This is a big part of my job right now, and this is an excellent way to clarify the difference between what a thesaurus is and taxonomy is. Taxonomy really is about the organization of the content so that the hierarchy makes sense.
Another analogy that I’ve used–which I got long ago from Val Swisher of Content Rules is how one can organize a closet. You can put the pants together, the shirts together, and the jackets together, but you could put all the red clothing together, all the blue clothing together, etc. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense and others can follow the flow.
Except with me these days, it’s more about pharmaceutical departments and procedures. Still, even with those topics, we need to scale it back all the way to what are the objectives of the website we’re building, and how do we structure the website so that users can find what they need quickly and easily. Start with the foundational basics, and build from there.
I highly recommended this article if taxonomy isn’t your strength. It shows that it’s not as hard as it seems.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned! I am a failure in technical communications.”
OK, perhaps in many eyes, I haven’t been a failure in technical communications. It will be five years this spring since I graduated with my Masters degree in Professional and Technical Communication from NJIT. In many ways, that feels like it was just yesterday, and I’m still a “new graduate”. But with the change this year in my STC Membership that’s moved from “Student” to “New Professional” to “Classic”, I supposed I’m not anymore.
While graduate school gave me a good foundation to move forward, I learned very quickly that I needed to continue to educate myself. As I attended conferences and presentations, and paid attention to discussions in social media, I found out that graduate school lessons barely cut the surface. I’ve tried my best to continue my studies by attending as many webinars, conferences, and presentations that I can. I even took another university graduate certificate course on digital marketing, hoping to get some insight that might help me going forward.
However, in the end, I failed to do one thing that might actually boost what I’m doing as a fledgling content strategist, and thus, my confession: I needed to learn DITA.
For those of you who don’t know what DITA is, it’s the acronym for Darwin Information Typing Architecture, and it’s a commonly used method for creating structured authoring using XML coding. The idea is that documentation done using DITA methods will allow for single-sourcing for content elements, and equally make it easier to integrate that content into print or digital outputs in a super-organized, modular way. It’s a standard that helps because it’s generic to almost any system out there. Any system that can read XML can read a DITA document, for the most part. When moving from one system to another, the content can stay intact if done using DITA/XML methods.
I don’t remember learning much about DITA in grad school, other than understanding what it was in general as I explained it above. I never learned the details. In my work life so far, I haven’t needed it. It’s always been unstructured authoring. I try to take some small steps to create some single-sourcing content when possible in content management systems, but that was hard to do sometimes. One of my recent jobs made me realize that we needed some sort of structured authoring done, but I didn’t know how to go about it. We created our own coding tags to describe things going on in copy decks. It wasn’t the best, but it was better than nothing.
In the past year, I’ve tried to figure out ways to continue to improve my skills, and make myself more marketable as a content strategist/content manager. I talked to the leading experts in the field. (It’s one of the benefits of getting involved with the STC and attending STC events–you get to know these people personally.) And the one thing that seemed to come back to me again and again was that I had a good resume, and I have some great skills under my belt, and they knew that I was a good writer from this blog. The biggest sore spot in my skill set was that I lacked an important skill–knowing DITA and using it. And while I looked for jobs in my area that included DITA practices (I think I’ve only seen one listing in three years), I’ve been assured that if I could learn DITA, the remote/telecommuting possibilities could be much better for me. And since remote opportunities are my best bet right now, I have to do what I need to do to make that happen.
So, as the saying goes, I bit the bullet. Fortunately, the STC was promoting a course about DITA Essentials taught by Bernard Aschwanden, the Immediate Past-President of the STC, and the proprietor of Publishing Smarter. Bernard’s a great instructor, and he’s taking it nice and slow. One of the best parts of the course is hands-on experience, even if it’s in the simplest ways. That’s the way I tend to learn best–learn the logistics of how something is done, then I need to learn to do the work through trial and error. Last week’s assignment was particularly challenging for me. While I understood what I had to do conceptually, since I was also trying to familiarize myself with a few XML editors at the same time while applying what I wanted to do with my assignment, I got very frustrated. I sent in my assignment, along with notes about where I was getting frustrated and needing some guidance. Bernard assured me that all would be well, and asked me if he could use what I had turned in for my assignment for the most recent class. He also warned me to have a glass of wine ready while taking class, because I’d be needing it. Yikes!
