Archive for October, 2018

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LavaCon2018: Day 3

October 25, 2018

The last day of LavaCon 2018 was full of breakout sessions, with no plenary sessions. Here are my notes from the sessions I attended.

Diversify your content ecosystem

Bernard Aschwanden took us through a heap of information, a tiny amount of which I captured in notes. I’ll have to watch the recording and view the slides later. The notes I did make were:

  • clarify, simplify, and reuse content
  • track/share costs — you can cut costs by sharing content, but even better is to generate revenue. Docs can reduce costs AND generate revenue
  • content is a core business asset
  • content is cross-department and cross-functional — it shouldn’t live in silos
  • search is a headache, find is a solution (think of searching for your car keys [anxiety] versus finding your keys [happiness/relief])
  • think about components, not complete docs
  • reuse components across business verticals
  • how and what to measure — process efficiencies to reduce costs; revenue growth

Cross-format and cross-silo: Lightweight DITA (LWDITA) for intelligent content

(Michael Priestley, IBM)

  • DITA is a standard, which means it’s portable and scalable
  • Why isn’t DITA everywhere? perceived complexity (too many tags, too hard to customise, steep learning curve) and it’s XML (software developers mostly use XML for data, so when JSON came along, XML was dead for them; bias against XML in favour of Markdown, HTML5, custom formats)
  • Simplify the model — no longer reliant on XML schema; cross-format content standard
  • LWDITA — has only 2 doc types (topic and map), 40 elements types (33 from DITA 1.3, 7 for multimedia support), and 3 formats (XML, HTML5, Markdown)
  • LWDITA is less flexible but easier to learn
  • Full DITA — advanced features, more flexibility, mature tools
  • LWDITA — start simple, eventually more tool support, don;t need XML
  • Tools that support LWDITA include oXygen XML Editor, Author, Web Author; SimplyXML Content Mapper; and others
  • Publishing options — DITA-OT; XML Mind DITA Converter; Adobe AEM Publishing
  • people and processes are the hard part — tools are the easy part!
  • more info: http://docs.oasis-open.org/dita/LwDITA/v1.0/LwDITA-v1.0.html and https://wiki.oasis-open.org/dita/LightweightDITASubcommittee/lwditatools

‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed — cultivating a weed-free content ecosystem

This was an info-filled talk by Helen St Denis, Conversion Services Manager, from Stilo. She talked about pre- and post-conversion tasks for DITA, amongst other things. I tried to keep up with her but these notes may be missing a few points.

Content strategy includes:

  • content modelling
  • taxonomies
  • setting up storage, reuse and publication facilities
  • perhaps style guides

First step is the content audit:

  • what do we have
  • what do we need to keep
  • what’s OK and where is it now
  • what needs to be rewritten
  • what should be moved first

Writing for minimalism:

  • focus on action-oriented approach
  • understand the users’ world
  • recognise the importance of troubleshooting info
  • ensure users can find the info they need
  • remember that every page is page 1
  • rewrite for reuse
  • rewrite for localisation/translation even if not going there yet — consistent terminology, concise, clear (avoid idioms), grammatically complete (don’t forget ‘that’)
  • minimise inline x-refs — move into a relationship table

Content model:

  • topic-based — smallest unit of content that makes sense by itself
  • 4 basic topics — task, concept, reference, and troubleshooting
  • do not include multiple types on content in the one topic — just one

Tasks:

  • only 1 set of steps per task
  • if there are two ways to do something, you need two tasks
  • doing and undoing something = two tasks
  • improve conversion by adding paragraph breaks between <step><cmd> and<step><result> or <info>

Short descriptions:

  • these help with findability
  • either use everywhere or nowhere — not a mix; everywhere is best, but time consuming

Pre vs post conversion cleanup:

  • if you don’t need the docs immediately, convert after
  • if active docs, do pre-conversion cleanup

Really need to do:

  • topics — break out based on heading levels
  • topic types — many not need immediately, but much easier to add at conversion time, not after

Authoring conventions:

  • tasks — look for gerunds, ‘how to’
  • concepts — look for ‘about’
  • references — look for titles with command names in lower case
  • paragraph styles — look for styles like ‘procedure heading’
  • consider adding prefixes in text (e.g. T_ for task, C_ for concept, R_ for reference)

