Cherryleaf Technical Authors' Blog
A blog site from Cherryleaf. We write that missing information your users really need.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Tony "Dr DITA" Self's London DITA workshops this March
We've managed to arrange for Tony Self ("Dr DITA"), to break his journey again (this time it's Melbourne to Seattle) and deliver his Beginners and Advanced DITA training workshops in London.
This time, the advanced course will be more advanced and delegates will receive a free copy of a DITA utility that Tony has been developing.
The workshops will be held on Thursday 26th March in London.
During that week, Tony will be also be carrying out DITA consultancy, on-site training and 1-2-1 tuition. If these would be of interest to you, then contact Cherryleaf on 01784 258672.
Why "Dr DITA"? Tony is currently studying for a PhD, on DITA and its impact on academic documentation. He also lectures in technical communication at the University of Swinburne, heads up the DITA Help Standards committee, and runs a technical authoring consultancy.
More details to follow.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
What I learnt from 21 hours of interviews with UK Documentation Managers
After conducting 21 hours of interviews with Documentation Managers and writing a 7,000 word report on the findings, two factors stand out:
1. The importance of usability testing documents.
2. The importance of measurement.
As the saying goes, you can't manage what you can't measure.
UPDATE: The report is now available for purchase via the Cherryleaf online shop: Benchmarking Survey of UK Publications Teams - Special Report
Will Twitter change the way customer service is provided?
The debate about the usefulness of Twitter in User Assistance (aka technical writing) is starting to take off:
"Mind the gap" and guy1067 on Twitter
Uploaded on authorSTREAM by ellispratt
Friday, January 16, 2009
Survey of UK Documentation Teams
We've completed interviewing the managers of UK documentation teams today. We estimate our survey covers 5% of the technical authors in the UK. This means we should have a representative sample size.
The next step is to combine all the questionnaires, analyse the data and write the report.
In our survey, we were particularly interested in discovering:
• Is there likely to be a significant change in the number of authors in the team in 2009?
• Will the split between contract and permanent staff change in 2009?
• Is there a difference between teams single sourcing and those that are not?
• Is there any move to off-shore documentation?
• Are other departments encroaching on Technical Authors’ work?
• How is the documentation team’s performance measured?
• Is there unanimity as to what makes a good document?
• Is the size of the documentation team related to the volume of content produced, the number of programmers/engineers or the size of the company?
• How do authors develop and improve their skills?
• Is there a trend towards customised documentation?
• Is there a trend towards user generated content?
• Is there a move towards DITA?
• Does the adoption of XML based authoring lead to wider use of authoring tools outside of the Publications team?
• How important is documentation to organisations?
• Has there been any adoption of Web 2.0 technologies?
o If there has been a move away from manuals, do technical authors still do the work?
• If there has been a move towards XML,
o Do non-technical authors now get involved in writing content ?
o Do technical authors get source content in XML format (or is it still “cut and paste”)?
It will be interesting to see what answers we find.
We'll be writing a report on our findings, which will be available in our online shop in the near future.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
How valuable is product documentation?
We received this email from a Documentation Manager, yesterday:
"As times are getting tougher, we've been challenged with the age old question of "how valuable is product documentation?" - e.g. prove your worth basically!
Certainly, we know that for a product to be marketable and successful, it needs documentation to support the end user.
However, I am currently trying to gather more information specifically about GUI product online help:
1. How often is it really used? I know every product is different so usage will vary - but in general how do user's feel about it?
2. Do user's require it to be context sensitive - or can an e-support Center with all documentation available for searching suffice?
3. What is the current trend for online help structure? Scenario based instructions, quick snippet videos, etc.
Ideally, I'm trying to gain insight into the ROI for documentation efforts spent. If you have any information from past research on the value of documentation, I'd be really grateful if you could share it.
So how would you respond to this challenge?
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Help files - A question of trust
Last month, Forrester Research released results from a survey on how much consumers trust different sources for information. They didn't include online Help or knowledge bases in the survey, so we don't know how well or badly they would have come out in the survey.
They found independent (non-corporate) information were the most trustworthy sources. Top of the list was information contained in emails sent by people we know. Interestingly, the survey showed that only 16% of consumers trusted corporate blogs and only 33% trusted wikis (such as Wikipedia).
Commenting on this report, Dominic Jones has claimed that, for corporate blogs in particular, "it’s ALL about credibility and trust."
So are Help files credible and trustworthy?
How could online user assistance be made more trustworthy and credible? If the independent sources for information are the most trustworthy, should online assistance contain links to independent, external sources of information?
The research shows that message board posts are trusted by only 21% of consumers, so would user generated content be seen as independent, impartial and trustworthy?
Josh Bernoff of Forrester wrote a post about corporate blogs in which he stated that blogs themselves are not the problem, but rather consumers are being turned off by how companies are using them. I would have thought that would be true for other online tools such as forums, online Help and knowledge basis.
However, I can't help feeling that online user assistance is one of the most credible information sources provided by organisations, and that by integrating it more into company Web sites its trustworthiness could be put to greater and more wider use.
PS Happy New Year!