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© Ugur Akinci
I believe not too far into the future a great majority of technical documents will be produced through Content Management System (CMS) platforms. Reduced to its simplest terms, a CMS is a text editor ran by a relational and searchable database.
Content Management Systems are not cheap and they have a learning curve. That’s why a lot of companies think they’re saving money by postponing the shift to a CMS-based integrated documentation platform like Author-it, MadCap Flare, or WebWorks ePublisher. However, in terms of productivity, accuracy, and localization costs, such companies would be losing money in the long run, especially when the documentation project generates thousands of pages, needs to be updated on a regular basis with each product release or version, and is shouldered by a team spread over several cities, countries, or even continents. That’s my honest personal opinion.
Here are some of the advantages of working with a CMS:
(1) CONTENT REUSE. This is an obvious one. Why rewrite that paragraph about new user configuration and recapture the related screen captures over and over again? For example the XYZ User Guide, XYZ System Admin Guide, and XYZ Installation Guide may all require a section devoted to “User Configuration.” Why not write it once, have it reviewed and approved, and then just import and insert it from a central database? The solution would yield higher standardization if the different guides are written by different authors within the same company. Imagine the time saving such a workflow would represent.
(2) ACCESS LEVELS. Sometimes errors creep in to a document due to “embedded information.” If for example your document is prefaced with a LEGAL NOTICE, why should a technical writer be the one to update it? What if the legal department had the custody of that page, wrote and updated it as necessary, and saved it in the database for you to import it wherever needed? Similarly, why not delegate all company contact information to an office assistant or manager so that every time you download that information into your document you’d be confident that it’s the most recent and correct contact information… When experts take over those sections of the document that fall within their area of expertise, you can produce your documents much faster, with higher levels of accuracy and thus customer satisfaction.
(3) STANDARDIZATION is another great benefit of a CMS. End users hate to see “Expiry Date” in one screen and “Expiration Date” on another. You may confuse them if on one page you describe how to “supercede” an access authorization yet refer to it later on as the “supersession process”. You need a CMS keeping track of terminology and style definitions in order to avoid flip-flopping between “check box” and “check-box”, “radio button” and “option button”, “down load list” and “down-load arrow”, etc. Standardization cuts down both production and review time, and generates a sense of trust for the end-users.
(4) ACCOUNTABILITY. Today some documents are produced in tight regulatory environments, like the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare sector, or the investment and finance sector. To maximize accountability and minimize any ad hoc route corrections, you may have to document not only every change (when and why was the change performed and authorized by whom?) but also what happened to the obsolete and “deleted” content? Corporations are increasingly coming under such regulatory pressures that sometimes they are mandated to manage even the content that five or ten years ago they could just delete and forget about it. For all such concerns a CMS is a perfect tool and solution as well.