Here in Lviv, we were lucky to invite Patrick Keegan, Principal User Assistance Developer at Oracle, and enjoy his talk “Free your mind! And your docs will follow”. It took me some time to digest the whirling ideas and grasp the insights.
In this post, I would like to share two approaches Patrick discussed during his presentation and how I plan to adopt them in my routine as an Information Developer.
Here we go.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
This phrase used to be a motto of Louis Sullivan and modernist architects. For us documentarians, it seems to be a given and simple truth. Being an architecture fan and a practical person, I want to give it yet another spin.
In TechComm, the “form follows function” principle poses the following question — is content presented by means that fit the function best?
Downloadable infographics for drone setup are almost as usable as safety rules hanging in the back of an ambulance car. OK, I am exaggerating this, but there are archives (read “cemeteries”) of documentation that is there but changes little.
At times, documentation IS a waste of resources, those times are when form was selected carelessly.
What can we do about it? How can we put form-follows-function principle into practice?
Design schools came up with a method that is time-efficient and elegant in its simplicity. It’s called creating a design brief. But how can it be helpful for us, Information Developers?
The minimum-efforts approach is to compose a paragraph that answers the questions:
- for whom do you create your content?
- what for do you create your content?
- how should your content look like?
- how will your content be used?
That’s it! Just a paragraph thoroughly formulated and validated with your customer. Use it as a beacon – when having a decision to make, just return to this design brief and validate your decision against it.
You can also find detailed templates that can be adapted to your purposes.
Start small, observe the changes and let me know if it helped 🙂
TIME NEEDED FOR RE-READING THE CONTENT AS QUALITY ATTRIBUTE
Let me share another idea that Patrick introduced, and I found it to be the key one. It may contribute to the eternal quest for “ways to measure documentation effectiveness”. After the talk, many of my colleagues shared that this one was the most curious for them as well.
How many times does your reader read the content until they get the message?
Re-reading can be a good attribute to evaluate your writing . It’s tricky to measure but if you start caring about this attribute, the content gets the value and quality that your product deserves.
How can we put the re-reading principle into practice?
Make it a part of a peer review. When reviewing, take a note of the sentences that you didn’t get from the first read; also, ask your reviewers to pay attention to them as well. Investigate what’s not working there. Get on macro- and micro-level – maybe information is well-written but it’s not in the right place, or additional dash can push the idea across.
Just catch those chunks that require re-reading and don’t let them go until they are fixed. It’s hard work, but it’s what it takes to have a quality content, easy to read and act on.
It case you missed the talk, link to the recording is posted down below. You’ll find more valuable ideas there.
Here are helpful materials for content creation that Patrick shared: