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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Delegate review of Cherryleaf’s DITA elearning course

Craig Wright emailed us to let us know he has posted a review of our DITA elearning course (see Review – Cherryleaf DITA e-Learning Course).

His conclusion was:

The Cherryleaf DITA course ticked a lot of the boxes for me:good content, good value, and available without having to travel to the South East. The introduction to the key DITA areas was presented very well – I have read similar information in books and online, but I was able to absorb it much better through the e-learning course.

Thank you Craig!

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

The roofer who makes £400/day because he read the Velux installation guide

Mark the Roofer came round to replace a broken tile on our roof late last week, and he told us that the Velux windows we’d had installed were fitted incorrectly. Apparently, up until two years ago, Velux windows needed to be fitted to the rafters, but now they should be installed onto a batten.

The consequence of fitting the newer style windows using the old method is they aren’t set high enough on the roof. The result is rainwater doesn’t drain freely, and is only held back by the surrounding felt. As the felt degrades over time (he said it’s usually two to three years), water starts to drip through into the room below.

The Velux installation guides and videos are actually very clear and well written, so it seems the reason why some builders seem to be installing the windows incorrectly is because they haven’t read the instructions in the last two years.

This roofer has read them, and makes a habit of checking any Velux windows he sees on the roofs he’s working on. It means he is able follow up many of his small £20 tile replacement jobs with larger £400 Velux re-installation projects. Sometimes, reading the manual pays.

Estimating production times for screencasts and elearning

Screencasts and video based learning content are growing in popularity, and we’re seeing a rise in the number of enquiries for this type of content.

Estimating the time required to develop this type of content can vary quite considerably. The easiest way to estimate the time required is to use metrics based on the duration of the screencast or video.

A simple walkthrough of a task or applications screen can take between 10:1 (ten minutes to produce  one minute of a screencast) and 100:1. The most generally quoted figure we’ve seen is 30:1.

If you want to add audio to your screencast, this is likely to be closer to 200:1. That’s because you’ll probably need to write a script, record the audio, adjust the audio quality, add the audio to the animation, and so on.

If you want to include video of a presenter, this will make the presentation look more professional, but it will mean you’ll need to allocate more time to development and production. In this case, you’ll be looking at a ratio closer to 300:1.You can reduce the time by using avatars (images of a presenter) instead of a real presenter. Adobe Captivate comes bundled with sets of avatars to help you do this.

Another factor is the level of professionalism you want to achieve. It can take time and effort to produce high quality audio and video. Lighting, in particular, can be a challenge. Adding quizzes and exercises will also have a significant impact on the time required. Creating your own music bed (a musical background to the narration) will also increase the time required. In the past, we’ve purchased audio background music files under licence, as it saved time.

What’s your experience? How long does it take you to create this type of content. Please share your thoughts below.

We’ve launched our online DITA self-study elearning course today

We’ve launched our online DITA self-study elearning course on the Cherryleaf website today.

This online training course teaches the basic skills, and provides an induction, in how to create content using the DITA XML standard. The learning modules in this course contain videos of the trainer with supporting slides and images.

Here’s a sample from the first module in the course:

This video is shown in a smaller size than you’ll see in the course. To maximise the video, click on the fullscreen icon (which looks like a computer screen) on the video player’s task bar.

Our plan is to offer online courses covering the fundamentals of different technical communication subjects, and classroom courses covering the more advanced aspects.

For details on the DITA course, see :

Cherryleaf’s online DITA self-study elearning course