The glass of wine was done by the end of the class, and yes, he ripped my assignment apart, but it was okay in the end. I knew there were problems with it, and he showed me where my original thought process was correct, but I didn’t know how to execute it properly. One of the mistakes I was making was my use of XML tags, particularly using the correct ones. While the XML editing apps all have guidance features to help you with using correct tags in certain situations, I still wasn’t using the best choices. Most of that was because I’m not familiar with what these XML tags mean, so I was using them at face value. For example, I was using a step example tag in part of my content, and Bernard understood why I used it, but felt that the way I used it was incorrect, and didn’t allow for cleaner coding. Okay, I can deal with that, especially when he demonstrated the correction.
So, as much as I’m struggling with DITA, I do understand the essential concepts behind it now. My biggest problem is learning how to use it beyond the most elementary tasks. I haven’t had any “real world” scenarios to date when I could implement and learn how to use the XML editors and use DITA practices in writing or rewriting content. I need to figure out how to find content and start having a way to truly play with something so that I can get the full experience of that trial and error to master DITA.
After the STC course that Bernard is teaching, I plan to follow-up with Scriptorium’s DITA tutorials as well, and see if I can learn some more about XML coding. I have a lot to do to figure this out, but I know that in the end, this will be a big skill that will make a lot of difference in how I approach content. The content strategist skills I already have acquired have helped me frame DITA much more easily than if I learned this with no prior knowledge. But, I can tell that I still have a long way to go before I feel that I’ve mastered this.
So, this ends my confession. I have needed to learn DITA. If it’s not taught in university classes in technical writing, it should be. I think it would have saved me a lot of frustration, and provided more opportunities for me sooner. If I can get a better handle on this, I’m hoping that I can start exploring how XML Editors can integrate with CMSs, like Adobe CQ. I’m not an Adobe AEM developer (I’m not a developer at all!), but I know how to create websites and pages with AEM, and hopefully I can start figuring out how to integrate those skills with DITA skills. I was told by one mentor, that would make me a very desirable job candidate, and I think she’s onto something. Of course, I need to brush up on my AEM skills, since it’s been a couple of years since I’ve used them regularly, but with all things, once you master them, it’s like riding a bicycle. You might be a little unstable at first, but you never quite forget how to do it once you get started back into it again.
Here’s hoping that in 2017, DITA will become a “bicycle” skill for me. I’ll go say a few rounds of the Rosary in the meantime for my penance.
(What do you think? How important is DITA in technical writing? I’ve heard some say it’s a passing trend, and others say that its usage continues to grow. Include your comments below.)
Oh, when I read this, I knew this would appeal to the history geek in me, while also satisfying the tech comm geek in me as well. When the click bait of this article says, “What do Alexander Hamilton, Harry Potter, and Bayesian Statistics Have in Common?”, you know I went for the bait. And knowing that Alexander Hamilton’s reputation is becoming more relevant thanks to the Broadway musical, “Hamilton”, I thought this would be relevant to share.
Not only did I come away with a cool story about The Federalist Papers and statistics, but the thing that kept coming back to me was how tech comm has become advanced enough that we use many of the same techniques in content strategy now. To be more specific, Mark Lewis and his talks and book about XML metrics instantly popped into my head, and how we use similar statistics to figure out how to economize our content, and provide the best ROI for the content that is created.
Read this article, then go back and read my articles about Mark’s talks about XML Metrics here and here. You’ll see where I was making a connection.
