WritersUA 2014: Day 2: Wednesday 5 March

March 6, 2014

Techniques for creating UI text based on user reading patterns (Linda Lior)

Most of what users read today is inline/online, which is non linear, instructive, proactive, reactive, designed for interaction, and part of a workflow.

Think about target users and how they will use the software.

Various research methods have been used to see how users view and use a screen, such as eye tracking, mouse and keystroke tracking.

These days, eye tracking doesn’t require bulky equipment.

Eye tracking shows first glance, gaze duration, visual direction, scan patterns, and search patterns. Results: Users scan page/screen looking for key info, not reading word for word.

Mouse tracking: correlates well with eye tracking studies; use sites/apps like www.mouseflow.com for real-time tracking.

Based on research these assumptions can be made:

  • users read from top to bottom
  • F pattern
  • bottom right rarely used
  • read keywords then scan further for more information
  • read bullets more than text blocks
  • once they think they have the info they’ll move away.

Right-to-left readers do the same but in the opposite direction.

Therefore, important info should be arranged so that users can get that information as quickly as possible.

How do we apply research for creating effective info experience?

  • use top left corner for key info
  • guide user through workflow
  • make text easier to scan
  • chunk info into small bites
  • visual proximity matters….

If the process is linear, use wizards, landing pages, callouts.

User-first instructions: mobile, visual, and painless (Eric Doster, ifixit.com – repair manuals)

Business created in college dorm. Started with printed laptop repair manuals. Decided to put content online for free. Now about 8% of content is created by users.

Repair 2.0 – learn from the world, not manuals, courses; e.g. YouTube, Google, ifixit (http://www.ifixit.com/)

ifixit has a tech writing program (http://edu.ifixit.com) and a tech writing handbook (http://www.dozuki.com/tech_writing).

Tech writing fundamentals we’ve learned:

  • know the process – do it yourself before you can help others
  • be concise
  • be clear
  • be stylish
  • be targeted (know the user)
  • be visual – show how
  • be organised (outlines, lists, tasks)
  • be sensible about legal info – don’t front load with legal info, put safety info at point of danger
  • be everywhere (PDF, mobile)
  • be evolving (edit thoroughly, get feedback).

Dozuki (http://www.dozuki.com/): platform for writing instructions for ifixit, and for translation. Has mobile access.

Use gamification to gain reputation and link this to incentives (for contributors).

Process for dealing with unknowns – things for which there are no answers at the moment.

Please, don’t squeeze the layout! Let it respond (John Daigle)

Can’t keep up with browser and device explosion/wars. And other devices such as those in cars, Google Glass etc.

More and more text being dumped online without thought as to what devices they will be displayed on. Use of ‘progressive disclosure’ on small devices.

Technical and content issues – economy of content, flatten navigation, easy way to get home/previous/next, simplified search, progressive disclosure.

HTML5/CSS3 sweet spot for responsive design?

Key features of responsive Web design:

  • fluid grid (relative units such as %)
  • flexible images (relative units)
  • media queries.

RoboHelp 11 can do responsive design; can skin each output easily; and can preview output in a simulator. Can also select command verb for the output file, e.g. select, tap, click, etc. (Stored as a variable?)

Adobe Edge Inspect – application that works on wireless principle so can see effect of changes in devices at time make the change (do you still have to buy all the devices?)

Making the leap to structured authoring (Tom Magliery)

Structured authoring with XML.

Pay more attention to creating structure (still have to craft words), architecting for reuse, minimalisation, expanded style guides (some tools will enforce some of these for you).

Reviewing remains the same no matter which way you go.

Traditional authoring: authoring tool to output. XML way: authoring tool, XML mark up and style sheets, publishing system, output.
With XML, you are producing input (into the publishing process) not output.

Content management: reusable components, links, graphics, topics and maps (DITA).

New tools will be required. How much tool do you need? Feature/price trade-offs. Training/customisation costs. Content management tools will also be required at some stage; can be very expensive and take a long time to implement. Publishing system will also be required; range in capability and cost; some are hybrid environments; may be included in authoring/content management tools.

Legacy content conversion: costs can be very high whether do it internally or externally. Will need to assess what legacy content gets converted or not.

Some tools will remain the same – e.g. controlled language/terminology, translation, graphics


(There were six time slots today, but for two of them none of the presentations inspired me, so I played hooky with a friend and we hung out in the pool with our friend Pina Colada for that time.)

See also:


  1. There is one thing about “Dozuki” that caught my attention.
    You wrote/noted: “Dozuki: platform for writing instructions for Ifixit, and for translation.”. Translation? Really? Last time I dealt with them all they could translate was their GUI and they had no idea about neither localizing or translating content.

  2. I think Eric was referring to people from other countries using the content in Dozuki as a basis for translating into their own language, not that Dozuki was a translation tool. It would be best to check with the Dozuki team regarding this as I may have misrepresented what he said.

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