Assessing the potential savings from single sourcing

One of the main benefits from single sourcing is the ability to reuse existing content. Different departments can avoid duplicating work, which means they can save time and money.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to quantify these savings before you move to an authoring or content management system that enables you to single source. Analysing all the existing documents in a business can be overwhelming, which means often organisations only quantify the savings after the single sourcing content management system has been implemented.

There are a few software applications that can help you analyse your existing content and determine how much duplication exists. You get a sense of how much time and effort was wasted in the past, which is a pretty good indication of how much waste you’d avoid in the future.

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Better content through analytics

At this week’s London Agile Content Meetup, Lana Gibson of the Government Digital Service (GDS) outlined how they use Google Analytics extensively to check and improve the user journey on the GOV.UK website. She said GDS treats this analytical data as the voice of their users – with GDS needing to interpret it and provide what we, as UK citizens, need.

Lana said they need to see what content is getting the most traffic, so that they can ensure that the most popular content is of top quality, and is prioritised within the site.

One of the key actions analytics have enabled them to do is improve the connections between different but related needs that were already on GOV.UK. She showed the example of the page views to the “Make a SORN” page. The number of views increased by 70,000 in a month due to them simply adding a link to this page from the car tax related links section. Previously, SORN information wasn’t mentioned on the car tax page.

She also said they treat searches on the GOV.UK website itself as an indication that users haven’t found what they’re looking for first time. As an example, she said by looking at search terms she discovered lots of people were searching for information about taking rest breaks at work, and that they’d omitted that from the page about an employee’s contract and working hours.

Another example she gave was they’d found, on many of the pages about passports, people were searching for “second passport”. This was by people wanting to apply for a second passport. GDS has identified this as a topic that should be added to the site.

Lana said they also optimise the pages based on the language their audience is using. They found having the most important keywords in the title or first sentence helped people find information quickly. GDS uses analytics, Google Trends and Google AdWords to help them understand what terminology people use. For example, she said they found out their page on annual leave needed a better title: users were actually searching for “holiday entitlement”.

Finally, she said they also use the data to determine what to leave out. If a department wants to add new content to the site, they can use analytics to help assess if there’s actually a need for this content.

Lana’s presentation has been summarised in two excellent blog posts on the GDS website. They are well worth reading:

Different world views of content and content strategy

TshirtThere’s a wonderful German word, die Weltanschauung, which roughly translates as a view of the world. It suggests there is a framework of ideas and beliefs behind people’s descriptions of various things in the world. I was reminded of Weltanschauung at this week’s London Agile Content Meetup, where Rahel Bailie neatly summed up some of the different views of content, content strategy and single sourcing.

Baked v Fried content

Paul hollywood

CMS Wiki described baked content as “pages that have been generated by a Content Management System, but then moved to a static delivery server, which can serve them at high speed and high volume”. The word “baked” is used, because this approach means you cannot separate the content from the format afterwards. They are baked together.

“Fried” content is where the Web pages are built “on the fly” when they are requested by the end user. Rahel used the example of frying eggs: if you put too many eggs into the frying pan, you can always remove one. Fried content may take a little longer to generate than baked content, but this approach enables you to personalise and filter the content. It also means you can present the information in different ways, depending on which device a person is using.

COPE through technology v COPE through authoring

COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) is another way of describing single sourcing content.

“COPE through technology” is the view that the content is essentially data that can be managed through software. If you need to create a personalised or filtered view of the content, you get a developer to create that version. If you need to create a mobile-ready version of your site, again you get a developer to do this. Content is often created by completing forms, in order to create structured information.

“COPE through authoring” is  the view that the writers can do all of the fine-grain manipulation of content. If you need to create a personalised or filtered view of the content, you get the Technical Author to mark up sections for those different conditions in the content itself. To quote Rahel, “You can then run a transformation script run, which compiles the content into its final form, and uploads the content to the Web CMS, or other publishing platform, for consumption and presentation.” The advantage of this approach is it stops you from being tied to a technology or application. The disadvantage is it relies on your writers being able to mark up and structure the text correctly.

It’s important to be aware of these distinctions when you talk about content, content strategy and single sourcing, because your Weltanschauung may not be shared by the person you’re talking to.

See also: Introduction to Content Strategy Training – Classroom and Online Courses

The best Documentation Manager vacancy we think we’ve ever had on our books

We’ve been asked to a find candidates for a fabulous permanent vacancy at one of our clients.

You need to lead and develop their vision of the role of User Assistance and content. This means treating content as a function of design (and user experience), with the appropriate information provided to users at all points during the customer journey. Your role will be discover and incorporate the best ideas and practices from other leaders in content creation into your team.

