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DITA folder hierarchy, conref, mapref, and more

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 11:59

This is my second entry in my DITA journey series. Here, in no particular order, I cover a miscellany of DITA challenges – content re-use, maprefs, folder structures, ditamaps, topicsets, and authoring-publishing workflows.

Content re-use

DITA allows you to re-use content in several different ways. The most obvious way is that you can use the same topic in different maps through the topicref element. This allows the whole topic to be re-used. But if you have smaller re-use needs (more like “snippets” rather than top (more)

My DITA journey begins

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 12:00

I have decided to try out DITA in a more extensive way. I think it will work for my situation, and it’s always fun to experiment with a new method for authoring help material.

A few people have asked that I keep them updated on my progress. While the details of my foray into DITA will expose my naiveté, it might also lead toward guidance and advice from DITA gurus, who will likely look at my strategies and reasoning and shake their heads, laughing at my attempts and deciding to give me a few pointers.

My basic setup

Just to describe my basic setup, I have about 8 guidebooks (more)

The need for robust tech comm authoring tools

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 23:22

Neal Kaplan recently posted about the search for a perfectly adequate authoring tool, which got me thinking about the tools I use.

At the time I joined my current company, I had to change my help authoring tools quite a bit. At my previous company, I used Mediawiki and Madcap Flare. Both tools worked pretty well. At my present company, we publish on Drupal, which is a web-based CMS similar to WordPress but more robust. All the content lives primarily on Drupal.


Strategies for using links with DITA

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 10:00

One of the strategies that always seems to cause me dilemmas with DITA is how to best handle linking.

Mark Baker has an in-depth essay on linking, where he explores many of the issues associated with links. I would point you to the post, but whether to insert the link here or elsewhere is at the heart of many discussions about linking. So I’ll briefly delay inserting the link while exploring the risks of doing so.

If I insert the link to Mark’s post here, two potential problems occur:

1. You might immediately jump to his post and, because it is rather long, (more)

STC Chapter provides special outing to San Diego zoo for members

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 12:02

The West Bay STC chapter recently provided a special expedition to the San Diego zoo for all chapter members who wanted to participate. 67 members signed up for the special zoo tour, which involved several exclusive behind-the-scenes encounters with animals, including but not limited to the famous China panda, Xena the giraffe, and a habitat for Capuchin monkeys.

The chapter president, Mark Zimmerman, explained that the chapter had surplus f (more)

Now that debts are paid off, plan to travel the world for a year, documenting things

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:58

It’s official. Starting May 1, 2014 until May 1, 2015, my wife and I are taking the year off to see the world. By see the world, I mean we will travel from country to country (from the U.S. to Europe, Africa, Asia, China, Alaska, and the Polynesian islands — as we make our way around the earth).

The idea for the trip came about in part because we finally paid off all our debts — student loans, cars, house, gambling (just kidding). So we felt a new-found freedom. But also, we want to see the world before we’re old and retired. Now is as good a time as any. I (more)

Dita Von Teese to give keynote at DITA North America 2014 Conference

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:54

Dita Von Teese will be giving the keynote to DITA North America, The Center for Information-Development Management (CIDM) recently announced. DITA experts and other attendees are thrilled as they look forward to her keynote.

“I kind of always wanted to see her at the conference,” said Don Day, father of DITA. “It’s just a natural fit.”

While some were surprised at the selection of a burlesque dancer as the keynote for the conference, others assumed DITA, an XML format for structuring technical con (more)

New hot coals event to be highlight at Lavacon conference

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:48

Long-time participants of Jack Molisani’s Lavacon Conference know the conference’s location originated in Hawaii at a time when tech writer budgets allowed for travel and vacationing in the islands.

In an effort to better brand Lavacon and make it more unique — especially in light of the competing Information Development World conference taking place during the same month — Jack has announced that a hot coal firewalk will be the highlight at this year’s opening keynote.

