I shouldn’t take decongestants. Ever. I can’t sleep even 18 hours after I take one. So I’m awake at 4am. Actually I was awake at 3am, but I listened to my husband snore for 45 minutes before I gave into the inevitable and resentfully, but quietly, got up to make coffee. He’s still snoring.
Maybe I can nap later today.
And this relates to content management how?
I spent the week working on a client’s files. One of the things I like about the files is that they are trying to hit all learning styles by using screen videos and videos of an expert in the field talking about the pros and cons of doing things in various ways in their product.
Now, I’m not a visual learner and I really don’t like watching videos on my computer. I also know I’m in the minority on this. But visual and auditory learners need this support. For them, it’s good to have these videos to support them in a sea of words.
So one of the things I did in these files this week was copy the links for these videos from the More Information topic to other places in the help files. If you’re going to do this sort of thing, it’s good to be structured. My structure is:
[little picture] link to video
more discussion or what ever comes next in the topic.
So if a link is there, the users can see it after a short paragraph. Visual learners skip the words and will see the link quickly, word oriented learners read the words and will skip over the video link. I think these videos were a great idea by the client and I liked making them even more available in other topics.
If there’s time in this project, I’d like to see us do more of these. Great way to support non-word oriented learners.
You can do almost anything
To support your users, you really can do a lot. But you need to hit all four learning styles and you need to be consistent about it.
I listen to a lot of newsgroups and one of my favorite posts is “Do I use appears or displays?” or something like that. It matters very little, in the users’ minds, as long as you pick one and use that. We lose our contribution to our users when we spend endless hours deciding what’s “best”. Pick one. I have a favorite, you have a favorite. But it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture, as long as you use it consistently.
And that consistency is the important part in what ever you’re doing. In document design, people depend on the schema you set up in the first few topics they see, whether it’s a help system or a book. So if you decide to include links to a video, design your information so that the link is always in the same place. Even if it’s not in every topic, users will know where to look for it to see if it’s available. A fast glance in the right spot tells them.
Wasted days and wasted nights
I suppose because I’ve spent the bulk of my career as a contractor or consultant (I’ve had 3 salaried jobs in this field), I don’t like wasting time. That is time I could be developing content, which is what I’m getting paid for, I feel.
I also know that some (many?) tech writers like to spend a lot of time deciding stuff: display or appear? One space or two after a period? Indexing, gerunds or not?
Despite the fact that many of my closest friends are tech comm people, this makes my head explode. Our value doesn’t come from these discussions.
Our value as a profession comes from developing useful content that allows the user to understand something and get back to what they were doing. We make the unknown known. That’s what we do best and that’s where we add value.
We devalue ourselves and we shouldn’t
When we spend time arguing these trivial things, we devalue our contribution and I think that’s a bad thing. I know it seems we don’t have a lot of control in our profession and this helps us feel we have some. But it’s controlling the wrong stuff.
We have control over important things, like how to describe a concept, using metaphors, perhaps, so that it’s easy for your user to map known information to the unknown. We decide where a picture might support learning and how to best show that. We decide how and where our users are going to get the information support they need to be successful in what they need to do.
We have a lot of control, and influence, over people we may never meet. Let’s focus on that and stop the trivial discussions.
After all, we have an entire world that needs instructions.