I had high expectations when I picked up my own autographed copy of Mark Baker’s “Every Page Is Page One” at LavaCon 2013. I even picked up a second copy for the local STC chapter to give as a raffle prize at the next program meeting. Then I was asked to review the book for TechWhirl.
The hype I heard surrounding the book at LavaCon and through other social media outlets did not let me down. I was gratified to see that he was affirming something I’ve believed for a long time – users don’t want to look at or search through your help or documentation any more. They want to search Google, not only to search your available documentation, but to see if someone else has experienced and dealt with that same issue.
He divided his book into three parts: content in the context of the web, characteristics of “Every Page is Page One” topics, and writing “Every Page is Page One” topics.
Content in the Context of the Web
For me, the most important nugget that Mark imparts in this section is this, “For your documentation to add value, it must be available wherever people look for information about your product, and they will not just look at the information you provide, they will look at all the information that other people provide as well.”
Exactly. Hiding your content behind a closed “wall” does not work for your users. What do you want your users to see when they do a Google search? Search results that include your company’s carefully thought out content. What do users get if they search and your content is behind a wall? They will always get mixed search results, some that will not be positive, and they’ll never see your content unless someone has posted from your content to another location.
That’s when the question becomes, as Mark puts it, “how authors can make sure their content gets filtered in, not filtered out.” This is where Chapter 5, “Information Architecture Bottom Up” comes in – webs organize themselves bottom-up using subject affinities. Subject affinities help the user to connect a topic on one subject to topics on related subjects, and links connect content based on subject affinities. An Every Page is Page One topic is a hub that allows the user to explore the content.
Characteristics of Every Page is Page One Topics
Mark covers two broad classes of topics in this section: building-block topics and presentational topics. I agree with the way he set up this section, and the examples are easily understood.
A building-block topic should seamlessly fit the context it is placed into, either context-dependent or context-free. A context-dependent topic is preceded by a lead-in topic, and followed by a lead-out topic – this is very apparent in a book format. A context-free topic is “like Lego blocks – you can put them together in any order, but only some orders will make sensible, usable constructs.”
A presentational topic is designed as a unit a reader receives. Mark argues that an Every Page is Page One (EPPO) topic is a presentational topics, but that not all presentational topics are EPPO topics.
“Every Page is Page One topics (EPPO topics) are presentational topics that are meant to function alone, without dependence on a hierarchical structure. EPPO topics work equally well no matter how readers get to them.”
Think of the Web as a very large collection of EPPO topics, because the EPPO topic is the natural style of topic being linked on the Web. Wikis are a medium for presenting EPPO topics for technical documentation, changing the dynamic from books formatted as PDF files or help systems, content that not was created to work on the Web.
In section 6.8, Mark covers the characteristics of EPPO topics: self-contained, specific and limited purpose, conform to type, establish context, assume the reader is qualified, stay on one level, and link richly. Chapters 7-13 go into a lot of detail about each characteristic, providing useful examples and information to help the reader understand.
Writing Every Page is Page One Topics
At this point in Mark’s book, I started skimming instead of reading. The information included in this section tended to bog down in details. I would not use this section in a linear fashion, but on an “as needed” basis. Chapters 14-21 cover writing EPPO topics. Want to know more about addressing the sequence of tasks versus a sequence of topics? You’d go directly to chapter 16, instead of reading chapters 14 and 15 first. Chapter 19 is extremely useful to me, as it covers metadata, and specifically about adding good metadata. “Without explicit metadata, search engines will attempt to derive metadata from the content itself. The Web is driven by metadata.” Using metadata ties in nicely with the first section of the book, making sure the user filters in your content, instead of filtering it out.
At the end of the book, Mark makes the case for the EPPO pattern of information design. He acknowledges that there are practical concerns and challenges, and makes the case for each. Mark admits that EPPO is not for everything, and that nothing applies universally.
I found this book very useful, and appreciate the use of examples and information included in each chapter. I can see this book being a staple in every technical communicator’s toolbox, and a worthy addition to technical communication courses.
Title: Every Page Is Page One: Topic-Based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web
Author: Mark Baker
Print Length: 290 pages
Publisher: XML Press; 1 edition (November 26, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.