“Back in Hawaii we talked about doing t (more)

The Content Wrangler Announces New 52 Mini-Conference Model

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:41

Scott Abel of The Content Wrangler has already either planned or executed three profitable conferences this year — Intelligent Content, Intelligent Content Health Sciences, and Information Development World. Scott recently announced a new micro-conference model, patterned after his Language of Content Strategy book, that will include 52 conferences scheduled for 2015.

The 52 new conferences added to the 2015 schedule will be held in tech hub cities around the U.S., such as Sacramento, Phoenix, Austin, San Jose, Atlanta, Tampa, Portla (more)

Using metadata to control online navigation through portlets

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 12:16

One of the ideas I’ve been intrigued by is a portlet model for navigation. I actually have it implemented in my help content (though behind a firewall – sorry), and it’s been interesting to see it in action with real content. Note that I’m talking here about help on a website, not in PDF or standalone tripane help.

Here’s the basic idea. Content can be organized in a lot of different ways. We know this. Unfortunately, the table of contents (TOC) paradigm model fixes the organization of content in a single arrangement. By adding metadata to topics, we can reassemble the topi (more)

Writing skills versus technical skills, or, What I realized in solving a Sudoku puzzle

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 11:51

A reader recently asked,

I am a double major in English and IST at The Pennsylvania State university and I am trying to figure out how much technology I will get to learn as a tech writer. I read somewhere else that tech writing is 90% learning technology, 10% writing. What are your thoughts about how deeply you have to understand technology?

Let me respond by relating a recent experience. The other day, my third-grader brought home a 6×6 Sudoku image puzzle as homework and had trouble solving it. I had never tried my hand at Sudoku, and didn’t really care much for (more)

soap! A new conference for technical writers in Poland

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 12:24

Pawel Kowaluk is a technical writer in Poland who is organizing a new conference called soap!, scheduled for October 1-3, 2014, in Krakow.

I asked Pawel, who works as a tool specialist for technical writing at Motorola Solutions Inc., to share a little bit more information about the new saoap! conference, including his reasons for organizing one in Poland, and some other details about the tech comm scene.

1. What’s th (more)

Do I need to take courses in technical writing? Guest post by Laura Palmer

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 16:13

A reader asks,

Is there a technical writing standard certification or course that is renowned as the best and one that touches on the additional skills necessary (technical programming/software etc.) to succeed in the field? Maybe one that addresses the best way to find contracts, projects, and other jobs? I just don’t want to pay for classes and find out the one I chose is irrelevant or inferior to another course. I see you note STC’s courses, but looks like they were offered back in January.

I submitted this question to (more)

Videos and reflections from the 2014 Intelligent Content Conference

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 02:37

While at the Intelligent Content 2014 conference, I interviewed 10 different people about their presentation topics. In addition to this compilation post, I posted all of the interviews as separate posts (mainly to simplify linking). The list of interviewees include:

Tobi Crabtree on Virtual Agents (Intelligent Content 2014)

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:59

Tobi Crabtree talks about her presentation, “Ivy, Intel’s Virtual HR Agent,” at Intelligent Content 2014.


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Val Swisher on Translation Without Borders at Intelligent Content 2014

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:58

Val Swisher of Content Rules talks about her presentation, “WikiProject Medicine: Breaking Down Barriers to Save Lives” at Intelligent Content 2014.

See for more information.


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Noz Urbina on The Biological Imperative for Intelligent Content (Intelligent Content 2014)

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:57

Noz Urbina talks about “The Biological Imperative for Intelligent Content” at Intelligent Content 2014. See for more info.


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Mark Baker on Every Page Is Page One (Intelligent Content 2014)

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:56

Mark Baker talks about Every Page Is Page One at Intelligent Content 2014. See for more information.


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Rahel Bailie on the Language of Content Strategy (Intelligent Content 2014)

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:55

Rahel Bailie talks about the Language of Content Strategy at Intelligent Content 2014. See for more information.


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Don Day on Connecting Intelligent Content with Micropublishing (Intelligent Content 2014)

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 01:55

Don Day talks about Connecting Intelligent Content with Micropublishing and Beyond at Intelligent Content 2014. See for more information.]


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