A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Self, Tony

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Beyond Software Manuals and On-line Help: Interactive Help

Software user guides have traditionally provided assistance when the user requested help. Context-sensitivity enabled help systems to predict the most appropriate topic to present. For Windows applications, the move from Microsoft WinHelp to the new Microsoft HTML Help format allows user instructions to be presented in the same window as the application. This offers technical authors some extraordinary opportunities to provide intelligent, predictive, interactive help without the user having to request it. In this paper, we will explore one of the first such interactive help systems (for the Archivist e-mail archiving software), and see where the technology is moving.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2003). Articles>Documentation>Interaction Design>Help


Bookmark (Anchor) Linking Tip

You can link to any tag within the page by quoting its ID. For example, if you have a paragraph with an ID of "intro", then you can link directly to that point without having to insert a bookmark.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Web Design>Information Design>HTML


Can You Explain that Again? DITA for Beginners

DITA is a difficult thing to explain to the uninitiated. It is difficult because we expect it to be a product or a technology, when it is actually a standard and a methodology. DITA provides an approach to technical writing that embraces best practice ideals such as modularity, single-sourcing, and content re-use. The reasons for moving to DITA are business-focused.

Self, Tony. TC World (2011). Articles>Content Management>XML>DITA


Review: Cladonia Exchanger XML Editor 3.2

Having spent some time working with Cladonia's Exchanger XML Editor, I can attest to the claim that this is a good, solid, well-featured and extensible XML editor. However, the software is not suitable for authoring documents. It is designed for working with XML data in many forms, but it is not designed for textual content. Let me explain.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2006). Articles>Reviews>Software>XML


DITA for Help

Can DITA be used as a Help authoring technology? Superficially, of course it can! The DITA Open Toolkit includes an HTML Help transformer, an Eclipse Help transformer, and an HTML transformer (which can also generate some sort of Table of Contents). So isn't it obvious then? DITA is perfect for Help authoring. Or is it? Looking a bit deeper, it's not so obvious. Can I include context-hooks in my content? Can I specify a popup link? Can I build a modular Help system? If I can't, then DITA is probably not suitable for Help.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Documentation>XML>DITA


A DITA Wizard

Two of the oft-quoted benefits of DITA, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, are 'single-sourcing' and 'content re-use'. These benefits do not only apply to the commonly-accepted definition of technical documents, but to many other forms of documents from outside the technical communicator's realm.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Documentation>XML>DITA


Help.Longhorn - What is it?

The Help platform for Microsoft Windows is changing once again. Since 1995, Microsoft HTML Help has been the standard for Help systems for Windows applications, but the release of the next generation Windows operating system in 2005 will see a brand new XML-based Help platform. It is currently known as Help.Longhorn, or "Longhorn" Help, or sometimes as Help3 or TrésHelp.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2004). Articles>Documentation>Help>Microsoft Windows


Indicating Changed Text in Help Files

There are still many circumstances when drawing a user's attention to changed text is important. How do we do that with Help systems? By borrowing techniques from paper manuals, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. So here's a good approach that will work for Microsoft Word-based HATs.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2004). Articles>Documentation>Online>Help


Information Overload

Almost 2 million book titles were published in the US alone, compared to more than the 1.3 million books published in the preceding 100 years. This change in the amount of information available for consumption is starting to change the way people read. How do we address the problem of information overload? Through good writing, and good information architecture.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2001). Articles>Information Design>User Centered Design>Publishing


Introducing CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a technology used primarily within Web publishing that aims to manage the presentation of HTML pages. CSS is essentially a styling language. CSS code instructs a browser how to "render" (display) HTML elements.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2003). Articles>Web Design>CSS


Introducing WinANT

I decided to simplify the DITA publishing process for myself by building a Windows interface to Ant. Ant was developed to allow programmers to write a simple build file in an XML format, and then process that XML file with the Ant build software.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Information Design>Software>XML


Is Your Web Site Working?