Topic types:

  • can allow conversion to determine these based on content of topic (e.g steps = tasks; syntax diagram = reference)
  • can use in combination

Data model:

  • tasks are trickiest
  • only 1 set of steps per task
  • no sections — stuff before and after MUST be in the correct order

Inline elements:

  • especially important if you will localise/translate
  • some things may not be translated
  • some things will be presented differently in different languages
  • may already have styles/typographic conventions for these
  • character-level style names (if still working on the docs); if not, consider colour highlighting the elements

Don’t need to worry about:

  • tables
  • links
  • variables
  • conditions
  • having all the answers

Other considerations:

  • graphics — supported format; where stored; findable
  • do graphics have superimposed callouts? Are they easily editable?
  • paragraph breaks — watch out for hard and soft line breaks
  • look out for text in the wrong order (e.g. from text boxes, or from inDesign)
  • eliminate superfluous docs
  • some legacy content may have reuse already built in; some is from copy/paste
  • legacy reuse can be at doc level (e.g. Word master docs), phrase level (e.g. Word auto text)

DITA reuse:

  • reuse is at the element level
  • maps can bring in other maps
  • phrase level — conrefs, keys
  • conrefs allow reuse of single DITA element (para, table, single list item, whole list)
  • conref range — first and last elements MUST be the same

Identifying reused content:

  • text inserts/snippets — use the file name
  • create conrefs using the filename as the ID
  • each block level element becomes a conref

De-duplicating (dedup’g) content:

  • prune redundancies
  • spreadsheet to track duplications — very painful and slow! Avoid
  • tools can help ID identical and near match content, but still need a human eye (e.g. Stilo’s OptimizeR, which compares DITA elements, shows diffs, you choose to dup or not, auto creates conrefs, auto adjusts maps to refer to selected topic, gives a report of what has been dedup’d)
  • allow time for implementing a reuse mechanism

Content 4.0

(Pam Noreault and Chip Gettinger, SDL)

  • Landscape: any device can be used to display content
  • Customer demands: By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as a main differentiator

Product content:

  • branded tech product info is 2nd most trusted source (they didn’t state what the 1st was)
  • customer support (phone/online) has dramatically decreased
  • product info must be available in various languages, for various devices and formats
  • customers want to go to one place to get info

Trends:

  • shared content strategy — content mashups, portals, microcontent, blogs, videos, chatbots, Twitter feeds, documentation and product help, KB articles, communities/forums
  • shared enterprise taxonomy — make content findable by applying consistent terminology and metadata
  • device independence — design content for any device; mobile first; responsive design; how will voice interaction affect content
  • design for global customers — plan initially for translation even if not doing so now
  • adaptive personalisation — machine learning, AI, natural language processing in real time

Actions:

  • review info architecture (IA)
  • be flexible and willing to support new use cases
  • consider content granularity
  • taxonomy — seek help from others, including industry experts
  • work within the politics of the organisation to gain allies — get a seat at the table
  • get your IA house in order
  • move ahead in increments
  • gain knowledge through research and people — seek out those who’ve already done it
  • start with a small pilot and expand
  • morph again and embrace change
  • create a global content strategy
  • understand where you are and where you need to be
  • know the gaps and narrow them
  • support your company’s global business
  • improve the quality of your source content
  • don;t create another content silo
  • get the global strategy completed first
  • Google Translate is NOT the solution!
  • research tools, infrastructure and whatever else you need
  • mix strategy with technology
  • empower SMEs, contributors and authors
  • make content findable and relatable
  • connect contextually (e.g. classified searches vs free text)
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LavaCon2018: Day 2

October 24, 2018

Day 2 started as per Day 1, with several short (20 minute) plenary sessions.

A journey to intelligent content delivery

The first breakout session I attended was another case study on how a software company transformed their help and documentation offering using Zoomin, in this case Pam Goodwin describing how her small team of 6 authors changed how documentation was viewed for Cherwell, an IT service management company with 450 employees.

