Upcoming presentations in 2018

Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt will be speaking at two upcoming events:

London Content Strategy Meetup, 7pm 22 February 2018

What’s the deal about structured content?

Content can often seem like jelly – messy and hard to manage. In this presentation, we’ll look at whether you can reduce this messiness through structured writing. In this overview of the topic, we’ll explore what is structured writing, what it promises to give its adopters, the different standards, and the challenges that come with using structured writing.

Venue: SYZYGY London, 84 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8RW

London Content Strategy Meetup

MadWorld Europe 2018 conference, 11-13 September

Documentation as Self-service Support

In this session, Ellis Pratt will look at the different approaches to self-service support, and the role of the technical communicator within that environment. He’ll explore questions such as where end-user documentation fits in in self-service support, and the realities of expecting users to write content. And finally, Ellis will discuss whether software-as-a-service changes the type of support and organization needs to provide.

Authoring in an Agile World

Agile development has been growing rapidly in the software industry and other industries. While the agile development model may make sense from a product development perspective, the methodology doesn’t explain the best way to create Help content for users. In this presentation, we’ll look at how authoring teams have responded to this challenge and developed agile approaches to technical writing.

Venue: Boscolo Prague Hotel, Prague, Czechia / Czech Republic.

MadWorld Europe 2018

Example project – API documentation portal using MadCap Flare

Note: This post follows on from two previous posts on creating a unified API documentation portal:

We’ve just uploaded an example project of an API documentation portal created using MadCap Flare:

The documentation portal includes API reference documentation that was generated automatically from a Swagger/OpenAPI specification file.

Whenever the REST API specification is updated, that content automatically updates itself in the Flare project.

Using MadCap Flare means you can provide a consistent user experience: for the reference, troubleshooting, getting started and tutorial content. Flare also manage the content, search, linking, pdfs, tables, flowcharts etc.

The steps are:

  1. Generate the API reference documentation in HTML format from the OpenAPI specification file. This could be generated automatically each day.
  2. Import the API reference HTML file into Flare. Select Link Generated Files to Source Files. This creates a connection between the original HTML files and the files that are created as a result of the import. Flare recognises when changes have been made to the source documents.
  3. Fix any initial CSS issues. The API reference HTML file links to a cascading stylesheet file. We found we needed to create a CSS file with the same name, as there were some issues with displaying the top navigation menu bar.
  4. Generate and publish your web site. You can run Flare’s “Build” command from the operating system’s command line. This means you can create a batch file with the necessary commands in it. Then you can use a scheduling tool to run the batch file automatically.

Further work could be done to improve the outputs:

  • We’ve not made any changes to the default styles for the PDF manual.
  • Amending the cascading stylesheet for the Stripe-style API documentation
  • Adding code samples.

See also: Cherryleaf’s API documentation writing services

Using MadCap Flare 2017 for company procedures – Quick review

We’ve been setting our staff the challenge of using some of the popular Help Authoring tools to create online company documents.

We asked them to make some notes on the applications they used. Here are some of the notes relating to MadCap Flare 2017:

“You soon become aware it’s a really powerful tool. Is this actually a CMS?

It’s a breeze to import content. The authoring environment is nice and easy to use. It’s easy to jump into the HTML if you want to. Easy to make global changes. 🙂 You can carry on working in Flare while it’s building the output files.

It complex, though. To make a change to the look and feel, I’d ask myself do I change the skin, the master page, or the stylesheet? When you know where the setting is, you can make lots of tweaks and changes.

The web pages it creates seem to load really quickly. The only downside of publishing is it creates a lot of subfolders. I had to manually create the folders on the website. That took a while to do.”

SharePoint for documentation projects

Most of the Technical Authors I have met don’t have a good thing to say about Microsoft SharePoint. In many ways, it represents how not to publish content online. It is seen as encouraging people to move print-optimised documents (Blobs) around, rather than units of content (Chunks), and users are typically left to rely on search to find which document contains the information they are looking for.

For all those issues, SharePoint may still have its place – for managing documentation projects.

Continue reading “SharePoint for documentation projects”