What do you think about this? Do you think that The Federalist Papers project laid the groundwork for XML metrics and other metrics we use today in tech comm? Why or why not? Include your comments below.
You might have heard by now that there have been some updates to the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (TCS) that were released today! Both Framemaker and Robohelp have been updated significantly, while the other programs (Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter), have had some ongoing updates as well.
Adobe held two virtual press conferences in early May 2015 to let insiders learn about these latest and greatest releases for updating Framemaker and Robohelp. I’ll start with Framemaker in this post, and post about Robohelp in a post coming soon.
The biggest take-away that I took from the Framemaker press conference was that Adobe has worked to make the application more user-friendly so little or no coding is needed, even though access to code is still available, and that efforts are continuing to push forward to make more global and mobile outputs available.
The latest version of Framemaker will be titled Framemaker (FM) 2015. The reason for this is that way, all the versions within TCS will be in synch based on the year that the version was released. So, Robohelp (RH) and the other applications will also be known by the 2015 label for this release. It makes sense, and easier to track than version 10, 11, etc. for different products.
The presentation was given by Kapil Verma, who is the Group Marketing and Product Manager for the Adobe Tech Comm line of products.
Kapil reminded us that in the last four years, there have been a lot of advances in FM, including DITA support, multichannel publishing, mobile publishing, CMS connector API, multiview XML authoring, AEM connector, native multi-channel device publishing, FM XML author, MathML, Enhanced collaboration w/mobile and cloud based tech, and other productivity boosters. So, while a lot of upgrades and enhancements have happened in that short amount of time, further enhancements found in this update are sure to make technical writers rather happy.
What’s new in FM 2015? There are six main points that were given, and while Kapil did a “deep-dive” into each of these highlights, I’m going to be giving you the highlights of those points.
Framemaker 2015 will allow you to work faster and smarter with several core feature enhancements.
Working with tables is much easier and faster now. You can conditionalize columns and rows (formerly only on rows) now, and there are usability improvements to allow arrow keys to navigate cells, tab to insert rows, and drag-drop rows and columns. There are several new table styles available out of the box. When demonstrated it, looked REALLY easy, very clear, and highly flexible.
FM writers can now more easily work with conditional text–including applying it at the book level–due to visual indications of conditions applied on tables and graphic objects. Again, when Kapil demonstrated it, it was very clear where color coding was applied so the writer could more clearly see the associations of what conditional text applied in different areas, making it much easier to make appropriate changes and see the changes.
You can now generated a “mini” Table of Contents (TOC) in the middle of a document, simply by placing the TOC where you want, then easily modifying it and styling it the way you want!
Enhanced Word import provides more options and control, with the ability to map styles for paragraphs, characters and tables while retaining Word formatting for matched styles or inline Word formatting overrides.
Serve a global audience with new right to left language support.
Arabic and Hebrew are now included and supported in FM 2015! There is also leveraged support for Right-to-Left (RTL) languages and the ability to create bi-directional documents. This support for bi-directional content means that you can have both RTL and LTR (Left-to-Right) in the same document–you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have just about any combination of languages in a document now!
New object direction properties for document and object such as paragraphs, tables, text flows etc. can be inherited from the direction imported from Word, whether it’s LTR, RTL, or both. You can leverage the direction inheritance model to enable 1-click flip of all objects.
You can publish your RTL content into multiple formats including Acrobat, HTML5, HTML, ePub, Kindle, iOS, Android, and Webhelp.
Publish for mobile devices–including mobile apps–natively.
FM 2015 has a brand new HTML5 layout with several enhancements, including topic descriptions and breadcrumbs, with the ability to show search results on the left panel for easier navigation. HTML5 layout comes with host of customization abilities including the easy “off/on” functions in which you can choose the component to customize, then view and customize the component properties in a visual/tabular format, allowing writers to achieve frameless outputs.