Before:

  • focus was on ‘catch up’ documentation
  • dated look
  • poor search capability
  • different help systems and tools used for different rpoducts
  • no consolidated search
  • no access outside the software to other information

Interim (2016):

  • used SuiteHelp
  • based on DITA source
  • improved searching
  • standalone systems for each product release
  • needed separate PDF plug-in and PDF delivery model

After (2018):

  • easy to find
  • cross-product and cross-version support
  • multi language support
  • improved searching
  • on-demand PDF creation by users at point of need
  • responsive design
  • scalable
  • simple delivery model for authors
  • easy maintenance

Why choose Zoomin Docs?

  • met all their requirements
  • powerful search
  • minimal changes to DITA source
  • improved analytics (esp. for searches)
  • on-demand PDFs
  • built-in feedback mechanism
  • past relationship with vendor’s personnel
  • great customer references

How they sold it to decision makers:

  • Timing — new leadership were looking for opportunities to modernise and scale
  • Executive support — Chief Product officer (CPO) saw tech docs as a valuable marketing tool, esp. once he realised that when he was researching a product, he always checked the docs as part of his decision making
  • Strong program management — saw value and helped navigate the approval process
  • Affordable solution — able to take great strides with minimal investment and compressed timeline

Project challenges:

  • lack of UI/UX support at kick-off
  • struggled with taxonomy shift; once made, then kept it simple
  • quickly pushed multi language support and context-sensitive help to phase [not sure what I wrote there!]
  • table formatting issues
  • automation issues
  • user management
  • need a third testing environment

Results:

  • significant increase in users (27%)
  • number of sessions per user down (i.e. ‘hit and run’)
  • 320% increase in number of page views
  • 91% increase in unique page views
  • 37% decrease in bounce rates
  • 17.5% increase in Net Promoter score [what is this?] in past year; great customer comments

Creating interactive intelligent style guides

(George Bina, Oxygen)

20 years since XML standard was first published, and since Oxygen was created.

A style guide is a set of rules to follow when writing content. (e.g. how to style code blocks so the code remains correct, but visually readable). A style guide helps you avoid making mistakes.

A style guide should:

  • evolve and grow over time
  • deal with errors/new issues as you find them

But often there are too many rules.

Solution: Automate. Auto detect when content doesn’t follow a specific rule. (e.g. Schematron will detect variations in patterns in structured docs; Acrolynx).

Schematron can also check text via regular expressions. Works inside the authoring tool (e.g. Oxygen XML Editor) and is integrated within it so you get messages about potential errors while writing.

With Schematron, you select the rule and provide your parameters, plus a message for the writer.

(Note: I left this session halfway through because while automated style guides are something I wanted to know more about, what he was demonstrating was the integration between an XML/DITA editor [which I don’t use] and Schematron — I couldn’t see how I would ever use this.)

End of day plenaries

The last two plenaries of the day were from David Dylan Thomas (The content strategy of civil discourse: Turning conflict into collaboration) and Megan Gilhooly (The power of learning you were wrong). Both were really excellent!

 

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LavaCon2018: Day 1

October 23, 2018

I helped out on the Registration desk this morning. It was a bit of a madhouse, with three of us checking in about 450 people in just on an hour!

By the time I got into the intro and plenary sessions there were no seats left, it was hard to see the screen, and hear the speakers, so I left after Karen McGrane’s keynote.

Some notes from McGrane’s talk:

  • How to create content for any format (including audio only), any device, any screen size, no matter what the ‘next big thing’ is, even for devices not yet created?
  • Still too much reliance on visual styling (as used in books/paper) to create meaning. The web isn’t print — the way people create content has to change.
  • Content ecosystem has to be navigable whatever size device (e.g. watch to stadium screen; digital signage), even if not the primary target device.
  • Need true separation of content from form; presentation-independent content.
  • Content must be readable, browsable, and accessible on any platform/device.

Word and DITA

The first general session I attended was on Microsoft Word and DITA, and featured Doug Corman speaking about the pros and cons of each and how an add-in from SimplyXML could make it easier to general authors to write in a style compatible with DITA (yes, I checked with him afterwards about the add-in’s applicability for editing, and it’s not).

