Writing Reusable Content
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Writing Reusable Content

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Presented at DocTrain East 2007 Conference by Pamela Kostur, Parallax Communications -- Are you the type of technical communicator who likes to "start from scratch"? Do you hesitate to reuse content ...

Presented at DocTrain East 2007 Conference by Pamela Kostur, Parallax Communications -- Are you the type of technical communicator who likes to "start from scratch"? Do you hesitate to reuse content that others create because it could never be as good as what you could write yourself? Do you prefer to hoard your perfectly-crafted content to protect your creative genius? If you answered yes to any of these questions, attend this workshop to learn why writing reusable content and why reusing content that others createחare important to your career. You'll see that writing reusable content is more fun and more creative than you might think!

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Writing Reusable Content Writing Reusable Content Presentation Transcript

  • Writing Reusable Content Pamela Kostur Partner Parallax Communications
  • Introduction Let’s think about reusable content Should we reuse content? Why? Why not? How? What makes content reusable? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Is this reusable content? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • What about this? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Is this repetition necessary? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Which description is accurate? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • So, why reuse content? Writing for reuse is efficient Reused content is consistent; no discrepancies Reused content is based on standards, which can improve usability Reusable content is written in modules that help users to navigate Reuse provides continuity © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Issues with content reuse In theory, it’s great Not always easy to do Authoring is different; topic-based Need to be able to find reusable content Planning and standards are critical Planning takes time © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Planning for reuse Reuse doesn’t just happen—you need to plan for it First, analyze content to determine where it can be reused Then, determine structure to allow reuse © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Example You work in a wireless communications company and produce documentation for several audiences There is significant overlap and you want to reuse content © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Example, continued Your reuse plan might look like this: © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Structure & content reuse How content is structured affects its reuse If you are reusing a product description, it must be structured to support reuse Reuse must be transparent to both users and to authors Consistent structure is key © Parallax Communications 2007
  • On consistency in online applications “For every knob, button and widget on your computer screen, there’s a complex set of behaviours that we’ve become so accustomed to that we barely even notice them. It’s only when that consistency is gone, and we find ourselves clicking angrily at a scroll bar that’s not behaving like we expect it to, that we realize something’s amiss.” Ivor Tossell, “Think you know how to use a simple scroll bar? Think again.” The Globe and Mail, Friday, Oct. 12, 2007 © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Similar content, different structure © Parallax Communications 2007
  • What’s similar here? © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Writing modular content Modular writing allows you to reuse content more easily Modules are based on a standard for the type of content they contain Modules can be updated easily Modules can be arranged to accommodate differences © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Defining modules Defining modules is like creating a spec for all writers to follow You specify what pieces of content an info product contains and in what order © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Sample structure At a very basic level, it looks like this: © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Indicating reuse Usage information shows other places a component is used: © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Describing modules When you know the structure, you can describe the content that goes into it © Parallax Communications 2007
  • How does structure help to write reusable content? It tells you what an info product contains It tells you where components are used It tells you how to write the components so they are consistent (both in structure and content) It increases usability © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Structure and usability Unstructured content is: Difficult for readers to follow Difficult for writers to create Difficult to reuse Structure helps you to: Create modular pieces of content you can easily reuse (with or without CM) Create consistent content Think about usability when determining structure © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Writing to a structure Think of your structure as an outline The structure defines what you need to include But, you still have to put content into it © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Creating writing guidelines You need writing guidelines to support your structure Writing guidelines provide further assistance to writers Tells them specifically how to write a piece of content Writing guidelines help to make content reusable © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Structure with description © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Structure with added guidelines © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Content reuse and usability Reusing content alone doesn’t ensure usability Reusing unusable content makes it consistently unusable Need to determine what is usable and base standards on that © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Apply principles of clear communication Chunking Labelling Relevance Accessible detail Integrated graphics Consistency © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Common understanding Having a common understanding of the standards is critical All writers need to understand such things as: What constitutes a chunk How are procedures structured What terminology is appropriate © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Accommodating differences through chunking Reusable content can still accommodate differences Usage indicates what is mandatory and what is optional Components can contain as much or as little as required and can be broken into subsections © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Examples Eligibility: Eligibility Eligible businesses Ineligible businesses Application process Application process: Filling out the form Submitting it Getting help What happens next © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Accommodating differences through metadata Components within reusable content can be tagged with metadata to indicate where they belong Which information product Which product Which user © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Summary Effective reuse doesn’t just happen Reusable content is modular so it can be easily accessed, assembled, updated Reusable content provides continuity Modules must be consistent © Parallax Communications 2007
  • Summary, continued Reusable content is based on standards that all writers follow Standards are useful only if everyone follows them Reusable content must be usable content Reusable content and structures can accommodate differences © Parallax Communications 2007
  • For more information Contact us at Parallax Communications: Pamela Kostur pkostur@parallax.ca 416.850.0636 Download slides and handouts at www.parallax.ca © Parallax Communications 2007