Presented at DocTrain East 2007 Conference by Alan Houser, Group Wellesley -- Many documentation departments use loosely-defined or ad hoc standards for developing and delivering technical content. In many organizations, writers are judged by the volume of content that they produce. The larger the manual or help system, the more effective the writer. A fatter manual is considered to be a better manual.
In the face of todays increasingly challenging business requirements, including increasing information re-use and decreasing time-to-market, these ad hoc methodologies and old-fashioned standards quickly break down. There is no positive correlation between page or topic count and usability. Higher page or topic counts mean higher maintenance, translation, and production costs. Furthermore, information developed without a formal information architecture is difficult to manage, difficult to publish, and difficult to re-use.
To meet today’s business requirements, many organizations are adopting formal information architectures. A formal information architecture can bring many benefits, including increased writer efficiency, increased documentation usability, increased information re-use, and decreased cost of production. The most successful of these architectures embody the following concepts:
* they are based on a tested communication strategy (in the case of DITA, the minimalist documentation strategy)
* they include a formal analysis of the product or service being documented (e.g., a task analysis)
* they define multiple information types
* they define a way to define collections of those information types
What does an information architecture lookӔ like? How does using an information architecture differ from ad hoc information development strategies? We will see how one popular information architecture (DITA) defines both topics and topic collections.
We will also discuss effective strategies for adopting a formal information architecture, and for migrating legacy content to a formal information architecture. Although examples will be based on DITA, concepts will apply to any information architecture or structured authoring environment.