My notes from this session:

DITA positives:

  • XML standard
  • separates content creation and form
  • supports topic-based authoring
  • information typing
  • re-use at many levels
  • open source
  • large global community of practitioners
  • proven for tech pubs
  • flexible (640+ elements)
  • integration with CMSs and modern processes
  • control through a standard architecture

DITA negatives:

  • 640+ elements!
  • transformation costs from Word, XML, PDF
  • XML editors are complicated
  • DITA tools are expensive
  • expertise required for implementation
  • rework/rekeying of DOCX, PDF may be required.

Microsoft Word positives:

  • ubiquitous (at least 1 billion users)
  • does everything
  • has footnote/bibliography capability
  • has review functions such as track changes and comments
  • publishing format flexibility — fonts, templates

Microsoft Word negatives:

  • does everything (flexibility)
  • full DITA functionality is impossible
  • standards, macros can be violated
  • authoring and publishing are tightly integrated

Best of both (ideal world):

  • XML
  • topic-based authoring
  • information typing
  • re-use at many levels
  • open source architecture
  • large global community of practitioners
  • flexible — 640 elements or fewer
  • integration with CMSs and modern processes

SimplyXML has a plug-in for Word (Content Mapper) that uses the Word API and constrains (severely) the use of Word functions to match the DITA schema. Authors still author in Word, but are limited in how they use it. Cost is $300 for a single user; price decreases dramatically when more than 100 users, and even more so when more than 1000 users.

If you focus on the technical side of DITA/XML, you will fail with everyday Word users in an enterprise. need to:

  • take a well-defined systematic approach
  • understand and focus on information consumers
  • make the least number of changes
  • comply with content and markup standards
  • use a phased implementation approach — pilot, then go live in stages
  • need support from C-level leadership (i.e. CEO, CFO, COO, etc.)
  • apply KISS — keep it simple, smart person (i.e. ‘don’t try to  boil the ocean’)

Information consumers want:

  • accurate, actionable content
  • consistent look and feel (branding)
  • just enough and just in time content

Product knowledge triangle

The next general session I attended was after lunch. It was delivered by Hannan Saltzman and Lawrence Orin (from Zoomin software). Lawrence has only just joined Zoomin and worked for a company that implemented their solution, and presented a compelling case study on that.

My notes from this session:

70-85% of site traffic to most tech companies is looking for product content (not just docs!; includes support, forums), with only about 16% to the main website, and about 1% to sales info.

The product knowledge triangle has three parts: product documentation (writer-generated); knowledge base (KB) articles (field-generated), and forums (user-generated).

Product documentation:

  • often PDFs (e.g. admin, user, installation guides)
  • web Help
  • customers must search for this info, often filtering down by product name, version etc. to find the docs and then having to download individual PDFs to find the one with the info they need

KB/support documentation:

  • includes support, tech notes, and KB articles (usually focusing on a specific task)
  • often kept in a KB database, and accessed by case #
  • typical content includes symptom, cause, solution
  • customer needs to search the KB database separately from the product documentation

Forums (can include chat, talk back):

  • has discussion threads
  • disorganised
  • can be hard to search (especially chats)
  • typically has repeated questions, star responders, and a lot of inconsistency
  • customers have to drill down threads to find answers, even if have a search engine

Implications for enterprises regarding this triangle:

  • each place a customer goes is a separate place/dataset with a separate search function and results
  • lots of findability issues

Case study — Aternity:

  • product monitors performance of devices in a company
  • information is displayed in browser
  • monthly software releases (Agile process)
  • audience is IT/product helpdesk
  • had a help site within the site (used DITA for authoring, 2 tech writers)

Before:

  • portal with a login required to access the documentation/help
  • classic doc set (e.g. PDFs) that had to be downloaded before you could see if they contained the relevant info; if not, download and try the next one
  • had to search by product, then version, then publication
  • basically books on the web (with TOCs, indexes), and NOT search oriented
  • needed to shift paradigm to a search with the main aim of ‘findability’ (used Zoomin software)

After:

  • a single search box for everything
  • no login required
  • can quickly jump to topics
  • task topics, not a book metaphor
  • device agnostic
  • filters on side of results page to narrow down search by product etc. (all products, all versions, live filters, intelligent context-sensitive help, synonyms)

When trying to convince management of the solution, had to deal with the ‘docs are an evil necessity’ mindset so came up with a ‘Why write docs’ proposal that had a business and customer focus. Used a restaurant menu metaphor [which I think was a brilliant strategy!]:

  • make the menu (docs) public, but never the recipes (code)
  • make the menu gorgeous and tempting
  • don’t worry about the restaurant down the road (your competitors) seeing your menu posted outside — let them see how good you are, but not how you work

The aims of making the docs public are to sell, upsell, maintain loyalty, promote the thrill of what’s new, and the thrill of being the best (i.e. technical marketing!)