Writers will now be able to publish natively mobile apps using Framemaker that are iOS and Android supported, using PhoneGap:Build, which is an Adobe product. PhoneGap is available for a single app generation for free, while creating multiple apps requires a PhoneGap/CS subscription. The way it works is that once the app is created, it creates a QR code so that a user can scan and download the app, or save the info to your local drive. The content itself can be published to Google Store or iTunes.
Personalized content can be delivered dynamically to your end users.
Dynamic content filters are provided in the navigation for the end users to allow them what to see what they want to see. The creation of how to do this reminded me of how taxonomy tags are used in Adobe’s AEM to filter content for readers. This can be done by enabling the dynamic filter in the output, then creating and customizing with the conditional tags used in the content for the end user filter. The Dynamic Content Filter applies to all content, meaning the main content as well as TOC, topics, and search results. Existing tags can be re-used, based on existing conditional tags/expressions functionality.
Generate high fidelity ePub outputs by embedding your custom fonts.
XML authoring is easier now for SMEs/Contributors.
There was the realization that the current XML authoring workflow in FM 12 has been too complex for SMEs and other “casual contributors”, so a simplified XML authoring environment was created. This new XML Authoring environment is ideal for SMEs, Casual contributors, and even technical writers who are new to XML/DITA, as it was created for those who have not been exposed to XML, allowing them to work with common objects rather than elements that will always produce valid XML. The input for these users looks like a form, which is easier for most anyone to figure out. You can create a free form authoring form, or a guided authoring form where you ask for specific info. (This looked really good, because I could see some benefits for this for a project that I’ve been working on.) This simplified form-like environment allows the end user to enter various types of content quite easily, with a simplified menu and tool bar, an enhanced quick element toolbar which mimics many of the same features as an MS Word text editing toolbar. A DITA toolbar is also provided out of the box, as well as a BYOT (build your own toolbar) feature for your custom application.
MathML has been enhanced so you can easily do in-line MathML equations through MathFlow Editor, pick up paragraphs properties so that the equation merges well with the surrounding text, and high quality, searchable vector (EPS) output as opposed to raster (PNG) in FM12.
A new connector with DITA Exchange by Content Technologies will be shared natively with FM 2015. An enhanced FM-SharePoint connector with claim-based authentication support and support for SharePoint 2013 is also available.
Enjoy a rock solid product with improved usability and performance.
To improve usability and performance, Adobe addressed many bugs from its prior release of FM. In fact, more than 90 bugs were corrected in this release!
UI enhancements include the ability to resize dialogs (both TOC, Add/edit and show/hide conditions, x-ref, conref, link-ref), conditional text checkbox behavior mentioned above, and no grey areas when you reduce pod width.
Performance enhancements include EDD update performance improvements (same operation has been reduced from hours to minutes!), a smart pod refresh, the FM-Adobe Experience Manager connector has improved performance with multi-threading support), and contextual in-product tips as needed are now included.
As mentioned earlier, this will be part of TCS 2015, which will include the 2015 versions of Framemaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter. Buying it as the Tech Comm Suite is a 57% discount from buying buying each of these separately, and you can use these in an end-to-end workflow, so it’s worth getting the entire package!
Pricing & Availability on June 2 (in USD):
Upgrade from last release
Upgrade from 2 releases
FM 12 :$399
FM 11: $599
English, French, German, and Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 XML Author
English, French, German, Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 Publishing Server
FMPS 12: $5999
FMPS 11: $8999
RH 11: $399
RH 10: $599
English, French, German, Japanese
Technical Communications Suite 2015
TCS 4, 3, 2 or 1: $1199
English, French, German, Japanese
Overall, as the main foundation product of Technical Communications Suite, Framemaker 2015 looks to be a significant update that will help provide technical writers with the user-friendly, flexible tools needed to truly create the best content possible for their end-users that serve their ever-growing global and mobile needs.
Oh, and there’s a FREE webinar on June 16th, 2015 to launch the product. If you would like to attend that, register on the Adobe Online Event site. The event runs from 11:00 AM-1:00 PM Eastern Time.
