At the November program of the New England Chapter of STC, we heard stories of what works and what doesn’t when managing digital content.
The program, titled “RTFM: Acronym Whose Time Never Came,” was held on Wednesday, November 30, at the Canton Public Library. Steve Greffenius, past Chapter President and today principal at Puzzle Mountain Digital, shared his experiences and insights.
Customers today expect to find user information on the web using a Google search, not only in consumer markets but also in more restricted environments. Whether or not the company posts its documentation, that search is likely to return information posted by other users. If the search is unsatisfactory, the customers’ second step is a call to customer support (who should always have the most recent documentation on hand). Consulting the documentation on site increasingly doesn’t happens, even when it’s available. The corollary is that if you’re still writing thousand-page manuals, even if your customers have to read them, they probably aren’t.
Companies are wise to bow to the inevitable. Not only should they post their documentation, but they should design it for posting—that is, not as PDF files suitable for distribution on CD-ROM, but as searchable topics. Yet many companies do neither. Why not? Steve said failure to post is partly due to a fear of divulging trade secrets, but speculated that sticking with PDFs is partly due to adherence to long-established practices that companies are reluctant to change. (As the adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But a process can become obsolete without ever breaking.)
Steve suggested some practices that apply to all kinds of material and keep things “tidy, simple, accurate, and fast:”
- Consistently naming files
- Streamlining production processes
- Using version control
- Single sourcing (never allowing two copies of the same content in different locations)
- Paying attention to primary distribution channels
At the end of the presentation Steve donated two copies of his 2016 book RTFM: Practical Advice for Smart Writers, which were raffled off to attendees.
[Ed. Note: We are indebted to Paul Duarte, who contributed to the contents of this article.]