A typical topic page:

  • had a customer focus/relevance
  • focused on customer tasks
  • used customer jargon
  • first paragraph had the who, when, what, and WHY, followed by an example
  • included as many rich visuals as possible
  • had glossary popups (allowed topic to be pared back to basics)
  • had a place for user feedback
  • placed related KB (‘Support’) and forum (‘Community’) topic links into a side bar on the page

The result was a modern help portal that:

  • was easy — inviting, easy to find, open, easy to view
  • had a clear aim — external/potential customers (no login required), to sell and upsell the product, loyalty
  • had a customer focus — tasks, examples, rich graphics
  • was exposed — many more hits, easy to publish, search tracking, tweaked synonyms as a result of search tracking, track feedback
  • had unexpected effects/consequences — customers used the product properly (reduced level 1 support calls; nature of support shifted (questions changed — basic questions almost disappeared, and questions became more sophisticated; tracking allowed benefits to be quantified and raised the profile of the doc team — people stopped thinking of docs as a necessary evil; like support, the nature of training shifted (no more 101 courses needed); prospects/pre-sales were going to the help to find out what the product did; interest in the product increased; other business units wanted to join in.

Before, the web help pages would get 500 to 100 hits per month; after — ~25,000 hits per month. User tracking showed that customers typically spent 4 minutes viewing an article. 45% were ‘hit and run’ users (quick in and out grab of information they needed), while 55% were ‘hit and browse’.

Tracking the top search terms helped them define more synonyms (e.g. ‘db’ for ‘database’), and was used for developing documentation relevant to those search terms. Tracking search errors was also important — as a result they either created more documentation that addressed the missing info, or added synonyms to route users to the correct place. Tracking feedback wasn’t really about where the docs needed work — customers would use it to talk about the product, suggest changes to it, talk about issues they were having with it — the doc team passed these on the support people.

The impact of the ‘modern help’ was immense, in ways unforeseen when they started. The documentation is now the public side of R&D (having it behind a login defeated that purpose). The main takeaways of the project were:

  • know where your customers are looking for answers
  • ensure content is available from all touchpoints
  • prevent info overload by using filters, related articles, glossary popups
  • think content monetisation (how will making content available drive sales, reduce costs)
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LavaCon2018: Workshop day

October 22, 2018

I’m in New Orleans and it’s Sunday, which means it’s workshop day at the LavaCon conference! I attended Melinda Belcher’s Preparing Technical Content for Translation half-day workshop. There were about 15 people in the workshop and several were from other countries, so there were lots of perspectives and good information sharing. Some people were in the early stages of translation projects, others were well into it, and yet others were just trying to get information to tailor their documentation so that it was ready for translation sometime in the future.

Here are my notes from Melinda’s session.

Her focus was on optimising content for translation in terms of:

  • Clarity
  • Structure
  • Format
  • Localisation strategy.

Much of what she had to say was very similar to the principles of the plain language movement.

Clarity

  • Keep sentences brief
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Short words are better than long words
  • Use plain English to make your point
  • Use a single term to identify a single concept
  • Write so your audience can understand you
  • Test your word choice and sentence design

Structure

  • Avoid unnecessary complexity
  • Lighten the cognitive load through strategic delivery of information
  • Use Standard English word order whenever possible
  • Use the active voice rather than the passive
  • Use relative pronouns like ‘that’ and ‘which’
  • Avoid phrasal verbs (containing a verb form with one or more articles)
  • Avoid long noun strings

