Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question)

Subject: Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question)
From: "Peter Neilson" <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2016 15:02:58 -0400

Yes, referring back to print, it's like the issue of how much stuff to put in an index. For a brief time it was all the rage to generate indexes "automatically", and the result would be an index full of pointers to irrelevant mentions of a word. I became tired of pointing out that the human effort "saved" in automatic indexing was destined to be expended many times over by the people who were trying to use the documentation.

On Mon, 03 Oct 2016 14:43:44 -0400, Kathleen MacDowell <kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote:

Mark, the issue you bring up is one of the ways in which electronic
materials can be less useful than paper ones. It's also an issue related to
using topic-related organization and perhaps CMS systems altogether.

The issue is to make sure that any statements or terms are clear and
identified in the relevant area. One can make things "briefer" in
appearance by using links to other sections, definitions, etc., but that's
a weak way to help ensure that the reader has the correct information. If
it's important, it should be spelled out right there. But if the definition
or whatever is in a separate topic, it might not be seen as important or
relevant. All of this depends on how important that information is.
Personally, I might forgo the use of links in many situations and fall back
the old (see section XX for more background). But not if the information is
important, though I might use it as a reminder inline instead of a link.

Kathleen

On Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 12:36 PM, <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com> wrote:

Kathleen,



While I donât disagree, I think there is something important to add here.
Links are not the only distracting thing that can occur in a document, not
the most distracting. The most distracting thing is probably a word or
concept that you do not understand. In a critical procedure â one that must
be completed â a word or a concept that you do not understand is obviously
a critical problem. If the reader continues to perform the procedure
despite not understanding critical information, there is a very obvious
danger that they will do something wrong in the procedure.



Then the question becomes, what is the best way to prevent them doing the
wrong thing based on a misunderstanding.



If they recognize that they have misunderstood, they may decide to look
elsewhere for information, which is obviously distracting in just the same
way that following a link is, but may ultimately be a good distraction.



Providing a link is an obvious way to make this search for explanation
easier for the reader, and to exercise control over which material they use
to clear up their misunderstanding.



But there is more to it than this: the likelihood of a person performing
any act is inversely proportional to its difficulty. Following a link is
easier than doing a search or going to a library, which means it is more
likely that the reader will try to clear up their misunderstanding rather
than carry on regardless.



If we donât regard providing a link as an adequate solution to the problem
of someone misunderstanding a procedure, however, then we need to take
other measures. There seem to be two alternatives:



 Address the subject of the possible misunderstanding inline.
This can work on a small scale, but if there are many potential points of
misunderstanding, it will balloon up the text, making the procedure harder
to follow and introducing a whole new class of distractions.

 Prequalify users to perform the procedure. That is, restrict
the performance of the procedure to people who have been certified in
whatever skills and understanding are required. In this case, removing the
links makes sense because readers are supposed to understand all the
required background and it would be better for them to stop when they donât
understand something than it would be for them to self-educate on the fly.



In short, links perform a function, and if we donât use them, we should
ask ourselves what will substitute for the failure to perform that
function, and what is the best way in the circumstances to make sure that
function is performed.



Mark



*From:* Kathleen MacDowell [mailto:kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com]
*Sent:* Monday, October 3, 2016 1:13 PM
*To:* Mark Baker <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
*Cc:* Monique Semp <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>; TechWR-L <
techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
*Subject:* Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question)



Both of your comments are interesting and informative.



To expand on what Mark said, then if one wants or expects a person to read
to the end of a document, one should not insert links. Not that the lack
would keep them reading, but it wouldn't lead them astray.



Thinking about the embedded steps though, I've worked on materials where
people should not be led astray. So I'd suggest these are especially
situations where links should not be used. If someone wants a refresher on
a later part of a process, they could do a search. All that suggests ways
in which such things should be organized, too, to assist the reader.



Kathleen



On Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 12:01 PM, <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com> wrote:

Yes, I am familiar with Mysti's presentation and with the DITArati's
common (though not universal) anti-inline-linking stand. The anti-linking
stand in DITA has a lot to do with the difficulties of managing inline
links in reused content. DITA's link management mechanisms are curiously
ill-suited to this task, which has led to many people using DITA turning
against inline linking altogether.

But there is something deeper at work here: a persistence of document
thinking, which is particularly evident in a couple of the cons you cite:

* Statistics show that users tend not to return to a page after they link
away.

Well, why would we expect them to? Document thinking says that readers are
supposed to read all the way to the end of the document so the document has
somehow failed if people follow a link and don't come back. But this is
ridiculous. It is like suggesting that a road should not have junctions
because people make take a side road and not travel all the way to the end
of the main road. Readers have an information destination and there is no
reason to think that one document can (or should try) to take them from
their precise and individual starting point all the way to their precise
and individual end point.

* Statistics show that most links simply aren't clicked.

And drivers don't take most turns in a road. But some drivers take each of
the turns, and the road network as a whole relies on all of those turns
being available to take. (This is not to say that there are never
unnecessary links, any more than that there are never unnecessary road
junctions that lead nowhere. Often people link at random rather than having
a consistent well thought out linking strategy.) Document thinking rears
its head again here: every part of the document is supposed to be used by
every reader. If a link is not clicked, the reader is not consuming the
whole of the document.

But this idea that the reader is supposed to consume the whole document
and nothing but the document is bonkers. It was always bonkers, but in the
paper world, where getting from one document to another was relatively
difficult, there was some justification for thinking and designing this
way. But in a hypertext world you can get anywhere instantly. Hypertexts
are nodes in a network and readers get what they need from a successful
traversal of the network, not from the consumption of the whole of a single
document.

Mark


-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:
techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of
Monique Semp
Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:08 PM
To: TechWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Subject: inline links (Re: Online help access question)

> This second point should be elementary for all product documentation
> in the hypertext age. You should never, ever, mention a system
> function or procedure without linking to that procedure.

I whole-heartedly agree, and yet there are many admonishments for people
writing in DITA to eschew links in the content. So I now include links only
sparingly, but I do still include them. I just try to decide that there's a
real potential benefit instead of just automatically linking to somewhat
related info.

(And yes, here meant to say "DITA", not "structured authoring", because
although this point is relevant to *any* writingâboth structured and
"unstructured", I've encountered anti-link vehemence only when
reading/hearing about DITA-specific authoring or when being edited while
working in a DITA ecosystem. But of course, the argument about including
links is relevant regardless of authoring/publishing system.)

There's a slideshare from 2013 that really made the rounds a few years ago
in the San Francisco writing community, "Herding Tigers: Letting Go of
Inline Links", http://www.slideshare.net/MystiBerry/herding-tigers.

It was timely because I'd been working in DITA in an organization that
(gasp!) had a great editing team, which was when I was first "subjected"
to the "no link" rule. That was the style, and so of course I had to
acquiesce.
But separate from that, I had a great written exchange with this
slideshare's author.

The major points, pro (include links) and con (exclude them), boiled down
to:

Con (exclude links):
* It's a crutch that soothes the writer and wastes time (especially to
maintain the links).
* Statistics show that users tend not to return to a page after they link
away.
* Statistics show that most links simply aren't clicked.

Pro (include links):
* Supertasks (a task where each step is itself a complex task) benefit
from links; otherwise users have to search.
* Doc reviewers *always* want links. (No, doc reviewers don't always know
best. But especially if you're a consultant, you must keep the team
relatively happy.)
* They "just feel right".

-Monique
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References:
RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: mbaker
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Kathleen MacDowell
RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: mbaker
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Kathleen MacDowell

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