Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

Content strategy and engineers

September 29, 2014 by

When developing a content strategy, you consider marcom, techcomm, and other groups whose primary role is creating content.

But don’t forget about engineering. Just ask the NASA Mohawk Guy.

Bobak Ferdowsi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—a.k.a. NASA Mohawk Guy of the Curiosity mission—recently pointed out how important communication and content are in his job:

Most people don’t realize how much…communication…an engineering job requires. I think about the things I end up sometimes spending a little more time on: for example, PowerPoint, making slides. … You still have to tell other people what you are doing, try to convince people of a certain approach to something, or demonstrate why one decision is more important than other. That communication skill is a real part of the job that most people don’t see.

self-portrait by Curiosity Rover

Self-portrait by Curiosity Rover (photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems via Wikimedia Commons)

Ferdowsi recognizes the big part content plays in engineering and other departments perceived “as always cranking away on things, and turning wrenches.” Unfortunately, a lot of employees in the more content-heavy groups (marcom and techcomm, in particular) don’t always share his wisdom.

It’s too easy to follow stereotypical thinking: Engineers aren’t professional writers, so their content is of little value. I’ve encountered that attitude often in my career, and I’ll admit to succumbing to such stupid thoughts on occasion myself.

Bottom line: you cannot implement a successful content strategy without considering the content contributions of engineers, support, and other groups who create content as a secondary part of their jobs.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Content strategy burdens: cost-shifting

September 22, 2014 by

In assessing an organization’s requirements, it’s important to identify content strategy burdens. That is, what practices or processes impose burdens on the organization? A content strategy burden might be an external cost, such as additional translation expense, or it might be an internal cost, such as a practice in one department that imposes additional work on a different department. A key to successful content strategy is to understand how these burdens are distributed in the organization.

Pain points are areas where an organization is inefficient or has unpleasant workarounds. When department A choose a workflow without consulting department B, it may create an internal pain point. For example, a software engineering group might use practices that cause a lot of trouble for their QA group. HR creates a policy, but IT has to enforce it—and the infrastructure isn’t available to do so.

Over and over, we see this pattern in our client companies. We discover that one department has a tremendously inefficient approach to one of their responsibilities. As we dig into the issue, we discover that the efficient approach is blocked to them because of another department’s lack of cooperation.

“Wait, you retyped these specifications? Aren’t they in a database somewhere?”

“Yes, but the product manager refuses to give us access to the database because he doesn’t want to pay for another database license.”

“How much is the license?”

“$500.”

“How many hours did it take to retype this information?”

“40, and we have to redo it every quarter.”

So…the process takes longer, costs more, and is less accurate. But the other manager saves $500.

This is a trivial example of a potentially huge problem. In content strategy assessments, we look for high-value information that flows through an organization. Common examples of this include the following:

  • Product specifications (developed by product management; used by engineering to build products and in customer-facing content)
  • Repair procedures (used by support organizations, quality organizations, and in customer-facing content)
  • Product descriptions (used throughout the organization)
  • Technical illustrations (used in a variety of customer-facing content and in the product design/manufacturing process)
  • Product interface labels (used in the product interface and customer-facing content)

The goal for each of these items is as follows:

  1. Store information in a known location (“single source of truth”).
  2. When information is reused, reuse is automated and accurate (no copying and pasting, rekeying, manual editing of copies, and so on).
  3. Make information updates in the original content, not in the downstream copies.

Managers must be held accountable not just for the performance of their individual departments, but for their cooperation and collaboration across the organization. This requires executive management to understand the dependencies and conflicting priorities, not just to tell a line employee to “do some content strategy.” If one department refuses to make information available in a format that other departments can use efficiently, that’s a problem.

The organization’s content strategy must be defined and agreed to at the executive level. Executives are responsible for making sure that their departments have the resources they need to implement the strategy. Otherwise, the content strategy burden will fall disproportionately on the department with the least political clout.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is something VERY related…

Content without a face: anonymity, egos, and corporate content

September 15, 2014 by

The novels of Italian author Elena Ferrante are getting a lot of attention, but “Elena Ferrante” doesn’t actually exist. The writer behind the pen name prefers anonymity and shies away from publicity. Creators of corporate content should take a few pointers from the author when seeking recognition for their work.

