Will “Context is King” apply to user assistance?

Ashkan Karbasfrooshan has written an article called “Context is King: How Videos Are Found And Consumed Online“, in which he argues:

Times have changed. In fact, less and less often do consumers even seek out content by actually going to a given site.

To paraphrase Jeff Jarvis, if something is important, it will find me, be it via newsletter, Facebook, Twitter or a shared link in an email…

The context – Facebook, Twitter, email – in which people are introduced to media and consume it is becoming more important than the content itself. Content is no longer king, context is…

This is why you need both lots of content and a diversity of it.

Karbasfrooshan is talking about videos, but will the same be said about user assistance?

Today, we assume users will seek out Help and other forms of technical documentation, but will that change? Will technical communicators need to disseminate their content via an increasing number of  channels?

The business case for DITA

This is an edited version of a transatlantic interview we carried out with Sarah O’Keefe, CEO of our US partner Scriptorium Inc., on DITA. We discussed a range of topics relating to DITA, but these clips focus on the business case for DITA – why and when it makes sense to move to this standard for producing documentation.



If you need assistance in assessing the value of DITA to your business or in implementing DITA, then Cherryleaf (in Europe) and Scriptorium (in the USA) can help you.

How checklists can save your life

Dr Atul Gawande is currently in London, touring the radio stations to promote his book “The Checklist Manifesto“. Dr Gawande is a surgeon in Boston Mass., who has been looking at how to deal with complexity in surgery and elsewhere.

He has discovered that complex systems work, mostly through people using checklists. Furthermore, no matter how expert you were, well-designed checklists could improve outcomes. So, with some assistance from Boeing, he developed a 90 second checklist (download it here)  that reduced surgical deaths and complications in eight hospitals around the world by more than 30%.

In the book, he shows how low-cost checklists actually work, why some make matters worse and why others make matters better. 

According to The Guardian, Dr Gawande argues that the right kind of checklist liberates rather than stifles professional intuition. A ­concise sumary of what might go wrong, and what to do if it does, galvanises groups of professionals into tighter teams. Indeed, one of the key factors, included in the checklist, was to introduce everyone in surgical team to each other: it leads to people having the confidence to speak up.

Michael Scriven, at Western Michigan University, author of a paper called The Logic and Methodology of Checklists commented,

Checklists have long been regarded as beneath the level of serious consideration by methodologists and others interested in the logic of the disciplines. But they are more sophisticated than they appear–and are perhaps the key methodology of those disciplines that really treat theory and practice as equals, e.g., surgery, engineering, neural and public economics, program and product evaluation.

For more on checklists, see:

Guidelines for Checklist Development and Assessment by Daniel Stufflebeam

The Ten Commandments, Constitutional Amendments, and Other Evaluation Checklists by Daniel Stufflebeam

Useability Evaluation Report for the Evaluation Checklist Project Web Site by Barbara Bichelmeyer

The Evaluation Checklist Project: The Inside Scoop on Content, Process, Policies, Impact, and Challenges by Lori Wingate

The “Beyond Documentation” Webinar videos

Scriptorium Inc has uploaded the “Beyond Documentation” Webinar Ellis delivered back in August 2009. In this session he looked at the future of technical writing and likely changes to the ways in which user assistance is delivered.

We asked:

  • Are we moving beyond documents?
  • If so, what does this mean for technical communicators?

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

You can see more videos on Cherryleaf’s YouTube channel.


UK Govt says “RTFM” to new fathers

Yet another sign that quick reference cards are back in fashion:

Plans to be set out in the Families Green Paper will propose better advice and information for couples and address the balance between work and childcare by considering ways to make public services more “family friendly”.

Under the Green Paper, new fathers will be given a manual to help them adjust to the role.

The “dads’ guide”, put together by the Fatherhood Institute, will include an explanation of breast­feeding and tips on how to support their partner.  (Source: BBC News)

The ‘Dads’ Guide To…’ cards are A6 sized quick reference cards printed on both sides with important messages for dads and male carers about their child’s development and how they can get more involved in their child’s life and learning.  

Sadly, one question asked by many new fathers remains still unanswered: where do you take the baby’s batteries out?