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Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors, 3rd Edition

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  • Copyright 2014
  • Dimensions: 7" x 9-1/8"
  • Edition: 3rd
  • eBook (Watermarked)
  • ISBN-10: 0-13-311900-9
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-13-311900-8

The #1 Guide to Excellence in Technical Communication—Fully Updated for Embedded Assistance, Mobile, Search, Multimedia, and More

Direct from IBM’s own content design experts, this guide shows you how to design product interfaces and technical information that always place users front and center. This edition has been fully revised to help you consistently deliver the right content at the right time.

You’ll master today’s best practices to apply nine essential characteristics of high-quality technical information: accuracy, clarity, completeness, concreteness, organization, retrievability, style, task orientation, and visual effectiveness.

Coverage Includes

  • Advocating for users throughout the entire product development process
  • Delivering information in an ordered manner by following progressive disclosure techniques
  • Optimizing content so that users can find it from anywhere
  • Streamlining information for mobile delivery
  • Helping users right where they are

Whether you’re a writer, editor, information architect, user experience professional, or reviewer, this book shows you how to create great technical information, from the product design to the user interface, topics, and other media.

  • Thoroughly revised and updated
  • Extensive new coverage of self-documenting interfaces and embedded assistance
  • Updated practical guidelines and checklists
  • Hundreds of new examples

Sample Content

Table of Contents

Preface    xvii

Acknowledgments    xix

About the authors    xxiii

Part 1. Introduction    1

Chapter 1. Technical information continues to evolve    3

Embedded assistance    4

Progressive disclosure of information    9

The technical writer’s role today    11

Redefining quality technical information    13

Chapter 2. Developing quality technical information    15

Preparing to write: understanding users, goals, and product tasks    16

Writing and rewriting    17

Reviewing, testing, and evaluating technical information    19

Part 2. Easy to use    21

Chapter 3. Task orientation    23

Write for the intended audience    25

Present information from the users’ point of view    27

Focus on users’ goals    32

Identify tasks that support users’ goals    33

Write user-oriented task topics, not function-oriented task topics    35

Avoid an unnecessary focus on product features    41

Indicate a practical reason for information    46

Provide clear, step-by-step instructions    49

Make each step a clear action for users to take    51

Group steps for usability    53

Clearly identify steps that are optional or conditional    58

Task orientation checklist    64

Chapter 4. Accuracy    67

Research before you write    69

Verify information that you write    74

Maintain information currency    79

Keep up with technical changes    79

Avoid writing information that will become outdated    82

Maintain consistency in all information about a subject    86

Reuse information when possible    86

Avoid introducing inconsistencies    88

Use tools that automate checking for accuracy    93

Accuracy checklist    96

Chapter 5. Completeness    99

Make user interfaces self-documenting    101

Apply a pattern for disclosing information    107

Cover all subjects that support users’ goals and only those subjects    115

Create an outline or topic model    115

Include only information based on user goals    118

Make sure concepts and reference topics support the goals    122

Cover each subject in only as much detail as users need    123

Provide appropriate detail for your users and their experience level    123

Include enough information    130

Include only necessary information    136

Repeat information only when users will benefit from it    141

Completeness checklist    148

Part 3. Easy to understand    151

Chapter 6. Clarity    153

Focus on the meaning    155

Eliminate wordiness    161

Write coherently    174

Avoid ambiguity    180

Use words as only one part of speech    180

Avoid empty words    183

Use words with a clear meaning    187

Write positively    189

Make the syntax of sentences clear    194

Use pronouns correctly    199

Place modifiers appropriately    201

Use technical terms consistently and appropriately    205

Decide whether to use a term    205

Use terms consistently    207

Define each term that is new to the intended audience    210

Clarity checklist    212

Chapter 7. Concreteness    215

Consider the skill level and needs of users    220

Use concreteness elements that are appropriate for the information type    223

Use focused, realistic, and up-to-date concreteness elements    240

Use scenarios to illustrate tasks and to provide overviews    243

Make code examples and samples easy to use    247

Set the context for examples and scenarios    251

Use similes and analogies to relate unfamiliar information to familiar information    253

Use specific language    256

Concreteness checklist    259

Chapter 8. Style    261

Use active and passive voice appropriately    263

Convey the right tone    267

Avoid gender and cultural bias    273

Spell terms consistently and correctly    276

Use proper capitalization    280

Use consistent and correct punctuation    284

Apply consistent highlighting    296

Make elements parallel    302

Apply templates and reuse commonly used expressions    305

Use consistent markup tagging    311

Style checklist    314

Part 4. Easy to find    317

Chapter 9. Organization    319

Put information where users expect it    322

Separate contextual information from other types of information    324

Separate contextual information into the appropriate type of embedded assistance    332

Separate noncontextual information into discrete topics by type    337

Arrange elements to facilitate navigation    345

Organize elements sequentially    350

Organize elements consistently    354

Reveal how elements fit together    360

Emphasize main points; subordinate secondary points    366

Organization checklist    376

Chapter 10. Retrievability    379

Optimize for searching and browsing    381

Use clear, descriptive titles    381

Use keywords effectively    384

Optimize the table of contents for scanning    389

Guide users through the information    394

Link appropriately    399

Link to essential information    400

Avoid redundant links    405

Use effective wording for links    409

Provide helpful entry points    413

Retrievability checklist    420

Chapter 11. Visual effectiveness    421

Apply visual design practices to textual elements    424

Use graphics that are meaningful and appropriate    431

Illustrate significant tasks and concepts    431

Make information interactive    441

Use screen captures judiciously    448

Apply a consistent visual style    460

Use visual elements to help users find what they need    467

Ensure that visual elements are accessible to all users    478

Visual effectiveness checklist    483

Part 5. Putting it all together    485

Chapter 12. Applying more than one quality characteristic    487

Applying quality characteristics to progressively disclosed information    488

Applying quality characteristics to information for an international audience    494

Applying quality characteristics to topic-based information    501

Chapter 13. Reviewing, testing, and evaluating technical information    515

Reviewing technical information    516

Testing information for usability    518

Testing technical information    524

Editing and evaluating technical information    527

Reading and editing the information    531

Reviewing the visual elements    536

Part 6. Appendixes    543

Appendix A. Quality checklist    545

Appendix B. Who checks which characteristics?    549

Glossary    555

Resources and references    565

Index    573


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