To boldly go where no tech writer has gone before (one can dream, right?)

Book review: The Language of Content Strategy

The Language of Content Strategy

I’ve developed a lot of content in my life as a tech writer, but content strategy is a field that still puzzles me. What does it mean exactly? Why is it so important? And what on earth are transclusions, wireframes, and folksonomy? I finally found the book that answered all my questions: The Language of Content Strategy.

Published by XML Press, The Language of Content Strategy is a very unique book. Edited by Scott Abel (best known at the Content Wrangler) and Rahel Anne Bailie, it provides short texts written by 52 experts in the field of content strategy. Each text describes a term used in content strategy, and the terms are grouped into five categories: core concepts, core deliverables, technical concepts, extended deliverables, and global content.

I was afraid that reading a “dictionary” of content strategy terms might be tedious, but I very much enjoyed The Language of Content Strategy. The language is crisp and dynamic, the descriptions read very well, and enough information is provided to clearly explain each term without drowning the reader with too many details. I often found myself underlining sections of the book and taking notes in the margins for topics I wanted to explore, and I know that I’ll go back to this book for reference.

Each text also includes a short bio of the contributor, which allowed me to come up with a list of other books I want to read, as well as blogs and Twitter accounts I want to follow. Clearly, the editors gave much thought to the content and organisation of this book. They know content!

If you want to find out more about content strategy, I highly recommend The Language of Content Strategy. It will be available on Amazon later this week.


Book Review: DITA Best Practices

I started writing documentation using DITA and Oxygen over a year ago. How I wished DITA Best Practices: A Roadmap for Writing, Editing, and Architecting in DITA had been available at that time!

I knew enough about DITA to get started, thanks to a great weeklong training from Comtech Services (JoAnn Hackos’s company). I could create concept, task, and reference topics and organize them into a DITA map. I knew the basic elements and how to make simple hyperlinks, but I still had so many questions: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the different types of links? Why would I want to use this tag instead of that one? How do I use conditional processing correctly? DITA Best Practices answers all these questions.

Too many technical books focus on procedures or reference information, without answering the essential question: why? Why should I perform these procedures or use these tags? But that’s not the case with DITA Best Practices, which provides descriptions that are focused on user needs and tasks. Many of the other DITA resources are tag-centered; if you don’t know the name of the tag, how can you know that you’re supposed to use it?

This book is divided in three parts:

  • Part I, Writing in DITA, is a great introduction to the basic concepts of DITA and provides tips and recommendations on how to write effective concept, task, and reference topics.
  • Part II, Architecting Content, was by far the most useful for me. It explains how to organize your information so that it’s retrievable, organised, and reusable and covers in details topics such as linking, metadata, conditional processing, and content reuse.
  • Part III, Converting and Editing, describes how to move an existing documentation set to DITA.

The book also includes many examples, first providing the DITA code and then showing how the code would be displayed online, which I found very useful.

I highly recommend DITA Best Practices, whether you are just getting started with DITA or want to improve your DITA skills.