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?
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.