Review of Alan Porter's Wiki: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit

Wiki: Grow your Own for Fun and Profit, by Alan Porter Alan Porter's Wiki: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit, published by XML Press in October 2010, provides an excellent introduction to wikis. This is a short, easy-to-read book spanning about 150 pages. Alan has a keen sense of organization and liveliness in his writing. He carries the gardening metaphor throughout the book, ending with five solid case studies and an extended response to...

Forum → Wiki → Blog Workflow

One of the sites I'm working with lately at my job combines a forum (vBulletin), blog (Joomla), and wiki (Mediawiki) into one experience. Each of these tools does a great job at what it was designed to do. They're three separate platforms skinned and linked together. I used to think the site was a hodgepodge of software platforms, but now I see that these three resources can harmonize together in an amazing way. A possible workflow of in...

Podcast: Educational Programs and Workplace Practices

Listen here: Last week we recorded an Intermountain-STC chapter event, "Educational Programs and Workplace Practices," held in Layton, Utah. The event included a panel of academics from local technical communication programs in Utah. We had six programs represented: BYU Provo, Westminster College, Utah Valley University, University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber Utah State University. About 15 students and a...

Tactics for Survival: A Technical Writers Field Guide to Overcoming the Forces of Petty PMs and Broken IT Environments

Tactics for Survival: A technical writer's field guide to overcoming the forces of petty project managers and broken IT environments Last week I attended an STC chapter event that consisted of educators and practitioners discussing educational programs and workplace realities. Most of the discussion focused on tools, which is a constant topic in these discussions. What tools should educators teach? How do they gain access to tools? Ca...

My Brand Is ...

I've been thinking lately about my brand. I've always hated this marketing term, but the word "brand" does help answer a question. When you think of me, what comes to your mind? I've written about a lot of different topics on this blog, everything from findability to podcasting, blogging, technical writing, flare, wikis, screencasts, project managers, content organization, and more. My content is diverse enough that when people ask me to ...

Diverse Content and the Long Tail of Search Engine Metrics

At a recent Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference, keynote speaker Avinash Kaushik said Mormons have done a "marvelous job" with the SEO for the word church. If you google "church," lds.org is the third result after two wikipedia entries. The sixth result is Mormon.org, just after Church's Chicken. You can watch the full SES video here. Avinash says, "One of the key strategies to win at search, both organic and paid, is not pla...

10 Quick Tips for Project Managers about Help Content

10 tips for PMs about help content As a follow-up to my last post, When Help Content Is Forgotten, my colleague pointed out that having a set of agreed-upon best practices for technical writers is one of the first steps in establishing traction with project managers. Otherwise, project managers can resist or dismiss a technical writer's recommendations as subjective opinion. In an effort to be concise, here's my stab at the ten things pro...

When Help Content Is Forgotten

What's missing from this project plan? Its absence is glaring and painful for technical writers In recent posts on content strategy, I've written about how common it is for "user experience" designers to create websites without considering content. I made this point in my last post, Text Matters, and it's what fuels the fervor behind content strategy. In the same way that user experience designers forget about web content, replacing empt...

Text Matters

I've noticed something lately. If you redesign your website, almost no one comments. If you make a cool graphic, almost no one comments. If you make a screencast or video, almost no one comments. But if you write a good post (which is 95% text), you get a ton of comments. I've seen this happen over and over. Why is that? In the realm of content, an image can play a strong supporting role, as can a design or a video. But text is the lead a...

"I need your help with some documentation" (Xtranormal Movies)

Last week my wife, Shannon, showed me a couple hilarious Xtranormal videos. The first is So, you want to be a lawyer? And then, So, you want to get a PhD in the humanities? After watching these two, I couldn't help but think of a scenario for technical writers. The following is a conversation I'm calling, "I need your help with some documentation." The project manager represents a compilation of all the crazy things project managers have ...

What Is Chartjunk? [Visual Imagination #2]

Recently I wrote a wiki page listing all the benefits of installing Internet access in LDS meetinghouses. After I published my list, I realized the page was text heavy -- so much that it looked uninviting and intimidating, even though the content itself was good. You can view the avalanche of text here. I like to think that text lays the foundation for graphics that will later follow. After all, you can't create a graphic without knowing ...

Being Contrarian

Last week one of my followers tweeted, "Again, I find myself disagreeing, to a degree, with @tomjohnson." It was actually a retweet, so someone else was agreeing that they also disagreed with me. I know my posts on content strategy had a lot of people disagreeing. First I said content strategy should focus on why help fails. Then I followed that up to say much of content strategy is meaningless semantics. Before that, I said tech writing ...

What's the Statistical ROI of Technical Documentation? [Collaborative Post]

Kartik asks, I have trouble explaining people of the value adds, and measurable differences, and advantages of technical writing. Is there a case study, white paper or any other doc that statistically shows the ROI of technical documentation? This is a collaborative post, so if you have an insight to help Kartik answer this question, please add it in the comments.

Strategy Versus Tactics and the Ongoing Debate about Roles

In the ongoing discussions about content strategy, one recurring idea keeps emerging: strategy versus tactics. The key differentiator between content strategy and technical writing is strategy. The content strategist develops a strategy; the technical writer carries out tactics to fulfill the strategy. The general develops the battle strategy, the troops carry out the necessary maneuvers to realize that strategy. Which is more valuable: s...

Why Help Content Fails and #contentstrategy

Findability / organizing content 1.0 New Series: Organizing Content [Organizing Content 1] 1.2 Introducing Project Swordfish [Organizing Content 2] 1.3 Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold [Organizing Content 3] ...