Post-Publishing Word Count Can Be Three Times as Long

Recently I've been playing more of a blogger role at my job, doing more user awareness than user education. This will only increase during the coming months, and if I do a good job, I might finally show the importance of this neglected role. Part of the reason we're doing more user awareness is because we've suddenly published dozens of new websites, tools, and other technical solutions, and we're trying to help the general membership com...

I am perhaps finishing my basement, someday

My wife wants to finish our basement so badly that she registered for a local eight-week course on how to finish your basement. As the first class approached, she realized how difficult it would be for me to nurse the baby while she learned about framing, plumbing, electricity, and so forth. So I agreed to go instead. I had been putting off finishing my basement for a long time -- two years now -- because it's costly and I never seem to h...

WordPress Tips: Alternatives to Akismet, Design Software, and Dummy Content

I have three WordPress tip videos for you today. Alternatives to Akismet for Blocking Spam Akismet, the plugin that blocks spam and is included in WordPress by default, is not really free if you have any kind of advertising, product or service, or high traffic. In this video, I show you a free alternative: antispambee. Headway -- A WordPress Theme with Design Software One of the interesting WordPress themes out there is He...

The Enterprise Help Authoring Problem

In my organization, we're in the middle of trying to come up with a solution to address enterprise-wide help authoring. Currently we have a lot of pocket groups of writers working in silos. We think an enterprise-wide solution that unifies help authoring would be a step forward. Siloed help authoring (left) versus a unified help authoring strategy (right). How do you make this shift? I would love if it someone could recommend a solution. ...

"Powerful as a consumer, lame as an employee"

We're powerful as consumers, lame as  employees. Kai Weber posted an interesting idea from Geoffrey Moore called the Big Disconnect. The gist of the idea is this: How can it be that I am so powerful as a consumer and so lame as an employee? (See How can you exploit the Big Disconnect.) This idea rings true to me, as I think it often does when you start out as a consumer of a product and then transition to an employee of the company produ...

Formalizing My Help Strategy

In this post I'm putting together a more formal help strategy. In a previous post, I started to explain my approach to help authoring. I'm trying to flesh this out into a more developed and detailed -- but not too long -- statement about how I do help. This information would be useful both to project managers as well as other writers I work with. I would appreciate any feedback. Help Strategies Because users have different skill levels a...

The Problem of Free and the Long Tail of Content Production

Internet users have grown accustomed to free content. But this is not without its problems. Jeff Chandler used to produce a Weekly WordPress podcast. His last podcast, "I tried," is dated back in December. It's a long, tired explanation about the difficulties of pouring so much energy into an endeavor that has no substantial financial return. As he moves toward marriage and maintains a full-time job, the amount of free time he can devote ...

From DITA to VITA: Tracing Origins and Projecting the Future

With my recent reflections on long versus short text, a comment by Michael O'neil made me wonder whether the “reading to do” mode equated with DITA's task type, and whether the “reading to learn” mode equated to DITA's concept type. In researching this, I stumbled across a goldmine of an article on the History of DITA. The article (mostly by Bob Doyle) traces the evolution of structured authoring from its earliest attempts in the 1960s th...

Making Help Content Enjoyable to Read -- Impossible Quest?

In my previous post ("Less Text, Please"), I argued that users want shorter texts. I also explained how social media and Internet sites have possibly rewired our brains to incline us toward shorter content -- according to some, our gnat-like attention spans can only consume a few short paragraphs before tapping out. The Onion has a great parody of how a single block of uninterrupted text causes mayhem for readers ("Nation Shudders at Larg...

Free Ticket to Intelligent Content 2011 Conference

Scott Abel has given me a free ticket for the 2011 Intelligent Content conference to give away on my blog. The Intelligent Content conference is held February 16-18 in Palm Springs, California. To win the ticket, leave a comment on this post explaining what intelligent content is in your own words. Tomorrow morning I'll randomly select one of the comments to win, so be sure to leave your comment sometime today.

Less Text, Please: Contemporary Reading Behaviors and Short Formats

Yesterday I had a meeting with some managers about a series of quick reference guides that I had been preparing. If you remember, much of my callout post referred to a strategy about callout design. It was the same project. (The team actually went with bubble callouts rather than my minimalist callouts, but that's another story.) During the meeting, as the team looked at the callouts on the quick reference guides, they felt there was too ...

Minimalistic Callouts Heighten Visual Appeal

Lately I've been working on quick reference guides that contain a lot of callouts around screenshots. (By callouts, I mean explanatory text that points to some part of the image.) In trying to come up with the right design for callouts, I surveyed how other authors approached callouts. Below is a sampling of about 14 different approaches to callouts, with my analysis below each example. Some Examples of Callouts Callout example 1 The auth...

WordPress Tip: Add a Calendar to Your WordPress Site

You can easily add a calendar to your WordPress site through the ICS Calendar plugin. This plugin pulls in a calendar from google calendar and displays it on a wordpress page using some shortcode. Here's an example of the integration I did for a client. You can also embed a Google calendar directly (example). For more wordpress tips, see my WordPress archive. Hat tip to Glenn Lea for the plugin tip.

Findability and The Information Paradox

Last year I started a series on organizing content that spanned nearly 30 posts. I want to return to this thread with a summary of why findability becomes an issue for technical writers, and what the information paradox is that we encounter. Then, in an usual ethical twist, I'll explain why findability might not actually be an issue. The Documentation Scenario The help scenario starts out innocently enough. As a technical writer, I docume...

*Don't know how you do it all*: Some Thoughts on Productivity

In my post on technical writing resolutions, Marcia Johnston commented, "Inspiring. Bravo, Tom, and good luck. Don't know how you do it all." I get that last remark a lot, actually. I don't feel it's deserved. I don't do it all ... not at all. I let so many important activities slip through the cracks. But let me indulge in a fantasy where that remark is actually true. How do I "do it all" -- even just a little? First, a little background...