Customer support costs account for as much as 60 percent of a high-tech company’s total costs. Documentation is the first line of support for most customers, and customers usually use documentation to find the answer to a problem they’re having. The inevitable result of poor or nonexistent documentation is that more people try calling the customer support lines for help.
A structured authoring process that removes the burden of formatting content from the authoring process gives tech writers more time to focus on providing quality content to the end user. Yep, the end user doesn’t give a fig that the PDF or HTML file they are reading was generated from DITA-based content, but because the tech writers creating that content focused on just writing instead of writing, formatting, and converting the content, the information is probably better written and more useful.
Tech docs can take a bunch of different forms ranging from high-level overviews, to step-by-step walkthroughs, to auto-generated API documentation. Unfortunately, no single format works for all users; there’s huge differences in the way that people learn, so a well-documented project needs to provide many different forms of documentation.
I've been working on the Python Module of the Week series since March of 2007. During the course of the project, my article style and tool chain have both evolved. I now have a fairly smooth production process in place, so the mechanics of producing a new post don't get in the way of the actual research and writing. Most of the tools are open source, so I thought I would describe the process I go through and how the tools work together.