Regardless of the kind of information a content creator develops for a company—marketing, technical, training, and so on—the final information product must support the company’s business goals (which usually revolve around making money, saving money, or both).

woman holding mask to face

Anonymity has its place in corporate content (photo by W H, flickr)

Note those business goals don’t include “show the world that content creator John Smith is a brilliant writer” or “enable Jane Doe to show her dazzling proficiency in using Tool X to design content.” Content creators who approach corporate content as a way to get personal recognition are not doing themselves (or their employers) any favors.

There’s nothing wrong with satisfaction from a job well done or expecting to be properly compensated for one’s work. However, the primary purpose of the content produced at work is to support the company and its goals (and, by extension, the company’s success in the marketplace). Corporate content and the processes surrounding it are not about the content creators themselves—unless those authors are the subject of a piece in the company newsletter, and then the content is all about them.

It can be difficult for content creators (and all employees, really) to keep their eyes on the corporate goals while doing their day-to-day work and meeting deadlines. It can be even harder for their managers to offer gentle reminders of those goals when authors get too wrapped up in their daily grind.

So, what are corporate content creators to do? First, check that ego at the office door. Easier said than done, I know. My first draft of this blog post was ripped to shreds. I managed to survive.

To show the world writing or design prowess and to gain personal recognition for it, content creators are better off developing projects on their own time. When authors find other channels for their creative skills, they get to set the goals because those outlets are theirs. Pen names and shying away from publicity are completely optional!

P.S. Don’t equate anonymity in corporate content development with “bland and voiceless.” For example, the marketing group can’t afford to crank out dull, cookie-cutter content. Differentiating the company from its competitors with a distinct voice is key. Otherwise, the marketing content sabotages a primary business goal: making money.

P.P.S. Here’s where my mind went to get the headline for this blog post:

XML workflow costs (premium)

September 8, 2014 by

Everyone wants to know how much an XML workflow is going to cost. For some reason, our prospective clients are rarely satisfied with the standard consultant answer of “It depends.”

This post outlines typical XML projects at four different budget levels: less than $50,000, $150K, $500K, and more than $500K.

The companies described are fictional composites. You should not make any major budgetary (or life) decisions based on these rough estimates. Your mileage may vary. Insert any other disclaimers I have forgotten.

First, some context. The numbers I’m quoting here include the following:

  • Software licenses, such as a content management system, authoring tools, linguistic analysis, translation management software, and others
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Content migration from an outside vendor
  • Content strategy,  implementation, and training services from external consultants (like Scriptorium)

They do not take into account the following “soft” costs:

  • Employee time spent on managing the project, reviewing deliverables, researching options, and negotiating with vendors
  • Lost productivity during the transition
  • Costs from any staff turnover that might occur

They also do not include IT costs:

  • Hardware costs (that said, server costs are usually an insignificant fraction of the overall implementation budget)
  • Network infrastructure costs (network bandwidth or latency issues need to be addressed if authors are storing content in shared repositories rather than their local file systems)
  • IT resources to install, configure, and maintain a new system

$50,000 or less

lots of currency

Count your pennies; you’re going to need them // flickr: epsos

This mid-sized organization has ten or fewer content creators who want to reduce the amount of time spent on formatting and increase their reuse percentage. Translation is required for FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) and CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

The company uses a source control system to manage file versioning. XML is implemented using DITA with no specialization. The reuse strategy is straightforward and mostly at the topic level. Conditional processing is needed for a few audience variants. The organization pushes output to PDF and HTML, and content is published and translated a few times a year.

The localization vendor provides some support for translation management efforts.

The company moved away from a help authoring tool or a desktop publishing too, perhaps with single sourcing, because of increasing scalability problems. Over the next several years, the company expects to increase the number of languages that must be supported to more than 20.