A badly designed and implemented Web site can cost your company more than money. Aside from the obvious costs of having the site developed, which in some cases may be quite a lot of money, a badly designed Web site can give existing and potential customers a negative impression of the company. Therefore, it is essential that your Web site is actually fulfilling its objectives.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2001). Articles>Web Design>Assessment


Modifying DITA Open Toolkit Build Files for CSH

This procedure is used to modify the DITA Open Toolkit build files to allow an external map file reference and alias strings to be added to the HTML Help Project file before building, as part of the transformation to Microsoft HTML Help (CHM) format.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2008). Articles>Information Design>Software>DITA


Moving to an XML-Based Web Site

In early 2007, I started the task of reworking the ageing HyperWrite Web site. The site was originally created in 1995. It underwent a major rework (to a frames-based design) in 1997, and was reworked in 1999, 2000 and 2002. In the decade since the Web site was launched, not only has Web technology moved on, but HyperWrite's activities, focus and business direction are now quite different. Time and budget were set aside to renovate the site to better serve HyperWrite's business needs, and to serve as a practical example of the company's capabilities.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Web Design>Content Management>Case Studies


New Fonts in Windows Vista

Seven new fonts will make their public appearance in Office 2007. Segoe UI will be used as the Office user interface, and will also be the font used throughout the Windows Vista user interface. For documents produced by Office, Calibri (a sans serif font) is recommended for headings, with Candara (a humanist sans font) recommended for sans body text, and Cambria for serifed. Consolas is a monospaced font, while the remaining two having characteristics that suit particular types of paragraphs.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2006). Design>Typography>Fonts>Microsoft Windows


Review: Review of Cladonia Exchanger XML Editor

This article is a review of the Exchanger XML Editor version 3.2 from the Cladonia company. Being such a broad field, the XML Editor category is necessarily far-reaching, and can cover both database management systems and authoring tools. For this reason, this review narrows the scope by looking at the suitability of Exchanger for use by technical communicators and Help authors to create and edit manuals, user guides and Help systems. Much of the focus of this article is therefore on the software's suitability for DocBook or DITA authoring, and its appropriateness for users without coding skills.

Self, Tony. WritersUA (2006). Articles>Reviews>Software>XML


Semantic, Structured Authoring

This article looks at the impact of the introduction of semantic markup and structured authoring on the world of technical writers, editors, Help authors and content developers. This article is not specifically about the Semantic Web movement itself, but about the implementation of semantic concepts in the documentation field.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2006). Articles>Information Design>Semantic>Technical Writing


Using Tables and DHTML for Menus

Dynamic HTML can be used inventively in many ways. Here's a simple way in which tables and DHTML can be used together to provide a menu function. The technique may be used in a frameset, but to keep things simple, we are going to use the table to control 'targets' in an inline frame (or IFRAME).

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2005). Design>Web Design>Interaction Design>DHTML


Web "Microformats"

Microformats is a term used to describe the storage of information using simple markup variations within existing markup languages. To a certain extent, microformats describes a methodology or philosophy, and comprises a set of design principles. Microformats is not a new language. It is usually a permutation of XHTML. The philosophy of microformats involves storing data in human-readable formats which are also machine-readable, but the emphasis is on the humans! Information tends to be visible, rather than hidden metadata.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2004). Articles>Web Design>Information Design>XHTML


What if Readers Can't Read?

If we really do believe in the importance of the audience, the reader, the user, then how have we changed our practice to reflect the changing characteristics, competencies and even literacies of our readers? Have our readers changed over the past few years? The evidence points to the answer being a resounding yes!

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>User Centered Design


XML Data Binding

XML became an integral part of Microsoft's strategy around the time of Internet Explorer 4. IE4 was an XML-aware browser. As well as displaying HTML documents, it could also display XML documents through an inbuilt XML parser. Another part of IE4 was something known as the XML DSO (Data Source Object). The XML DSO allows you to manipulate primitive XML 'data islands' by binding (or attaching) the XML data to HTML presentation elements. The XML elements within Internet Explorer continue to be improved and added to with every new IE release.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2006). Articles>Information Design>XML>Web Browsers


Review: XMLmind XML Editor v3.0

XMLmind is a great introductory tool for technical writers entering the world of structured authoring and DocBook. It successfully hides the esoterics of XML markup from the author, so that the focus can be on the words, rather than the code. At no cost (yes, absolutely free) for the Standard edition, and USD220 for a single user licence for the Professional Edition, XMLmind offers excellent value. The software is available for Linux, Windows and Mac. There are two main problems with XMLmind XML Editor: it does not currently support DITA schemas, and it does not incorporate a (Notepad-like) text editor in case you do need to patch up your code.

Self, Tony. HyperWrite (2007). Articles>Reviews>Software>XML

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