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February 5, 2007

Authoring styles and art

Norm Walsh tackles topic-oriented authoring and makes a comparison to art.

Imagine that instead of authors, we were painters. In the narrative style, a painter (or perhaps a group of painters) begins at one side of the canvas and paints it from beginning to end (from left-to-right and top-to-bottom). They may not paint it in a strictly linear fashion, but the whole canvas (the narrative whole) is always clearly in view.

Interesting point, and he uses an image of a Vincent Van Gogh painting, chopped into unattractive bits to illustrate what goes wrong in topic-oriented authoring. The flow of the picture is lost.

But what if your content more closely resembles something by Mondrian?

one of Piet Mondrian's cube paintings

Writing useful technical documentation is really, really hard. Using a narrative flow makes it a little easier to ensure that you’ve got the big picture — missing information jumps out at you just as Norm’s chopped-up painting shows.

But topic-based authoring has advantages, too.

Do you need those connections from piece to piece or can individual parts stand on their own?

Are your documents Mondrian or Van Gogh?

I hope for your sake that the product you’re documenting does not resemble Jackson Pollock‘s work.