Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

The best of 2015

December 21, 2015 by

Let’s wrap up 2015 with a look back at popular posts from the year.

Scriptorium wishes you the best for 2016!

Buyer’s guide to CCMS evaluation and selection (premium)

“What CCMS should we buy?”

It’s a common question with no easy answer. We provide a roadmap for evaluating and selecting a component content management system (registration required).

Localization, scalability, and consistency

A successful content strategy embraces consistency and plans for scaling up in the future—which in turn means localization is more efficient.

To see how consistent XML-based content can save your company time and money, check out our business case calculator.

The talent deficit in content strategy

Content strategy is taking hold across numerous organizations. Bad content is riskier and riskier because of the transparency and accountability in today’s social media–driven world.

But now, we have a new problem: a talent deficit in content strategy.

Tech comm skills: writing ability, technical aptitude, tool proficiency, and business sense

“Technical Writing is only about what software you know!”

This comment from a LinkedIn post has it partially right: technical writers should have expertise with authoring software. But to be successful, they need a balance of skills.

DITA 1.3 overview

Curious about the additions to DITA in the version 1.3 spec? Here’s a quick rundown on scoped keys, cross-deliverable linking, and more.

Structured authoring: breaking the WYSIWYG habit

It can be difficult to switch from desktop publishing to structured authoring—especially breaking out of desktop publishing’s WYSIWYG authoring mode.

You can shake your WYSIWYG habits with these tips.

The rise of part-time contributors

December 7, 2015 by

Content creation should no longer be the exclusive domain of full-time writers. Employees in other departments can offer valuable information that your company’s content should capture. Where can you find these part-time contributors?

Two groups that immediately come to my mind are product development and support.

Product development

Boc with part-time ninja on it

DeviantArt: tinkun113

Product engineers have contributed content indirectly since the first product specifications were released. Specifications are usually rewritten by those in tech comm, marcom, training, and other groups focused primarily on content development, but the core information is still the same.

Because of their deep knowledge of products, it makes sense to integrate engineers directly into the content development processes. They can write small bits of content, review others’ content for accuracy, and so on.

I’m not talking about maintaining the old-school methods of sharing and reviewing content, either—the days of  sharing content via email and hard copy markups are waning, thankfully. Many desktop publishing tools of today offer trackable electronic reviews of source content. Content management systems for structured workflows have specific features that enable part-time contributors to develop and review content.

Product support

The support organization talks directly to customers to help them use a product successfully. Those conversations—whether via phone, chat, or other medium—often expose deficiencies in existing product content. Those conversations also uncover customers’ product uses that engineers and full-time content creators never considered.

Getting that valuable real-world information into product content is essential. Giving support staff access to the content creation process can help ensure that information flows back into product content.

The benefits of integrating support staff into the content development are a two-way street. Support staff contribute the critical real-world information from customers, but they also receive valuable information about new features, bug fixes, and so on, by reviewing updated information flowing from the product development group.

Synthesizing the knowledge and skills of part-time and full-time content contributors means your company has a much better chance of delivering useful information to customers. Have you integrated part-time contributors into your content workflows? What departments in your organization include part-time contributors? Please leave comments about your experiences—both good and bad—below.

Content should not be an obvious tourist

October 19, 2015 by

When you travel, do people ask you for directions and address you as if you live in the area? I’ve had that happen a few times, and friends and colleagues have shared similar experiences.

You may not stand out as an obvious tourist on your travels. But does the content you distribute fit in as well across different environs?

No, not everyone speaks English

The world is now a global economy. If you expect to reach the widest audience possible for your products and services, localizing your content is a must—and in some cases, it’s a legal requirement to sell in other countries.

Also, making assumptions that everyone speaks a particular language (cough, English, cough) is a really bad idea when traveling, and it’s really, really bad idea in business. Don’t be one of those arrogant tourists (or companies!) who thinks everyone will adapt to them.

Dress for your location

tourist looking at map

Jean-François Gornet

When traveling, it’s a good idea to bring clothes that are a good match for the location’s climate and attitude. Wearing the wrong clothing makes you really stand out, and not in a good way. It’s also downright uncomfortable.

The formats in which you present your content require similar thought. If your customers are using tablets and phones to access information, distributing your content just as PDF documents is not the right fit. Also, does your web content display well in both desktop and mobile browsers?

Get feedback from your customers on how they want to consume your content, and adapt your formats accordingly. Otherwise, users will go elsewhere.

How else can companies make sure their content isn’t an obvious tourist? Leave your tips in the comments.

If it’s the last quarter, this must be conference season! Our event schedule

September 23, 2015 by

We’re about to begin the last quarter of 2015, and that means CONFERENCES. Scriptorium is attending many tech comm and content strategy events.

