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

Subject: RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question)
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2016 08:09:56 -0400

Re:

"If a topic is logically consistent without the benefit of inline links, then you probably shouldn't use inline links."

and:

"Obviously, it's commonly good to link to the procedure, but you should do it as a critical choice, not as a rote response. There are procedures, and procedures. And there are different levels of coverage for procedures. Exactly where you link, or whether you link, always has dependencies."

One of the features of document thinking is that it approaches document design on the assumption that the reader is holding the right document. That is, it assumes that finding and reading are distinct activities and that finding has be successfully completed before reading begins. On this logic, the only role of links is within the design goals of the current document.

Hypertext thinking recognizes that the reader is often looking at the wrong page. Search is, and always will be, imprecise, because readers are imprecise in how they search. You link to every mention of a procedure because you can never be certain which page search will return to someone looking for that procedure (particularly in a local search engine with a poor ranking algorithm). Links are key to findability because findability does not end with the list of search results.

But readers don't always land on the wrong page because of search failure, but because of their own incorrect assumptions or guesses about the solutions they are looking for. The model of find-then-read which document thinking assumes, is inherently incorrect regardless of media. Finding and reading are a continuous in iterative activity as readers work their way towards comprehending their problem and understanding its solution. You link everywhere because you do not know where any given reader is in that journey.

Re:

"This is why the up-front effort of encoding (read DITA) is worthwhile for some publications."

Don't necessarily just read DITA. Structured writing is indeed enormously useful for constructing hypertexts, but DITA is not actually well architected for this purpose (as the complexities you allude to illustrate). While you can certainly create hypertexts in DITA, there is a lot of document thinking in the architecture of DITA (which helps account for its popularity in an industry that is still very much thinking in document terms). There are other approaches which make the creation of hypertext much more straightforward.

Mark

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References:
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Chris Despopoulos

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