Would you use just a gardening trowel to plant a tree?

Alan Pringle / Opinion4 Comments

As technical communicators, our ultimate goal is to create accessible content that helps users solve problems. Focusing on developing quality content is the priority, but you can take that viewpoint to an extreme by saying that content-creation tools are just a convenience for technical writers:

The tools we use in our wacky profession are a convenience for us, as are the techniques we use. Users don’t care if we use FrameMaker, AuthorIt, Flare, Word, AsciiDoc, OpenOffice.org Writer, DITA or DocBook to create the content. They don’t give a hoot if the content is single sourced or topic based.

Sure, end users probably don’t know or care about the tools used to develop content. However, users do have eagle eyes for spotting inconsistencies in content, and they will call you out for conflicting information in a heartbeat (or worse, just abandon the official user docs altogether for being “unreliable”). If your department has implemented reuse and single-sourcing techniques that eliminate those inconsistencies, your end users are going to have a lot more faith in the validity of the content you provide.

Also, a structured authoring process that removes the burden of formatting content from the authoring process gives tech writers more time to focus on providing quality content to the end user. Yep, the end user doesn’t give a fig that the PDF or HTML file they are reading was generated from DITA-based content, but because the tech writers creating that content focused on just writing instead of writing, formatting, and converting the content, the information is probably better written and more useful.

Dogwood // flickr: hlkljgk

Dogwood // flickr: hlkljgk

All this talk about tools makes me think about the implements I use for gardening. A few years ago, I planted a young dogwood tree in my back yard. I could have used a small gardening trowel to dig the hole, but instead, I chose a standard-size shovel. Even though the tree had no opinion on the tool I used (at least I don’t think it did!), it certainly benefited from my tool selection. Because I was able to dig the hole and plant the tree in a shorter amount of time, the tree was able to develop a new root system in its new home more quickly. Today, that tree is flourishing and is about four feet taller than it was when I planted it.

The same applies to technical content. If a tool or process improves the consistency of content, gives authors more time to focus on the content, and shortens the time it takes to distribute that content, then the choice and application of a tool are much more than mere “conveniences.”

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

4 Comments on “Would you use just a gardening trowel to plant a tree?”

  1. Or, as I like to say, would you use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail? Good points all around. You mentioned an important if: ” If a tool or process improves the consistency of content …” Is it the tool itself, or a combination of the tool and the user? I think the latter.

    Regardless, thanks for taking the time to read my post and to write this one. Interesting food for thought in there.

  2. It’s nice to read that you’re doing a bit of gardening, Alan. As for your “right tool for the right job” assertion, I heartily agree. 🙂

  3. Pingback:   Musings about what’s really important by Communications from DMN

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