Will we see you at these conferences?

Big Design

If you missed Sarah O’Keefe’s presentation at Big Design last week, check out her blog post on the same topic: Design versus automation: a strategic approach to content.

Information Development World
September 30–October 2
San Jose

Next week at Information Development World, Bill Swallow is presenting on Localization Planning and The Content Strategy of Things, and Gretyl Kinsey is presenting on the Unsung Heroes of DITA.

Please drop by our booth in the exhibition hall to chat with Bill and Gretyl—and to get some chocolate!

LocWorld 29
October 14–16
Silicon Valley

Bill Swallow is presenting on Content Strategy: Disrupting the Traditional LSP at LocWorld 29. He is also on a panel, Smart Products and Connected Devices Require Intelligent Localized Content.

October 18–21
New Orleans

At LavaCon, Sarah O’Keefe is presenting on Content Strategy Triage. Visit with her and me at Scriptorium’s booth, where we can talk about content strategy. And eat chocolate, of course.

November 10–12

Sarah O’Keefe is offering a tutorial on Unified Content Development: Marketing, Technical, and Support Communication at tcworld.  I’m presenting on Balancing Standardization Against the Need for Creativity.


If you’d like to schedule a meeting with us during  these conferences, please contact us—and safe travels!

Categories: Conferences | Permalink | Comments Off on If it’s the last quarter, this must be conference season! Our event schedule

More free DITA training: the concept topic

August 31, 2015 by

Thanks to everyone who has signed up for and taken the free Introduction to DITA course. The introductory course offers a high-level overview of DITA.

Want a deeper dive into the DITA information types (concept, topic, reference, and glossary)? Today, we are releasing our second course on the DITA concept topic. The course and supporting videos were created by a Scriptorium team led by Gretyl Kinsey (with help from Simon Bate, Jake Campbell, and me). logoHere’s the course outline:

  • Lesson 1: Creating a concept topic
  • Lesson 2: Images and tables
  • Lesson 3: More elements
  • Lesson 4: Advanced elements
  • Lesson 5: XML overview and best practices

Don’t worry: we aren’t neglecting other topic types! Two more courses are coming your way in October and November:

The DITA task topic (scheduled for October 2015)

  • Lesson 1: Creating a task topic
  • Lesson 2: Creating steps
  • Lesson 3: Finishing up the task
  • Lesson 4: Best practices for tasks

The DITA glossary entry and reference topics (November 2015)

  • Lesson 1: Creating a glossentry
  • Lesson 2: Creating a reference topic
  • Lesson 3: Best practices for glossaries and references

Ready for some free DITA training? Set up your account today.

Are you already a DITA expert? We could use your help in building the course content. Join the open-source ditatraining project on GitHub.

Special thanks to the Learning DITA sponsors: oXygen XML Editor, The Content Wrangler, easyDITA, and Information Development World.


Tech comm skills: writing ability, technical aptitude, tool proficiency, and business sense

August 17, 2015 by

Technical Writing is only about what software you know! Is that why every where I read any type of document, web page, or article it is FULL of misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and horrible formatting?!!

That’s what started a thread on LinkedIn that encapsulates long-running debates on the skill sets technical writers need. (The thread was removed from LinkedIn sometime after Friday, unfortunately.)

From my point of view, a good technical communicator possesses a balance of writing ability, technical aptitude, and software skills. Problems arise when that mix of skills is off-kilter:

  • Grammatically pristine content that just scratches the surface of a product reflects a lack of technical understanding and reduces tech comm to stenography.
  • Overly technical content that catalogs every feature of a product demonstrates technical depth but no writing ability. Such content is usually badly organized (writing about every menu choice in order is not good organization) and littered with grammatical and spelling mistakes.
  • Proficiency in the tools for creating content means information development is more efficient, but blind devotion to a tool is a big (and unprofessional) mistake.

A lot of commenters in the thread touch on these aspects, but at the time I wrote this post, there was a glaring omission among the discussed skill sets:  an understanding of business.

Business requirements should drive all content-related efforts at a company, so it’s vital that content creators—technical writers included—understand how their content supports company goals (or not, as the case may be). Changes to content (new tools, new publishing formats, and so on) must be carefully vetted to determine whether there is a solid business case to make such changes. For example, you propose implementing an XML-based workflow because you have numbers showing cost savings. “Other companies are doing it” and “a software vendor told me we need it” are not business cases.

Writing ability, technical aptitude, and dexterity with software are important skills for technical writers to have. But understanding how your efforts connect to the company’s business requirements is what gives you the edge in making your tech comm work indispensable.

