Re: Documents on demand?

Subject: Re: Documents on demand?
From: Edwin Skau <eddy -dot- skau -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2005 12:49:24 +0530

Hi Krista,

Around three years ago we began designing such a system for the
company I worked with, then.

A couple of my team members and I had conducted extensive research on
such a system and discovered there was no out-of-the-box solution for
what we wanted. There were, however, solutions that could be
customized to meet our purpose.

A sturdy information model would be a critical dependency for such a
system, and should be established before evaluating delivery systems.

Critical to such a model would be:
1. Mature information artefacts (documents that successfully address
user information requirements)
2. A granular and contextual user profile (expressed in information
3. Modular documentation, (about as granular as the user profile)
4. Very comprehensive information-requirements-to-information-module mapping

Our system was supposed to be able to customize information so that a
customer would be able to:
1. Select from lists: the application, version and patches, according
to their requirements.
2. Select topics from a list of procedures, concepts, operations.
3. Define their expertise level (experts would get a minimised
quick-reference sort of instruction set with a list or routines and
variables required; intermediate users would get a set of commands to
enter; beginners would have entire procedures spelled out in detail).
4. Select from a bunch of templates (numbered/non-numbered headings,
etc.) and formats (PDF, HTML, etc.)

Unfortunately, that company regarded the technical writing department
primarily as a formatting resource. Our work was not a key result area
for the department head I reported
to - merely a source of brownie points. It was also important that our
department always remain subordinate to his original department.
Needless to say, I quit, taking a financial hit of a little over
$50000. Soon after my exit, the more enterprising team members either
quit or moved out of range.

So, I envy the fact that your company actually encourages this sort of

You may want to look at Arbortext. When we spoke to them, the company
used to offer consultation and was willing to provide tool
customization as well.

It would also help to have a technical team work with you on this
(your docs team will either require permanent technical profiles, or
dedicated support from your IT/MIS team). There are a bunch of
Free/Open Source tools for UNIX or Linux that you can use to build a
tool chain for the purpose.

Hungryminds (later bought over by IDG) had an interesting a la carte
DoD system, that let users select topic-level information chunks from
selected works and compile them into a PDF doc. All of this online.

Wishing you great success in this project. Although I do not have most
of my research material, I would love to field any queries on this
topic offline.

Have a great day.

With envy,

- edwin

Krista Van Laan wrote:

> Is anyone here providing customized documentation to their users? I am
> interested in finding out if I can produce customized documentation,
> preferably with an out-of-the-box product. I imagine something like a
> wizard where they would select their configuration, which of our
> products or services they are using, and we would then give them only
> the documentation or online help they need. I'm having a hard time doing
> a search for this. I noticed that Adobe is selling a number of
> documentation services, but I can't tell if any of those would do what
> I'm looking for.
> I find that we tend to produce way too much documentation, and customers
> are having a hard time wading through everything to figure out what they
> need. It would be great to give them exactly what we think they need,
> while still providing the full set if they want to look for more. I am
> sure I'm not the only person who wants to do this. Ideas?
> Thanks,
> Krista
> ================================================
> Krista Van Laan
> Director, User Experience and Documentation, VeriSign Security Services
> 487 E. Middlefield Road Mountain View, CA 94043
> Tel: 650-426-5158 Fax: 650-426-5195


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Documents on demand?: From: Van Laan, Krista

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