Small XML workflow costs

  • Authoring software: $5,000
  • Information architecture/reuse strategy: $5,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $19,000
  • Content migration: $15,000
  • Training: $6,000

$150,000(ish)

This organization has 20 content creators and two production editors spread across four offices in three countries (and two continents). Authors create content in English and French. Translation is required into over two dozen languages, including Russian, Arabic, and Thai.

The translation effort is costing several million dollars per year, and at least 30% of that effort is in reformatting work. Although there is a lot of reuse potential, small inconsistencies mean that reuse in translation is only about 10%. The goal is to increase the translation memory usage to around 30%. Industry benchmarks indicate that this number is conservative; similar companies are reporting over 50%.

The company implements (relatively) inexpensive content management and translation systems and a reuse strategy intended to maximize reuse down to the sentence level. They choose DITA as the content model and specialize attributes (two new ones) and elements (five new ones) to support company-specific content requirements. Output is PDF and mobile-compatible HTML. Both outputs are required for all languages, so the stylesheets must include support for all languages.

Medium XML workflow costs

  • Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software): $75,000
  • Information architecture/reuse strategy: $15,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $25,000
  • Content migration: $25,000
  • Training: $10,000

$500,000(ish)

This organization has 50 content creators in half a dozen locations worldwide. Authors create content in English only. Translation is required for more than 30 languages.

The company implements relatively expensive content management and translation management systems, along with linguistic support software, which helps make content consistent as it is written. The cost is easily justified because of the large numbers of authors. For example, a 10% increase in author efficiency is equivalent to 5 extra full-time employees, or roughly $500,000 per year.

The planning phase for this XML workflow takes six months. The company builds out a formal business case and a content strategy document. These serve as the roadmap for the XML workflow. Vendor selection includes a formal Request for Proposal process.

The company reviews existing content and determines that rewrites are needed. This reduces migration costs.

Training costs are reduced by using a single delivery of a train-the-trainer class, along with live, web-based instruction instead of in-person classroom training.

The company is phasing out PDF delivery, but needs a basic PDF stylesheet, along with HTML output. The company is also building an app for iOS devices that customers can use to display content. Search functionality is a big concern because there is so much information available.

  • Content strategy, along with information architecture and reuse strategy: $50,000
  • Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software and linguistic support): $350,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $50,000
  • Mobile app: $30,000
  • Content migration: $40,000
  • Training: $15,000

More than $500,000

Take the $500,000ish version and expand it with more authors, more languages, and more output requirements. The line item that most commonly results in very expensive implementation is integration—such as a requirement to deliver XML content combined with data from product lifecycle management (PLM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

It’s quite easy to spend $500,000 just on software.

Difficult output challenges can also increase the cost.

 

What level of spending makes sense for you? Consult our XML business case calculator to find out.

Three factors for evaluating localization vendors

September 3, 2014 by

Localizing content can be a frustrating and expensive effort. In addition to per-word costs and turnaround times, keep these three key factors in mind when choosing a vendor.

localization checklist

Keep your content in check throughout the localization cycle. \\ pixabay: Nemo

Technological aptitude

Your localization vendor should fit seamlessly into your content development workflow. They must be able to work with the source content in its raw form. Whether you have a template-driven WYSIWYG authoring environment or an XML-based environment, your localization vendor should work with your files without performing extra work. Most translation tools used today can handle nearly any source format, whether it’s Word, InDesign, FrameMaker, or DITA. When you have XML-based content or very rigid templates in place, there should be no need for DTP services. Formatting is handled by your templates or your transforms, not the vendor.

Before you engage with a localization vendor, send them samples for a test translation. Evaluate what you receive back, and if there are issues, determine whether they are correctable or not. DTP costs are expenses limited to reformatting text or recreating a layout that didn’t exist in the source copy (for example, translating a PDF) and should not apply when your content is completely separate from the visual design.

