Summer Beach Reading for Techcomm Professionals

summerreading

*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

You might not think of these eight books as ones you want to take along to the beach or on vacation, but take another look. We thought they were entertaining, as well as informative. Give one or two a read this summer, and let us know if you got a better tan while enhancing your career.

#Content Marketing Tweet Book: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Create and Market Compelling Content by Ambal Balakrishnan

Submerged in the world of content marketing? Learn how to create compelling content that your customers and prospective clients will love.

Klout for Dummies by Andrea Updyke

Need to grow your Klout Score? Learn how Klout works so you can use it to see how influential you are and how effective your content is.

The Art of SEO, 2nd edition by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola, and Rand Fishkin

Low SEO rankings on your content? Learn how to measure your success by tracking the results of changes you make to your site, big or small.

Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (and Everything You Build from Them) by Marcia Riefer Johnston

Want people to read your words? Learn how to write powerfully so they will want to.

Content strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits by Noz Urbina and Rahel Bailie

Looking for content strategy case studies? Learn how to create, implement, sell, and maintain a content strategy by reading about those that are successful and those that aren’t.

Agile User Experience Design by Diana Brown

Swimming in UX waters? Find out which tools you need to stay afloat in an agile environment.

The Language of Content Strategy by Scott Abel, Rahel Bailie, and Marcia Riefer Johnston

Flummoxed by copious terms and definitions surrounding content strategy? This book gives 52 terms that are central to the emerging profession of content strategy.

The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing by Krista Van Laan

Want to take your career to the next level? Learn new skills for building or growing a successful career as a professional technical communicator.

Have another book to add? Please share it in the comments.

 

Responsive Web Design: Tailoring Your Content to Fit Smaller Screens

Apple-devices-Flat-icons-PSD

*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

We’re faced with a greater number of devices today. Technical communicators must make their content easy to access on not only on desktop and laptop computers, but also on mobile phones, tablets, and other devices with varying screen sizes. The solution to this is responsive web design (RWD). Responsive design “frees our content” to work anywhere, anytime. It means we no longer need to spend time designing and creating deliverables for different devices.

Creating responsive outputs means that we need to adopt a “mobile first” mindset. Our content needs to be designed to work well on mobile (smaller) screens first because when we write/make other changes for mobile, then the content will work well on tablets, the desktop, etc. The constraints of the mobile context force us to focus on what content is essential and how to present that content as quickly as possible.

Here are a few “mobile first” best practices, some technical and some content changes:

Keep image files small. Large image files will increase load time, which is something mobile users have no patience for, in fact, 74% of mobile users will leave a website that takes more than 5 seconds to load.

Write concisely. Always an excellent best practice, but now more important than ever. And this isn’t just about screen size; those working on smaller devices have less patience to wade through content. (Another benefit: this also reduces translation costs.)

Employ progressive information disclosure. This helps maintain the focus of the reader’s attention by reducing clutter and presenting only the minimum data required for a task, thus making information easier to find. Using collapsible text and inline text (dynamic help features) can be good solutions.

Improve navigation. Add related links at the end of topics so there’s no need to use the device’s “back” button. This makes it is easier to navigate away from your content.

Make links easier to use. Don’t bury too many links in the same paragraph because they will be harder to use on mobile devices. Consider making the most important links into buttons.

Streamline your table of contents. A TOC that is 4-5 levels deep is more challenging to navigate on mobile devices.

Avoid second, third, etc. level bullets and numbering. It is harder to see the relationships between levels on smaller devices.

Take a look at your tables. Some tables might have too many columns and can be very lengthy. Simplify them, and eliminate the ones that aren’t necessary. You can take advantage of responsive table reflow, but you will want to verify that your tables are usable on smaller devices.

Clean up your terminology. Your content needs to work on devices where you tap, and those where you click. Avoid using device-specific terms.

Creating purposeful, versatile content for the mobile web is one thing we can all strive toward.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.

Why Should I Care About DITA?

DITA-sprout

Source: TechWhirl

DITA, Darwin Information Typing Architecture, is an XML-based standard that is used primarily for technical documentation and increasingly for other types of documentation too.

If you’re not applying DITA as your documentation standard, then you’re working much more slowly and inefficiently than you ought to.

DITA Saves Time

If you and your writers are forever mucking around with Word style, templates, footers and headers and generally wasting your time on not creating content, then you should seriously consider moving to DITA.

DITA separates content from formatting so that writers write; they don’t format. Formatting is applied automatically and consistently as part of the publishing process.

That extra time gained from authoring in DITA doesn’t mean that you can reduce the writer headcount, because the extra time should be spent focusing on writing the right information, the information the user really wants and needs…which leads to the next reason you should care about DITA: increased quality.

DITA Introduces Quality and Consistency

DITA gives writers a clear, repeatable, yet customizable model to write from. For example, DITA requires every topic must have a title; pre-requisite information for performing a task always precedes the context of a task (and the steps); and a task result always follows the steps.

With DITA, writers have (just) enough structure to consistently write according to best practices, like telling people what they need to have or know before telling them the first step. It’s not uncommon to find a step that surprises the reader with information they should have known before they even started the task. That sort of information is now clearly placed before the steps begin.

Writing using DITA leads to clear, consistent information. In fact, most writers take this one step further and start to identify real user goals and then write to those goals instead of writing based on features. This further increases the quality and usability of the content.

At the same time, formatting discrepancies disappear because formatting is applied centrally and programmatically at publishing time, rather than randomly throughout the content creation process.

DITA Increases Usability

DITA introduces a shift—from chapter- or book-based writing to topic-based writing, where each chunk of information is clear and complete on its own. Furthermore, each chunk, or topic, has a clear purpose. The core of DITA includes different topic types, each written to fulfill a specific users’ goal: concept to explain, task to instruct, reference to inform.

Separating content into discrete, highly usable but clear topics makes them more findable. Users can navigate right to the information they need, read just the pertinent information (because the rest is there, a click or swipe away), and then go about their day.

Happy users make really good customers and no one is happier than the user who finds exactly what they need in the documentation.

DITA Opens Up the Door to Publishing Options 

By having content in XML, you’re freed from the constraints of one particular output format, like HTML or PDF. You are limited only by your technical skills at transforming XML into any and all other outputs that you need (and that your users need).

From ePub to Excel or PDF to PowerPoint, creating the outputs you choose is a matter of mastering transform languages (or hiring someone who can create what you need using those transform languages). Your outputs are entirely configurable, looking and behaving exactly as needed.

It gets trickier when you try to integrate DITA outputs with other tools, like publishing through WordPress or Drupal. However, it’s usually a matter of time and money rather than an impossibility.

DITA Saves Money 

By not messing around with formatting and by having a clear standard to write and reuse content, writers can write faster. When content is in DITA, it becomes an object that can be used anywhere it’s needed. No more copy/paste. This means savings when you’re writing new content, updating existing content, or assembling new product documentation.

Translation also becomes a major source of savings in a DITA environment. Instead of translating complete documents over and over, you only need to translate the specific content that has changed. Organizations regularly see a savings of 50% or more when they translate DITA content rather than Word, FrameMaker, or InDesign.

Summary 

These are just the high-level advantages of DITA. We haven’t even touched on the ability to tailor content to a particular type of user, make content even more findable through faceted search, or make reviews faster and easier (and on time!).

If you care about the quality of your technical content, you should care about DITA, and start planning how to move your documentation to a new level.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.