Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Getting started with structured writing
Tina Hedlund, in The Continued Evolution of the Technical Writer writes about a common reaction to structured writing:
"When writers first begin structuring their information, most find that they don't know their users well enough to structure the information properly. In many cases, they don't even know that the problem is an incomplete view of the user experience but assume that the DTD doesn't accommodate necessary levels of hierarchy. If you write according to the structure of product functionality, this assumption would be true. But if you write easy-to-use task-oriented documentation, the hierarchy would be necessarily flatter. The solution: Know your user."
The discipline that working in a structured, metadata-driven, collaborative authoring environment requires is formidable for most writers, but it results in documentation that is better suited to the networked world. One way to get a feel for this approach is to import your current Help system into a product like Tinderbox, then experiment with the way it provide multiple views of the same information, its use of Agents to find related content, and the freedom of focusing on information instead of appearance and hierarchy.