Format

  • Make sure it fits (e.g. German takes much more space than the English equivalent)
  • Be clear with international dates and measurements etc.
  • Allow extra space for translated words
  • Allow extra time for formatting text in languages that read from right to left
  • Make readers aware of other [language] versions

Localisation strategy

  • Avoid humour
  • Strengthen your organisation’s capacity for translation oversight (not just words – cultural nuances, context, fonts, non-Romanised languages, compound words, dialects, other influences)
  • Establish and implement written guidelines for translation methods and for assessing the qualifications of a translator/agency
  • Consider a transcreation process (not necessarily good for long text, but may work well for marketing material [e.g. taglines, slogans, apps])
  • Other approaches to translation: single one-way translation; multiple one-way translation; reverse translation (i.e. translation back into English)

Early on in the session, she made a comment about text embedded in images – get the words out of the images and put them into callouts, captions etc.

She also mentioned these tools:

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Word: My process for copying content into a new template

October 9, 2018

Someone asked me the other day what my ‘best practice’ was for applying a new template to an existing Word document. Well, the answer is: ‘It depends’. And what it depends on is the complexity of the document.

If it’s a simple document in one section, with basic formatting, few—if any—cross-references, uses the same page layout throughout, has little (or no) document automation, etc., then just applying the new template may well be enough (assuming the style names in both are the same). You may have a few tweaks to do with the formatting (e.g. reapplying styles), but you should be done.

However, for a more complex document, like the ones I work on, it’s not so simple. My docs have cover and front matter pages, lots of document automation, outline numbered headings, potentially hundreds of cross-references, many section breaks for landscape and A3 pages, appendices, tables of contents/tables/figures, headers and footers populated with data from the cover page (we used to have odd/even headers/footers too, and various page numbering formats, but we got rid of those some time ago because they just added a lot of overhead for no real value), etc. It’s really the section breaks that will cause you grief, plus totally different cover pages and headers/footers. As for a simple document, the process will be much smoother if the style names in both docs are the same.

Oh, and before you ask, yes, I’ve tried every which way to simplify the process below, but each one just adds more time overhead to sorting out the document after I’ve pulled it over. The method that causes me the least grief is the one below.

NOTES:

  • Save often!
  • Make sure formatting marks are turned on so you can see the section breaks.
  • DO NOT copy section breaks. There lie dragons!!
  • You may still have some tweaking to do with applying the correct styles. You can either do this as you go (after each paste), or wait until the end and do it all in a separate pass. Alternatively, make a copy of the old doc, apply the new template to it and fix all the styles first, before copying across the content.

How I deal with putting a complex document onto a new corporate template:

  1. Start a new document based on the new template.
  2. If you want to preserve any existing comments or track changes from the old doc, make sure track changes is turned OFF in BOTH docs—the new AND the old.
  3. Manually complete all the cover page (and other front matter) information in the new doc.
  4. DO NOT copy across the old table of contents, list of tables, or list of figures. You’ll update these later (Step 13) with the new headings.
  5. Let’s assume the main body of the doc starts at section ‘1. Introduction’. Go to that heading in the new doc, then press Enter a couple of times to create some space.
  6. Go to the old doc and copy the content AFTER the ‘1. Introduction’ heading UP TO, BUT NOT INCLUDING, the first section break.
  7. Paste that content into the relevant place (the space you just created) in the new doc.
  8. Manually insert a section break start AND end for the next section in the new doc, and add some empty paragraphs between them. Change the page layout for the section as necessary (e.g. landscape orientation).
  9. Go back to the old doc and copy everything INSIDE the section break, but NOT the section break itself.
  10. Paste into the new doc in between the start and end section break marks you created in Step 8.
  11. Repeat steps 8 to 10 for ALL section breaks and their content.
  12. When you’ve finished, delete any headings and text from the original template that are not required.
  13. Go back to the table of contents in the new doc and update it. Repeat for the list of tables and figures too.
  14. If you have cross-references in your doc, switch to Print Preview mode, then back to Page Layout mode.
  15. Do a Find for ‘Error!’ to find any broken cross-references. Fix, based on the cross-reference information in the old doc.
  16. Zoom out to about 30% and do a visual check to make sure your headers/footers for each section are correct for the page layout.

That should be it!