Producing Great Content for the Web: TechWhirl Fast 5 with Doc-To-Help

TechWhirl Fast Five Widget BannerEveryone wants the magic formula for content strategy on the web, and we learned in our Fast 5 discussion with Doc-To-Help that it’s easier when you just produce good content from the start—that leads to better content on the web and elsewhere.

TechWhirl co-owners, Connie Giordano and Al Martine, sat down with Dan Beall, Nicky Bleiel, and Shani Mahler to discuss strategies for creating, publishing, and reusing the best content on the web. Doc-To-Help is a long-time valued member of the TechWhirl world, including underwriting the forums and email discussion list.

Read on to learn more about the top 5 questions and answers from the show.

1. What makes great technical communication content on the web?

The big transition for people who write and product content is that it’s no longer exclusively in print, but more likely, on the web.

  • Be brief.
  • Share relevant screen shots and video.
  • Consider wide-screen length of text and reader fatigue.
  • Produce content that displays well on laptop, phone, etc.
  • Remove assumptions of what device people will be on.
  • Acknowledge that putting link to PDF does not equal web-engaging content.

2. Why do you think there’s so much bad documentation out there? Where’s the hang-up?

  • Documentation is often an afterthought, and hard to maintain with products.
  • Managers without expertise in content development and search often feel that a linked PDF is sufficient.
  • Writers have a hard time making the business case for more time, money, and resources often short.
  • Writers don’t always make great designers, but they often become the resources assigned to design layouts.

Related question: How can authors improve the content and development process?

Doc-to-Help’s experts suggested that authors can learn how to use the tools to help the process. They should develop a working knowledge of style sheets and how to design for web and print readability.

The good news is that many free resources are available online to help develop these skills. To make the business case to managers for more time and money to develop more advanced skills, look to customer satisfaction and explain that these improvements help avoid customer complaints later.

3. In a multi-device world how do you ensure that the right content gets to the user on the device they are currently using?

Responsive design, single sourcing, style sheets, and metadata allow content to be displayed at the proper resolution. Intermediate knowledge of HTML5 and cascading style sheets (CSS) are necessary to design in this way.

4. Should you consider context if you are considering responsive design? Why?

The most important thing to understand is your audience, which provides the context for the content they expect and the preferred delivery formats.  Understanding your audience means you need to talk to your support product management and marketing teams, join local user groups, attend conferences, and participate in online forums.

Keeping the audience at the forefront of design and implementation is an ongoing effort. Coordinate with the product management to contact customers to determine their content needs. Review the usage stats from web-based help, most frequently visited, etc., and know where you need to improve.

Talk to anyone interfacing with customers and determine behaviors and survey current/potential customers.

5. What does planning look like when thinking responsive versus static (or traditional) design?

Planning and successfully implementing these efforts rely on some basic guidance:

  • Write concisely
  • Ensure image loading times are short
  • Design so that content movement is vertical
  • Create meaningful headings to allow for scrolling and two levels of navigation

You can watch the one-hour video on YouTube or review the complete live notes we captured in TechWhirl Fast 5 Doc-To-Help Summary and Questions.

Jill Parman

Jill is the owner of ForWord Consulting, LLC, which provides instructional design, technical communication, and business analysis services. She is a master of useless trivia, has a slight obsession with Pilot fine tip pens, and spends her free time chasing around a toddler and two dogs.

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