Musings on user-generated documentation

User-generated documentation is a big issue in technical communication circles. Aaron and I have discussed this topic on and off over the last couple of years, but really haven’t come to a definitive conclusion on the merits of user-generated documentation.

However, this post at Craig Haiss’ Helpscribe blog got me thinking once again about taking advantage of the knowledge of users. If properly done, tapping into the knowledge of users can improve the quality and breadth of your documentation.

Continue reading

Developing documentation, the FLOSS way

I enjoy reading about the processes used by other technical communicators and those working on various types of projects. Not everyone will tackle a project in the same way, and there’s often something to learn (or at least to get me thinking) by studying someone else’s approach.

While the Free/Libre/Open Source (FLOSS) community is sometimes seen as a bunch of unguided missiles heading towards the same target, it’s actually more structured than that. This guide, from the Fedora Project, is a detailed look at one approach a FLOSS project uses to develop documentation.

Weekly links roundup

  • Gordon McLean points out that we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on tools; we really need to focus on the problems that we’re trying to solve.
  • Sarah Maddox writes about being an agile technical writer.
  • Ellis Pratt muses about how a new technology from Nokia could reinvent the user manual.
  • Really Strategies has an older, but still relevant and readable, introduction to wikis.
  • if you use Word, you’ll want to read this article on correcting automatic numbering in lists.
  • In a short video, Stewart Mader discusses using “a wiki to collaboratively write, edit, and assemble documentation,” and to consider letting your audience contribute as well.

Wikis won’t kill documentation

Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard more than a couple of people say that the wiki will kill (or at least bite into) so-called traditional documentation. I’ve never subscribed to this point of view. While I could spend several thousand words explaining why, someone else has done it for me. Just read this blog post by Craig Haiss.

Usability and Open Source software

One complaint that’s often made about free and Open Source software is that its usability is lacking. This article by Celeste Lyn Paul (who works with a number of Open Source projects) takes a look at usability in Open Source software.

She notes:

Being a designer in an open source project is not easy. For many years, usability specialists were disregarded, under appreciated, and ignored. This attitude probably sounds familiar to many of you because it was not too long ago that professional usability specialists encountered the same resistance.

That observation also applies to the development of a lot of commercial and in-house software, too. And it’s not just the designers and usability architects who face the obstacles. Technical communicators who act as user advocates (and shouldn’t we all?) often face an uphill battle against developers in this situation, too.