Rethinking Content from Paper to Tablets, Mobile Screens and ePubs

LavaCon 2012-eBooks, New Media and Mobile Devices Track

Presenter:  Maxwell Hoffman, Adobe Systems

Rethinking contentObviously the world has changed for those who engage in content creation, and Maxwell Hoffman believes it’s time technical communicators began rethinking content creation. He devoted his LavaCon 2012 presentation to showing how to break authoring habits associated with traditional computer screens and paper.

Hoffman pointed out that the landscape has changed for content creators. Readers in the 21st century have less time to read and shorter attention spans, and expect the latest and greatest version of any content as soon as possible. This goes hand in hand with the technical communication trend of fewer writers with heavier workloads, with increased pressure to serve a global audience.

As Hoffman showed in his timeline, page size was the lens through which we visualize delivered content for decades. Most writers write enough words to fill up the space we are working (such as the bottom of the page) and include critical information in nested lists or tables. The challenge now is to write for smaller containers, as the mobile aspect ratio presents a serious challenge for delivery.

Hoffman provided some great tips for how to write content short enough for small screens:

  • Use alternate templates that simulate screen and font/point size ratio
  • Break long sentence patterns: Write an outline on a typewriter – you can only write, not edit, and it feels and looks different.
  • Dictation: Try creating 1.5 pages of content via dictation. One breath is equal to a good sentence for an iphone screen.
  • Put topics or concepts on post-it notes, and “organize them” on a manila filing folder.

Hoffman also recommended that writers read or listen to good examples of concise content that gets to the point in very few words: Martha Stewart (everything you need to know podcasts) and Dorothy Parker/E.F. Benton (1920s modern humor; short pithy sentences).

Recommended resources for rethinking content

Multi-screen Help Authoring webinar with Joe Welinske (requires Adobe ID to login and view)
Mobile First, Luke Wroblewski (2011) (link to buy: http://www.abookapart.com/products/mobile-first)

Slideshare link: http://www.slideshare.net/adobetcs/lavacon12-rethink-content-paper-to-tablet

Rachel Houghton

Rachel has been taking photos as a serious amateur since she got her first camera at the age of 16 - a Canon AE-1 Program. She has a Nikon D100, a Nikon D7000, and is anxiously awaiting the new (as yet unannounced) Nikon D400. She's a technical writer, specializing in software documentation and online help, with more than 14 years of technical communication experience. She is a former Secretary for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), past program chair of the STC Technical Communication Summit, and is actively involved in the STC Willamette Valley community and reviews books for the STC journal, Technical Communication. She enjoys photography and Photoshop. Find Rachel on Twitter @rjhoughton or view her photos on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhoughton.

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