Subject matter expertise

You’ve spent a good deal of time, effort, and money producing your content. You’ve not only invested in technology, training, and workflow development; you have carefully written your content, edited it, and sent it through reviews for technical and stylistic correctness. Therefore, your content isn’t a necessary evil in delivering product or supporting customers—it’s an asset that should be treated with care.

Take the time to determine if your localization vendor truly knows your domain. Ask for translator credentials to determine whether they have direct or past experience working in your industry. Ask them to discuss examples of past work in your domain. (You may not get actual copy to review, but you can learn a lot by how they address your questions.) If the vendor seems knowledgeable about your company’s industry and has translators who are also adept, send a small job first to evaluate the vendor’s actual work.

Skipping this level of investigation is detrimental to your business. Erroneously translated content can result in confusing text, frustrated end users, and in cases where the content is used in dangerous settings, bodily harm or death.

Knowledge of local or regional demands

Subject matter expertise isn’t the only important element in producing effective translation. You also need to be mindful of your audience. A big part of this is understanding not just the core language they speak but the nuances local culture adds. There are also many local and regional regulations that stipulate what you must (and cannot) say about your product.

To ensure that your content is understandable and usable for all of your audiences, your localization vendor must be aware of the audiences’ local needs and use translators who are well versed in local dialects and regulations. You must communicate not only your language needs, but also the locations where the languages are spoken. For example, you may need to translate into German, but your German-speaking audiences may live and work in Dresden, Germany, as well as DuPage County, Illinois.

You’ve worked hard to produce quality content that strengthens your company’s reputation. Make sure it reaches all of your audiences at that same level of quality. Do you have questions or need help? Contact us.

Fall 2014 Scriptorium conference round-up

August 25, 2014 by

We have a full schedule of stellar conferences coming up this fall. We hope to see you at one or more of these events.

Let’s start with the big news. You should be able to recognize us at these events, as we have finally updated our web site photos and profiles. Yes, after only six years, we took some new portraits.

Lavacon: Bring on the zombies

That’s probably not the official conference theme (and we hope it’s unrelated to the photo news), but Bill Swallow is presenting Content Strategy vs. The Undead, and Alan Pringle will be at the Scriptorium booth talking about content strategy—and handing out chocolate (of course). Come very early and there might be a few donuts.

October 12-15, Portland, Oregon

Lavacon conference web site

Information Development World

At IDWorld, Sarah O’Keefe is presenting Risky Business: The Challenge of Content Silos. Gretyl Kinsey will be at the booth with chocolate. No word on whether there will be any reenactments of famous movie scenes.

October 22-24, San Jose, California

IDWorld conference web site

tekom/tcworld

Sarah and Alan will team up for a workshop on Adapting Content for the US Market.

November 11-13, Stuttgart, Germany

tekom/tcworld conference web site

Gilbane Conference

Sarah will be participating on a content strategy panel.

December 2-4, Boston, Massachusetts

Gilbane Conference web site

 

As always, we are delighted to meet with you at any time. Contact us to set up a meeting, or just find us during an event and introduce yourself.

Engage before change: your content strategy mantra

August 19, 2014 by

If you’re about to revamp your content strategy, repeat after me:

Engage before change.

The only way you’re going to plan—much less implement—a successful content strategy is to talk to all the groups who create and consume content. Without that input, you can’t get a full picture of how content is and is not supporting your company’s business goals.

Don’t engage just the obvious content creators. Yes, marcom and tech comm develop a ton of content, so they have to be part of the discussions. But what about the support group, which writes its own cheat sheets and notes on customer issues official content doesn’t address? Finding and reviewing this “secondary” information and then integrating it into your content strategy is essential to ensuring information fully supports business objectives.

Same advice applies for talking to content consumers. If at all possible, get feedback from end users. Getting direct user feedback is often easier said than done, but the support group is a good source of leads because that department has a lot of contact with customers. Also, talk to the sales group to find out how content supports the sales cycle (or doesn’t), and revise your content strategy accordingly.