Announcing free DITA training

July 22, 2015 by

Our new DITA learning site, is now live with its first course, Introduction to DITA. logo

We put a bird in the logo. Imagine that!

Are you somebody who is interested in DITA, but not sure that it’s right for you? now provides a free Introduction to DITA that you can work through on your own time.

The content was developed by Scriptorium staff and other contributors using an open-source DITA training project hosted at GitHub.

The course includes six lessons:

  1. What is DITA?
  2. DITA topics
  3. Metadata
  4. Creating DITA content
  5. Tables
  6. Creating relationships among topics

Lessons include code samples, links to additional resources and videos, and more. There is a quiz at the end of each lesson.

We hope this site will become a useful resource for the DITA community. We welcome additional content through the GitHub repository. We’d like to expand the introductory content and offer more courses with advanced topics, but we need your help to do that. If you’re interested, check out the project roadmap and start writing!

Thanks to content contributors (listed in each course topic) and to the site’s sponsors.

P.S. To get notifications about new content on the site, sign up for announcements. You can also sign up during the site registration process.

Content strategy amateur hour

July 7, 2015 by

“My team is looking into how we can use <incumbent tool> to handle our new content requirements.”

That’s what I heard from a manager during a recent phone call about a company’s expanding content needs. The tools-focused response made me cringe.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered content developers using a current tool’s capabilities as the benchmark for content requirements. An incumbent-tools-first approach is an easy way out that maintains the status quo.

Periodically assessing how efficiently you’re using tools is sensible, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that checkup is a complete process analysis. A true content strategy assessment looks at how content supports business requirements and then investigates which tools best support those needs. The list of prospective tools should include the incumbent if—and only if—that tool meets the criteria for supporting business goals.

When developing a content strategy, content professionals are anything but professional if they do not step outside the comfort zone of the tools they use every day.

Please don’t be one of those amateurs.

What makes a good leader—and a successful content strategy

May 19, 2015 by

General Stanley McChrystal offers sage leadership advice you can apply to your content strategy.

Here are your marching orders:

Acknowledge change resistance

Within the US Army, General McChrystal encountered high change resistance because people in the organization become very attached to existing processes:

[An individual’s] very identity is wrapped up into how things have been done.

The same is true in content development: workers become very adept at using the current tools and feel threatened when approached with the possibility of implementing new processes. The fear of the unknown is universal, and a strong leader will counteract that fear by resolving to…

Share information “until it’s almost illegal”

On the surface, this advice to overshare is surprising—it’s coming from a military official who had access to classified information the general public will never see. That said, company initiatives (content related or not) gain supporters much more quickly when management is painstakingly thorough in communicating the business requirements driving the changes, seeking input on the evaluation criteria for new tools, and so on.

Harness data to make it useful

[T]he idea that big data is suddenly going to give us the answer to the problem is something that [is] incorrect because the speed at which data is being created and changed stays ahead of our ability to harness it.

A company can supply vast amounts of data through multiple channels: tech comm, marcom, support, etc. Unless customers can pinpoint the information they want when they want it, that sea of data is useless. Therefore, our content processes must be intelligent to ensure information is findable and useful.

Content strategy and the big picture

April 20, 2015 by

What’s the best way to minimize conflict when developing and implementing a new content strategy?

Keep everyone focused on the big picture:

Conflict is inevitable, especially the unproductive kind. When people take their eyes off the bigger picture and focus narrowly on their own needs and views, conflict fills the gap. People who put aside their preferences, styles, assumptions, inflexibility and selfishness are seen as part of the solution.

On content strategy projects, I’ve often seen personal preferences affect the evaluation of tools and processes. Employees understandably get very attached to tools when they master them. That mastery, however, creates a tendency to view all other tools through the prism of the incumbent technology: the dreaded “tool myopia” described in Content Strategy 101.

Another common pattern is shifting the burdens of inefficient processes to other departments: “As long as I get my stuff done, I don’t care about how my department’s inefficiency affects you.”

Both of these content strategy showstoppers require all parties to focus on the big-picture business requirements. Upper management also needs to be very clear that supporting those goals is mandatory. Do the current tools and processes bolster business goals such as shorter time to market, the breakdown of content silos, or more efficient localization? If not, the new content strategy must address the deficiencies with new tools and processes.

Couple the implementation of those new tools and processes with thorough training and good communication, and you’ll reduce conflict and align your content strategy with the big picture.

P.S. I’ve yet to see “support each employee’s personal preferences” as a company’s big-picture goal. If such a business existed, I’m sure we’d all want to go to there (to paraphrase 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon):