Tech writing and journalism: yes, there are parallels

And intersections, too.

When I say that, people (mainly in the world of journalism) look at me in disbelief. But it’s true. You’ve probably seen those parallels and intersections yourself without realizing that they were there.

How to I know? I come from the world of journalism, and my professional life lies in those parallels and intersections.

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A look back at some posts from the last while

To kick off the week, we’re looking back at some of our favourite posts from the last little while. If you haven’t read them, here’s your chance. If you have, feel free to re-read them. You might have missed something the first time around.

The blurring of the lines between the Web and the desktop

While at a co-working space a few weeks ago, I found myself chatting with a software developer while taking a short break. He mentioned that he’s part of a team that’s developing a Web-based e-learning application. When I said that lines between the desktop and the Web are really blurring, he seemed rather surprised.

Not because he disagreed with me (he didn’t), but because he wasn’t completely sure that anyone else was seeing the distinction between those two world eroding.

And it is slowly eroding. There’s more and more integration and interoperation between desktop and Web applications (not to mention mobile apps, too). I’m not going to debate the merits and the drawbacks of shifting to the cloud, but I do see the barriers between the desktop and the Web being eliminated eventually.

That has implications for technical writers.

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Another view of using analytics with documentation

Analytics. It seems to be quite a hot topic in the documentation world at the moment, especially with Web-facing docs. Mark Fidelman of MindTouch even wrote an excellent guest post on that subject for this space recently.

While I think that analytics can be useful, I also think that perhaps they don’t tell the whole story.

The spark for this thought came from something that Anne Gentle recently wrote:

When I spoke with a few Google technical writers at the STC Summit, one of them confirmed that their performance reviews include a web analytics component

OK, so certain topics in Web-facing docs get less traffic than other topics. But does this indicate a problem with the documentation? Or is it something else?

It could be an indication that portions or functions of app are used more than others. Or it could point to features and functions which many people find difficult to use. Yes, it could mean that the documentation is lacking in areas, and people are going elsewhere to find answers.

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, we’re not getting the whole story. I’m not sure we can get it, either.

That’s not to say that analytics aren’t useful. They are. And the statistics present (at least) a couple of good opportunities. One is where we can devote more effort to the documentation. Not just traditional manuals and help, but also tool tips or embedded documentation. It can also give us an opening to work with developers and interface designers to improve the usability of a user interface.

Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.

Photo credit: mashe from Photoxpress