Summary – Developing Topic Based Thinking

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Presented by: Catherine Horsfall

A lot of documentation I’ve created in the past has been linear; in that it starts with an overview and then proceeds to branch into related content. In the last few years, working with online documentation, I’ve attempted to keep the content as separate as I can, so that I can single-source as well as reuse it across different projects.

I attended this presentation with a view of finding out how to approach a “topic-based” mindset, especially working with a large number of content contributors and reviewers.

A few notes from Catherine’s presentation:

What is a topic?
A topic is a discrete piece of content that is about a specific subject, with an identifiable purpose and can stand alone on its own.
In saying that, a topic should be brief.

What is topic based thinking?
Topic based thinking is a mindset where the author can disconnect from the totality of the project/document and write:
a. Discrete pieces of content
b. About a specific subject
c. With an identifiable purpose
d. Totally on its own.
In topic based thinking, you can work in chunks and separately.

How do you get contributors to think “topic-based”?
Involves behaviour change and lots of training. Catherine spoke about a process she used at her organisation of getting developers and other contributors to think “topic-based”. based on Tuckman’s theory.

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

How does topic based thinking work within Agile environments?
Quite well, actually. In agile environments, the content cycle can be based around:
Short topics – This leads to quick turnaround times.
Features based – Authors can focus on a particular feature at a time.
Small chunks of info – Manageable blocks of information produced in a sprint.

Key takeaway
One huge benefit of topic based thinking is that every page in Help can have an unique tag/id. This can help massively with customer support directing users to the specific topic.

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