this post private, but then I just opened it up. I fear that if I don't post them here, I will lose these files. Fathers Blessings 2012 Fathers Blessings 2011 Fathers Blessings 2010

The Proximity Problem for Technical Writers

Last year I wrote a series of posts about moving from the sidelines to center stage. In the series I described how I transitioned from a low-key, hardly-speaking project member to a key player on the project team, someone with a voice that mattered in project decisions. But recently, with some projects, I've come full circle, moving back to that initial position of a fly on the wall. The changes had a lot to do with location. Previously, ...