Trends: The Changing Nature of Content

Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf in the UK made a very compelling presentation on the Changing Nature of Content in a recent webinar with Adobe. There is a webinar recording, and a detailed white paper (authored by Pratt) which you can download on this subject.

The image below identifies the white paper which you will wish to download:

00 white paper

This post touches on some highlights from both webinar and white paper.

Key topics around the changing nature of content

  1. What is the traditional approach to technical writing?
  2. The Technical Writer’s relationship with the reader
  3. Why change? The weakness with the current approach
  4. Towards a new model
  5. What are the benefits for doing this?
  6. Using Adobe Tools

Traditional approach to technical writing

Pratt covers several historic traditional approaches that still influence content creation, including:

The traditional model: usually noted as succinct, clear and unambiguous, numbered lists, topic-based writing, unemotional and an active voice. The traditional model is good for content that involves:

Technical writer’s relationship with the reader

Traditionally this has been “adult to adult” and “unemotional.” The Traditional User Assistance (UA) model has been prone to islands of information, including Forums, Help and Training as discrete units.

01 Traditional UA model

Why change?

Key issues are the phenomenon of “no-one reads the manual” and uncertainty over UA content’s value. Technology is changing, and some content creators may feel that they are more in control, and have more influence over the reader. Rapidly changing technology is influencing everything, including how we purchase technology. “Try before you buy” has become much more common.

In this new landscape, your potential clients must “come up to speed” and find the support they need in order to buy the product and actually become customers. Apps for mobile devices are also influencing a drop in product prices. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of App abandonment (for inexpensive apps.)

Users are changing and becoming more competent

Users want to master products and tasks. People are motivated by Autonomy, Master and Purpose.

Towards a new model

We still need technical communication in order to:

We don’t have the option of using one type of relationship between writer and reader. Some services like LinkedIn have a much more conversational tone in Help pages than what is found with other services.

Tone of voice and context

Context can create a sense of authority or importance, as Ellis points out with some “on the street” examples. There are several examples of tone from various types of Help shared:

One useful online resource is a set of examples from MailChimp’s style guide. They have published their style guide on a site called

Developing and integrated model for learning, User Assistance and mastery

Help and learning (or training) are becoming much more integrated than in days of previous technologies. This is a significant move away the traditional model shown in the previous screen capture. Ellis shared a basis for understanding the competence of users, summarized in the two slides below:

02 competence of users

03 T shaped competence

In both white paper and webinar recording, Ellis makes it crystal clear what the differences are between users who know that they are incompetent from users who are totally unconscious of this fact. Obviously, this can have a huge impact on how you can create successful, engaging content.

A unified system

Trends today are for users to want to go to a single place for necessary or useful information. This requires an integration of knowledge that was previously encapsulated in different forms and locations. The slide below gives you a hint of how Ellis describes this process.

04 unified system

What do we measure to ensure success?

Matching Adobe Tech Comm products with this new design for User Assistance

In the recording, Ellis gives several useful examples of how and when either FrameMaker or RoboHelp could be used at various levels on a new UA design. The slide below summarizes his points, including Captivate, Presenter and Illustrator as other key tools found in Adobe Tech Comm Suite.

05 Adobe tools

Solutions include creation of widgets, and role-based content views generated from conditional text and user variables. You will find examples at about the 30-35 minute point in the webinar. Although the focus of both white paper and webinar are key concepts rather than product demo, you may find a tour of Adobe Tech Comm Suite useful.

Have your own hands-on with Adobe Tech Comm Suite 4 and decide how you can use it

Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4 includes FrameMaker 11, which is an excellent authoring solution and also a versatile structured editor for DITA/XML. In addition, RoboHelp 10 makes it extremely simple to publish multiple versions of your content to multiscreen HTML5. The possibilities with these new tools are as limitless as the profiles of our existing and potential customers. To discover how you can use Tech Comm Suite, download a trial copy today. After having your own hands-on, you may decide in favor of the best bargain of all, obtaining a cloud subscription to the entire Tech Comm Suite 4, which includes RoboHelp 10, Captivate 6 and other products in addition to FrameMaker 11.