Tables get a bad rap—especially in the Web world where, once upon a time, Web developers misused them for HTML layout. But tables are still very useful for the purpose for which they were originally intended—a way to show relationships among discrete data points. From a user assistance perspective, we deal with tables in two contexts:
user assistance—Tables can present information or instructions in our documentation.
user interfaces—Tables can display information within a user interface itself.
In this column, I’ll review some of the basic principles of good table design from an information developer’s perspective, then discuss their visual design and interactivity. These principles and my examples provide the bare essentials of table design. When designing tables, a key information design objective is keeping them simple, so if you start needing more than this column provides, you might be making things unnecessarily complicated for your users. Read More
In this column, instead of talking about one of my usual topics—tactics to avoid errors—I’ll discuss how to work within constraints and pragmatically address real-world issues. During the software-development process, your team may ask you to design an error message. Annoying edge cases all too often pop up—usually too late in the process to fix the issue in any other way.
For starters, I never write what I’d call error messages. Admittedly, I occasionally use that term—in the same way I might use words such as sitemap—just at the beginning of a conversation to orient everyone to my process. Just as I did in the title of this column. But I then switch to a more meaningful term and get everyone to talk about exception messages. Read More
The profession of technical writing is on the verge of obsolescence! If you are a technical writer, you need to open your eyes to this reality. The current industry trend shows that hiring managers are looking for people who can fill more than one critical role. With many programmers, quality-assurance testers, analysts, and consultants taking on technical writing, it will eventually become impossible to sustain a career solely as a technical writer without any hands-on technical or analytical experience.
To survive in the ever-changing IT industry, it is essential that technical writers keep honing their skills to avoid becoming dispensable. As the saying goes, it is never too late to learn something new. In this article, we’ll describe some of the proficiencies you should consider acquiring in addition to your technical writing skills. Read More