TechWhirl: Technical Communications Recap for February 17, 2012

This week’s update on technical communications and the TechWhirl community is supported by Platinum sponsor Madcap & their Ultimate Communications Suite, MadPak |

From the Desk of the Editor

Back at the turn of the century, the TechWhirl discussion list was embroiled in a vehement debate on content versus structure (called “structure versus substance”)… and I mean vehement. There were those on the SGML bandwagon (see, I told you it was turn of the century) who believed nothing was more important than structuring the content correctly.  And then there were those of us who wondered what the point of well-structured content was if it didn’t say anything important, relevant or coherent. I remembered quite clearly trying to argue that for technical communications, one can’t survive without the other. At that time I was a content-first hothead, but I’ve always understood that structure provides the context that allows meaning to be conveyed.  (Those outlining exercises from my third-grade teacher Mrs. Beagen, and subsequent years of sentence diagramming did indeed pay off).

Now fast forward to 2012, and like so many of our technical communications debates, the attributes have changed, but the core principle remains… content and structure are intimately and forever entwined.  This symbiotic relationship was clarified for both Al and me over the weekend when we reorganized the TechWhirl website with a new taxonomy.  An 18-hour marathon that resulted in a more usable and sustainable organization for the great content being produced by the Special Writers Unit, guest contributors, and others in the technical communications field who comment here and on the list with great insights.

Prior to Sunday’s marathon, we’d spent many hours in the realm of taxonomy trying to determine the best way to organize our content to be findable.  Taxonomy is tough, but slogging through the process gave me a great appreciation for the other structure-related tasks—like developing schemas or DITA templates—that are required to produce useful, usable stuff for our customers.  We didn’t mess with design, and we sure didn’t mess with content, but we hope you’ll find your way around a more pleasurable and productive excursion through the technical communications community.

While you’re sightseeing, stop for a moment and take a look at Jacquie Samuels’ Tips and Tricks for Video Tutorials, and take a break to laugh at another turn-of-the-century classic on the unemployment fairy and karma from Lisa Higgins.

Video tutorials or the unemployment fairy not your true technical communications love?  That’s okay, slide over to our weekly poll and tell us about your undying love for all things tech comm in our weekly poll.  Because we know, like structure and content, the ones we love have different outlooks and purpose, but they’re always bound together with us.

Have a great weekend!

– The gang at TechWhirl


In Case You Missed it: This Week  @ TechWhirl

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Technical Communications: What You’re Talking About

A quick shout out to our Technical Writers and their discussions in our email discussion group:

  • Kevin McLaughlin struggles with conveying the correct meaning of command-line syntax so he asked the list “How you say… ?” and included three options.  Whirlers responded with their knowledge of standards for command-line syntax and recommendations to remove ambiguity.
  • Mark Eichelberger is looking for opinions on a “Generic MS Windows Support message” for his documentation, one that clearly indicates support (or lack thereof) for OS versions. Whirlers focused on software documentation responded with good alternatives on how or whether to include service pack information, whether to list each OS version, and more. Julie Stickler recommended surveying tech support and sales to find out if customers or prospects ask for specific OS support.

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