Jonatan Lundin's blog

In pursuit of the ultimate techCom information architecture

Should the Answer to a User Question be a Short or a Long Topic?

A user asks questions when stuck in product use. Displaying information-seeking behavior, they search for answers; and it’s you—the technical communicator—who is responsible for providing them with one. But then you get stuck as you ask yourself: how long should the answer be? As the question of topic size, (as in a DITA topic), continues to be controversial in the technical communication community, we also need to ask ourselves how the size of an answer relates to the size of a topic. My conclusion is that users prefer short answers. Why is this?

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Will an answer be easy to find if we mimic human dialog in user assistance?

Research has shown that most people avoid using the traditional book-like manual, whether it’s on- or offline. Researchers have provided a number of explanations to why this is the case. One common explanation is that users avoid manuals since they perceive them to be difficult to search.

In response, many technical communicators are exploring innovative new ways to design and deliver user assistance to make manuals more user-friendly. To make the manual an option for the user, we need to make answers easy to find.

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Are users always in a learning mode, as minimalism tells us?

Minimalism is a design approach within the technical communication field that has been around for some 30 years now. Minimalism is constantly being discussed and disseminated by technical communicators, lately by Mark Baker. But what does minimalism say about users and their behavior? Are users always in a learning mode? And what about the information-seeking behavior that I try to preach?

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Why do users not read topics as we think they do?

Recently, a lot of discussion has emerged in social media about user assistance and findability in technical communication and how to design for findability. Faceted navigation and search has been discussed as a solution, and I believe that it may be a promising way out. In fact, a lot of discussion in the technical communication community is about what comes after the "book paradigm". I do see a trend in that more and more technical communicators are saying that we are answering user questions instead of writing books.

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Why is the result often a million little pieces even though DITA does not encourage authors to chunk information in such a way?

A lot of discussions and confusion in social media has recently, as it seems, dealt with two issues concerning the use of DITA (see for example a discussion in the DITA awareness group on linkedIn or another discussion on LinkedIn or a blog post by Tom Johnson). The first issue relates to the question if topics shall be nested or not, that is, shall DITA topics be kept as separate files or shall authors instead use a <dita> document and nest topics within it?

Read more Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
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