Give a great deal of thought about where content comes from and who uses it. Otherwise, you’re just paying lip service to the “engage before change” content strategy mantra.

Hat tip to a column on engaging employees before changing the office layout for inspiring this post.

Content strategy failure in ten easy steps (premium)

August 11, 2014 by

Here’s how to ensure content strategy failure in ten easy steps. Follow these steps to guarantee that your project disintegrates in spectacular fashion. The top three are:

  1. Pick your tools first.
  2. Don’t talk to stakeholders.
  3. Make bad assumptions.

1. Pick your tools first.

Do you know what your strategy is? Do you understand your business? Have you thought about the implications of AwesomeSoftware™ over the next five years? No? Great, let’s use AwesomeSoftware. After all, their salespeople bought us a nice dinner, and they’re fun to drink with. What could possibly go wrong?

When content strategy = pick a tool, the results will be craptacular.

Content strategy failure occurs when you aren't prepared. // flickr: zachd1_618

Content strategy failure occurs when you aren’t prepared. // flickr: zachd1_618

2. Don’t talk to your stakeholders; they make projects more complex.

Stakeholders can offer project support and critical information. They may also have biases. You need to garner their support, understand their biases, and make sure that you extract every last drop of intel from them.

If you don’t talk to stakeholders, your project will be much simpler—and unlikely to work in the real world.

The more stakeholders you talk to, the more requirements you have to balance. If the requirements are in direct conflict, get your stakeholders together to discuss their priorities.

3. Make bad assumptions, especially based on stereotypes.

Some engineers are good writers.

Some marketing people like technology.

Some technical writers like to socialize.

Some CEOs are more interested in high quality products than cost savings.

The list could go on forever. We all carry biases and stereotypes around. Sometimes, we call them “work experience.” I’ve met a few 60-somethings who are just trying to glide into retirement, but they are the exception not the rule. I’ve also met unmotivated 20-somethings. You need to assess skills, motivation, and learning aptitude of the team members, but don’t assume based on demographics.

In addition to stereotyping people, there is a temptation to stereotype organizations by industry. For example:

  • Government agency = slow and out of date
  • Software company = quality doesn’t matter; only speed matters
  • Heavy machinery = not interested in new technology

Some organizations resemble these stereotypes, but we have also worked with organizations that blow these assumptions out of the water. Nimble government agencies doing awesome things. Software companies that are focused on quality rather than cost and velocity. Heavy machinery companies that are producing innovative content using cutting-edge technology.

People and projects will surprise you. Be ready for it.

4. Ignore people who challenge your assumptions.

You know that naysayer? The one who insists that [whatever] is a terrible idea and will never work? Ignore her at your peril. Your naysayer may be an enormous annoyance, but she is probably expressing concerns that are held by more politically savvy members of the organization. There’s also a significant chance that her objections are valid.

Pay attention when you get resistance to your plans. Do your research and make sure that you address valid objections. Don’t allow your enthusiasm to blind you to the possibility that you have not chosen the right approach. Content strategy failure is likely when the general approach is “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” (Although, admittedly, that worked for Admiral Farragut.)

At some point, we go from “challenging assumptions” to “sheer obstinance.” It’s important to recognize the difference.

5. Take vendor demos as gospel truth.

Panda cub stuck halfway up tree

Can your tool do what you need? // flickr: bootbearwdc

The purpose of a vendor demo is to tell a compelling story that sells the product. You can learn a lot from vendor demos by paying attention to points of emphasis and the overall structure of the demo:

  • Are there lots of “corporate overview” slides before you get to an actual hands-on demo? This is a well-established company that wants you to perceive them as a safe choice. They probably have a small upstart competitor, perhaps with better technology.
  • Is the demo incredibly detailed and technical? This is probably a smaller company that has great technology. Make sure you ask about technical support and corporate structure.
  • Did the vendor avoid a particular topic area? Their solution is probably not as good in this area. Either put them on the spot by asking about that feature, or follow up later.
  • Does the presenter tell you that a particular approach is a bad idea? This means that a) the vendor’s solution doesn’t work well with that approach, b) that approach is a universally bad idea, or c) both. Figuring out when the answer is (a) is a critical skill for the buyer.
  • How interesting and informative is the person leading the demo? He is probably the person in the vendor organization who is the best at communicating with customers (because, after all, he is involved in sales). You can assume that the technical support person will be no better than what you are seeing in the demo. (In other words, if the demo is terrible, expect lousy technical support in the future.)

Ask the vendor to demonstrate using samples that you provide. This helps you to see whether the solution would work for your information or is mainly functional when working with a highly restricted set of sample information.

A demo is a best-case scenario.

6. Ignore corporate culture.

Corporate culture constrains possibilities. A cautious organization with many layers of approvals will not succeed with a strategy that requires quick action. A startup culture that prizes creative thinking and cheap solutions will reject a months-long implementation effort.

If you ignore the corporate culture, you have the freedom to choose a solution that, on paper, looks like a good option, but that will fail because it’s incompatible with the organization. Think of it like an organ transplant. You have to match the solution (the donor organ) to the recipient, or Bad Things will happen.

Take the time to understand the corporate culture, especially if you are new to the organization. Who really makes decisions? Very often, it’s not the person at the top of the organizational chart—it’s the trusted lieutenant. How do different departments in the organization interact? How do employees in different locations work together? Is there a hierarchy of locations (for instance, people at corporate HQ always win), or is there a department that has the ability to get things done? Was there a merger, and how are the people from the two sides of the merger treated? Is one side more influential than the other? Is there ongoing resentment about how the merger was handled? (Hint: Yes.)

7. Pick a solution and then look for a problem.

Perhaps you used a certain tool in a previous job? Perhaps that software was awesome? By all means, let’s use that option. Or maybe you’ve decided that XML is really cool. Why not push your organization to use XML?

No. No. Ten thousand times no.

Define the business problem first, then pick the solution. “I hate working with (or without) AwesomeSoftware” is not a business problem.

8. Allow IT to choose the solution while ignoring content creators.

traditional rock climbing rope and caribiner

Choose your tools carefully; your project success depends on them // flickr: iwona_kelly

Especially in larger companies, the IT organization is waterboarded when they fail to strongly encouraged to limit the number of software systems. As a result, your request for a specialized system will be met with suspicion. Why can’t you just use the default option?

In extreme cases, you will be told that you must use the default option. This is very often an enterprise document management system, which may or may not fit your needs. (Probably not.)

IT’s focus on limiting software is supposed to control overall IT costs. If the IT-recommended software doesn’t meet your content strategy requirements, then you must show a cost-benefit analysis. What are the benefits of the proposed (non-IT-approved) solution? Do these benefits outweigh the cost of configuring, supporting, and maintaining the solution?

9. Allow content creators to choose the solution while ignoring IT.

An IT-imposed solution is one extreme. At the other extreme, we find content creators making decisions based on their personal biases.

A former manager was an enormous typesetting geek, so now the content creators have a workflow that includes fine manual kerning. Does kerning add value? Will customer notice if kerning stops? Is support for sophisticated manual kerning a critical requirement?

What if “sophisticated kerning” rules out solutions that are otherwise a good fit?

Beware of content creators who advocate for a solution solely because it is the least disruptive option—for them. Again you must ask, does the solution meet the overall requirements?

10. Refuse to change.

“We’ve always done it that way.”

Content strategy failure is assured when new initiatives are met with the requirement that any new approach to content must preserve all of the weirdest features of the current approach.

Learn to identify change resistance masquerading as project constraints.

 

The best way to avoid content strategy failure is to bring Scriptorium as a consulting partner. Contact us today.

Content strategy mistake: replicating old formatting with new tools

August 5, 2014 by

When remodeling your kitchen, would you replace 1980s almond melamine cabinets with the same thing? Probably not. (I certainly wouldn’t!) Then why make the content strategy mistake of using new tools to re-create the old formatting in your content?