The second module of my online course in digital marketing is about Search Marketing and how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) works. The module is taught by Mike Moran, who crams a lot of information in 3-4 hours of video.
My initial reaction is similar to when I heard Mark Lewis talk about using XML and DITA to determine ROI metrics on tech content, namely that I understand it on a broad level, but ouch, it hurts my brain! Mark is awesome*, don’t get me wrong, and what he figured out with his XML analytics is genius to me, but about 95% of it is over my head. That’s how I feel about Mr. Moran’s talk on SEO Marketing. I understand the concepts without any problem, but I supposed that since I have little practical marketing experience, much like my XML/DITA experience (which is even narrower), it’s hard for me to make the full connection to the information without feeling overwhelmed.
I just took my quiz, and got a 70% on it. Ugh. Not good. I can take the quiz over again many times until I get a better score, but that’s not a good starting point.
I think much of it feels overwhelming not only because it’s taken from a marketing perspective which I don’t originally come from, but also because I’m listening to the information, and the content strategist/writer in me is trying to think, “Okay, now with the content I write, it has to be clear and concise, and written in as much plain English as possible, using consistent terminology and word choices to be able to be reused and translated easily, as well as written in a way that can be globally understood in context, AND now I have to start thinking about keywords in relation to organic and paid searches to my website so that I can have as high a ranking in web searches as possible.” (And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other things, too.)
I think my brain just exploded. Hopefully there’s something left, because it feels like a mess inside my cranium. In the end, what’s happened to the actual content? Is there anything left worth looking at after that? How creative can I be to make ALL of that happen?
To put it in context, I’m trying to think about how to apply this information I’m learning about search towards either this blog or towards websites I’m thinking of building for my potential tech comm consulting business I might start this summer. Part of me wants to give up before I even start! How can I compete when it all boils down to keywords in my content, figuring out differentiators (which I can’t figure out in the first place), and other factors that would help drive my listings towards the top of a search? For example, how do I even start to promote myself as a tech comm consultant? I have to figure out what makes me a great choice. Part of that is on me, because I have to figure out what my strengths are, and I still don’t feel as strong as other technical communicators who have been doing this much longer than me. Sure, I understand content strategy, but I’m no Scott Abel, or Rahel Bailie, or Ann Rockley, or Val Swisher, or Noz Urbina, or Sarah O’Keefe…(and the list goes on and on…) But once I figure that out, what’s the one thing that will help draw me to the top of the list, or at least the first page of a search, other than geography?
(Ow, ow, ow…hurting brain….)
I think I need to review the slides again for this module, and start re-analyzing the terminology and conditions of all the topics. From a high level, I understand this. From a more granular level–not even that far down–I get lost. I’m feeling a bit defeated already. Mr. Moran said at the end of the lecture that a lot of this information is overwhelming, and that we should focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do, and work on one aspect, and hopefully you can grow as you learn and practice. He even wrote a compelling article that digital marketing is a matter of bravery, not necessarily matter of knowledge. While I take this to heart, and will keep pursuing this, it will be difficult since I have no or little practical application for this right now. Fear is my primary motivator in all of this. I’m not a content marketer…yet. I don’t even know if I’ll be any good at content marketing until I have a chance to actually try. All I know is that this is the direction I have to go to better my chances in finding work. I really need to master this better, because I don’t have practical experience to use.
I didn’t go to business school for a reason–I’m not good at it, or at least I know others who are a lot better at it than I am. If I can survive this digital marketing course, it’ll be a miracle, at this rate. 😦
One more review of module 2, then it’s on to Module 3– social media marketing. Okay, that might not be too bad. After all, I have a little bit of practical experience with that topic from promoting this blog and other stuff I’ve produced on other blogs…**fingers crossed**
* Since I wrote the two articles about Mark Lewis linked above, I did meet him a year ago, and that’s why I know he’s awesome beyond just watching his presentations. 😀