In effect, this means they are looking for someone who is currently:

  • a content strategy manager (media manager/editor) with experience of developing user assistance for software, or
  • a documentation/technical publications manager with experience of content strategy.

You can work in Buckinghamshire or in Cambridge, and you can work part of the week from home if you wish.

For more details, see:

#4144 Documentation Manager/Content Strategy Manager, Bucks/Cambs,£55K-£70K DOE

Book review: Every Page is Page One

Every Page is Page One book coverThere’s a joke in education along the lines that students are taught the notes their teachers wrote down at university 20 years earlier…without going through the heads of either.

I mention this because there have been a number of technical communicators who have started to question the technical writing best practices that have been taught to student Technical Authors for the past 30+ years. At Cherryleaf, we show on our advanced technical writing techniques course how some of the largest websites have been breaking the generally accepted rules for writing User Assistance – companies that test and test again to see what works best for their users. Ray Gallon of CultureCom has been developing his cognitive approach to User Assistance, and Mark Baker has been developing and promoting the idea of “Every Page is Page One” (EPPO) Help topics.

Mark has published his ideas in a new book called “Every Page is Page One“. I was asked to review an early draft of the book, and, over Christmas, I was sent a copy of the published version.

In a nutshell, Mark’s argument is that, with Web-based content, you don’t know the context in which people are reading a Help page. You cannot assume that they have read any other pages prior to reading this topic. Therefore, you need to treat every page as Page One, the starting point, and include more introductory, contextual information in your topics. He argues that most Technical Authors have misunderstood minimalism, and the EPPO approach is actually more consistent with how John Carroll (the creator of minimalism) recommended User Assistance should be written.

The book provides recommendations on the level of detail you should include on a page before you need to create a new topic, and when and where to create links to other pages. He also compares EPPO to Information Mapping and DITA, and outlines how EPPO can complement these standards.

Reading the early PDF draft with a reviewer’s eye was struggle at times, but reading the final version in printed book format was an easy and enjoyable exercise. Perhaps reading some sections for a second time helped, as well.

We agree with a great deal of Mark’s ideas. We agree with the general idea of self-contained topics that provide the context for a task. We agree with the need for mini-Tables of Contents and a bottom-up approach to writing. We agree that tasks should include some contextual information. We agree online content can be atomised too much. We also liked his analysis of why screencasts are so popular, and the secrets to their success.

We have a few minor issues. Mark cautions against duplicating content on more than one Web page, because it’s bad for Search Engine Optimisation. We believe you should write efficiently in a way that’s best for the user, and that it’s up to the Search Engines to improve their algorithms so they can differentiate between “good” duplication and “bad” duplication. Google should be adapting and learning from the way good content is written, not us having to create sub-optimal content in order to satisfy Google.

It’s a book for people involved today in writing online User Assistance. Although the book is very clear and well structured, you probably need to have some experience of creating User Assistance to fully understand everything that’s covered in the book. It’s an important contribution to the discussion over whether technical communicators have focused too much on production efficiencies to the detriment of creating content that’s actually of value to their users. It’s worth getting a copy of this book.

New training courses are on their way

We’ve been busy bees recently, working on some new elearning courses that we plan to be introducing soon. Shortly, we’ll be offering an online course on DITA Fundamentals, and another on Content Strategy. Both courses have been written and are at the User Acceptance and Testing stage. Of these two, you’re likely to see the DITA course released first.

There are two more online courses in the pipeline, which we hope to release at some point in 2014. One relates to policies and procedures, the other to elearning/screencasting.

Our intention is to offer basic courses online, and  advanced courses in traditional classroom format. Where there’s demand, we’ll also use Google Hangouts to deliver the advanced courses to overseas delegates.

A free illustrated guide to content strategy

One of the kind things people were saying to us at the tekom conference last week was they enjoyed reading our free illustrated guide to DITA. Indeed, we’ve been bowled over by the response to this mini graphic novel and the number of people who have downloaded it.

Download our free illustrated guide to content strategyThis prompted us to complete a second illustrated guide we had “in the works” – on content strategy.

Again, this guide takes the form of a graphic novel:

It’s free, 14 pages long, and it’s published under a creative commons licence. MOBI and EPUB versions will be available shortly.

Let us know what you think of it.

See also:

Critical risk factors in content strategy

Via Twitter, we came across a blog post by Nick Milton on The four management territories for Knowledge Management. His post contained a diagram where he used the Boston Square to describe four management territories, and their impact on Knowledge Management.

We wondered how this diagram would look if it related to content strategy. We came up with a diagram that describes the critical risk factors in content strategy – the aspects you will need to ensure you get right within the management culture that exists inside your organisation:

criticalriskfactors

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