If your company is spending the time and money on new tools for an updated content strategy, you’ve been given a rare gift: the opportunity to make changes. Those changes should include fixing bad, outdated formatting that makes content hard to read—and that reflects badly on the company as a whole.

photo of rubber stamp

Resist the temptation to duplicate old, legacy formatting when implementing tools for a new content strategy (flickr: woodleywonderworks)

Unfortunately, some content groups’ first inclination during implementation is to reconstitute the look-and-feel of information developed in the old tool chain.

Case in point: PDF output, which was a default output back in the day years ago.

If you’re working in a regulated industry requiring PDF output that adheres to a spec, making changes to (or discontinuing) PDF files isn’t an option. Meeting the PDF spec is a business requirement, even if the formatting dictated by those specs is ugly. Case closed.

For those not in a regulated industry, the considerations are very different:

  • Should PDF even be your primary output focus? If your customers are accessing content on mobile devices, PDF is not the best choice for them anyway. You need a mobile friendly output (adaptive HTML? app?) for those customers, but you also can’t unilaterally end PDF production if customers are accustomed to PDF. A good compromise: still provide PDF files—possibly with a simplified layout—as links from HTML versions of content, which you position as the primary way to access the content.
  • Does your page design need rejuvenating? If you’ve been churning out PDF files with the same design the past 5–10 years, there is a zero-percent probability the formatting reflects current design principles. If necessary, get a design consultant’s input, particularly on this question: Does the formatting help or hinder readers? It’s also worth noting some people—particularly those of us in any publishing-related industry—do pay attention to formatting. How many times have you seen outdated formatting in PDF files (or any other output, really) and assumed the company providing the information was behind the times, too? Confess!
  • Did workarounds for shortcomings of previous tools lead to compromises in formatting? If your old tool set had quirks in regard to page layout, PDF production, and so on, you may have instituted workarounds resulting in suboptimal formatting. No need to perpetuate those compromises in your updated output.

The surface appeal of cloning what you already have is understandable. Existing look-and-feel provides a definitive target, and content creators are probably comfortable with said target. However, unless there is a compelling business reason to reconstitute old formatting with your new tools—and “We’ve done it this way forever” generally is not—don’t do it.

If you need more proof cloning can be bad, just watch TV:

DITA content strategy

July 28, 2014 by

How can you implement DITA content strategy? Is DITA itself a content strategy?

Map with dotted line indicating travel from source to destination.

Identifying your business goals is the key to content strategy

The answer is a resounding no. DITA is an architecture. DITA and content strategy are related, but “we use DITA” is not a content strategy. The content strategy process goes something like this:

  1. Identify your business goals. (Examples: “efficiently create information required by our regulators to sell our product” or “increase market share in Europe”)
  2. Based on your business goals, establish a content strategy. (Example: “deliver content in local language for European markets at the same time English is ready”)
  3. Based on the content strategy, establish requirements for your content lifecycle.
  4. Identify the constraints.
  5. Based on the requirements and constraints, identify a solution for developing, deploying, and delivering your content. (DITA is a possible solution.)

Although I strongly encourage you to start with strategy, I do know that DITA is a strong contender if you have the following requirements:

  • Topic-based authoring
  • Localization
  • Reuse
  • Lots of output formats

DITA has advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few:

DITA advantages

DITA is a good fit for typical technical communication requirements. It is an open standard and has significant vendor support.

DITA disadvantages

For many organizations, DITA is a huge change, so we have change management concerns. There are also writing challenges (modular content is harder than you might think) and technical challenges. The technology stack required to get output from DITA is not for the faint of heart.

Is DITA right for you?

Scuba divers

Once you have requirements and constraints, you can assess whether DITA makes sense for you. Image: NOAA

It might be. It might not be. Before asking about DITA content strategy, make sure that you have built your content strategy requirements. Need help? Contact us.

 

I did a DITA Content Strategy webcast as part of the 2013 easyDITA RockStar Summer Camp series.