Category Archives: atlassian

Soon to be a Google technical writer

I have a bit of news to share:  I’m joining Google and saying farewell to Atlassian.

So long Atlassian, and thanks!

Friday 5 July was my last day at Atlassian. It was awesome being part of the Atlassian phenomenon for six years. A huge thank you to all Atlassians, and everyone in the wider Atlassian community: customers, add-on developers, experts, technical communicators and doc sprinters around the world! You’ve given me such great opportunities, and made me push myself into trying things that challenged me personally. (If someone had said six years ago that they’d spotted me doing any form of public speaking, my somewhat hysterical reply would have been, “Ha ha ha, nope, that’s some other Sarah.”)

Hallo Google

It’s time to go adventuring again. In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be a technical writer in the Developer Relations team at Google Sydney. This is tremendously exciting, and just a bit scary. That’s the best way to feel when starting something new.

Stepping into the sky

Stepping into the sky

I took this photo on a recent walk in the bush after a heavy rain storm. It’s a puddle reflecting the trees and sky.

How to write effective blog posts

Our technical writing team at Atlassian has just started presenting a series of workshops for other Atlassians, on how to write effectively. This post contains the material for a workshop that focuses on writing blog posts. I’d love any feedback you may have.

In an earlier post about the workshops, I wrote how enjoyable and rewarding it is for us, as technical writers, to present these workshops. That post also contains the material for the first workshop, which focuses on writing effective “how to” guides, and describes the format of the workshops.

Now let’s take a look at the workshop material on effective blogging.

Getting started on your blog post

How do you write a blog post?
One word at a time… not!

The big picture is the important thing.

  • Sit back, think, and plan the post before you start.
  • While writing, if the words don’t come, make a note and continue writing. Preserve the big picture. Come back later to fill in the gaps.

A philosophy of blogging

Choose your style, then grab your reader:

  • Maintain a character in your blog, so that people can start seeing you as a friend. Be yourself. (More about the social side later on.)
  • Consider your tone. If you’re writing on a corporate blog, read the guidelines on corporate voice, tone and style.
  • Write each post around a story or a ‘hook’. This will give the post a theme, making it easier for you to write and easier for people to read. (More about telling a story later on.)
  • Add structure to the content. Add headings. Split the information into easily-readable chunks. People want to skim and dip in. (More about structure later on.)
  • Tap into the power of social media. Link to other blogs and respond to comments. (More about the social side later on.)
  • Take advantage of your creative subconscious. Make notes, wherever you are. Writing is a creative process, and it keeps happening even when you think you’ve stopped! You’ll find yourself thinking of stuff to add to your document at odd times. While walking in the bush. Or in the middle of the night. Make a note. Email yourself. Put it on Remember The Milk. Whatever works. Such ideas are gems, and they’re at their freshest when you first think of them. Grab that freshness.

View every experience as fodder for your blog

Whenever something happens, think to yourself: “How does this fit into my blog?”

You can even write multiple blog posts as a result of a single experience or event. A while ago I wrote 4 posts resulting from one Atlassian ShipIt day (then called “FedEx days”), each post with a different theme:

  • A blog post on ffeathers, for people who are not Atlassians. This post introduces the concept of ShipIt (then called FedEx Day), tells the story of technical writers taking part in what is essentially a developer-focused activity, and shows lots of pictures.
  • An Atlassian ShipIt delivery note, describing the purpose and results of my ShipIt project. This is a more formal post. Everyone who takes part in ShipItis supposed to write one of these.
  • Another post on ffeathers, describing the software that I evaluated as part of the ShipIt project. This software, the SHO tool for guided help, is of interest to technical writers so it was useful to write it up separately.
  • A post on the Atlassian company blog, describing the new SDK (software development kit) that I used. This post is aimed at developers, showing them that the SDK makes it easy for even a technical writer to develop an add-on. There’s a fair bit of technical detail in the article. It’s also promotional, as suited to a company blog.

I could write another post about how to write 5 blog posts from one experience. (wink)

How to go about writing a blog post

[A useful practical guide.]

Step by step:

  1. Decide on your audience.
  2. Write the introduction.
  3. Write the title.
  4. Outline the post by creating the headings.
  5. Fill in the details. Keep each section short.
  6. If unsure, or struggling to find the right words, make a “TO DO” note and continue. Come back later.
    Hint: I use “xxxxxxxxxxxxxx” instead of “TO DO”. It’s quick to type, strangely satisfying, easy to search for, and stands out when I’m reviewing the page.
    [This bit often leads to some animated discussion amongst workshop participants. Some of them already do something similar. Others love the idea, and smile with delight.]
  7. Review the content yourself:
    • Have you included everything you intended to include?
    • Can you cut anything out?
    • Should you split the post into two?
    • Is your language and tone right for the audience?
  8. Ask someone else to review the page.
    As any writer will tell you, it’s impossible to review your own work. Your brain knows what you wanted to say, and that’s what your brain will see even if that’s not what’s written.

Talking to your audience

User icon: rrobins User icon: kegan User icon: jmlemieux User icon: brollins

Who do you want to read the post? Who are the people you’re writing for, and what do they already know?

  • Think about those people carefully. Make a mental picture of a person who has the characteristics of your target audience.
  • Use that imagined person to make all decisions about your post.
  • When in doubt about wording, speak to the imagined person out loud. Then write down what you said. Immediately.
  • If there’s more than one audience, consider writing a separate post for each audience. You could consider publishing the posts on different blogs.

Writing the introduction

Start the story right at the top. Tell people what the post is about and why you’re writing it. Hook the readers by letting them know you’re going to tell them a story.

Examples of a good introduction:

[At this point, the presenter opens each of the examples and talks the attendees through the salient points. We use the same articles to illustrate other points in the workshop later on.]

  • 5 Things I Learned When I Moved My Business to an Island
    “There are small towns. There are rural areas. And then there are islands. Islands that have no bridges, only ferries.
    Ferries that blow their horns on foggy days. That break down at the worst possible moment, usually when you have an important meeting with a new client. Ferries that will take you back home if you show up in line before the last one leaves the dock, at 7:30pm sharp….”
  • Social Media Fail: 5 Reasons I Will Unfollow You
    “The other day, I unfollowed someone on Twitter. At first glance, we appeared to have lots in common…”

Concocting a title

Make sure the title reflects the main story. This will attract readers and give you a good position in search results such as Google or Bing.

The title is your most important tool for helping people find your document. This is especially true on EAC, where people use the quick search a lot.

  • Put the key information at the beginning of the title.
  • Make the title describe the purpose of the document.
  • Be clever if you can

Example of a great title: Stash 2.4: Forking in the Enterprise

Telling a story

Write each post around a story or a ‘hook’. This will give the post a theme, making it easier for you to write and easier for people to read.

What is a story?

  • The simplest type of story is a use case.
  • Another good story is something that went wrong, and how you fixed it.
  • Or you could tell a funny story, provided it relates to the main content of the post.

Moving on to the main part of the post:

  • Describe your part in the story. Make it about you, or your team.
  • Then move quickly to the main topic.
  • Give plenty of factual information, preferably hard-won. That’s what people value. Code samples and screenshots are great.
  • Tell how the events changed you, changed the way you work, changed your product. That’s what a story is all about.

Examples of good story-telling:

Structuring a post

Add structure to the content. Yes, even in a blog post. People will skim and dip in. If they can’t do that, they’ll leave.

  • Split the content into easily-digestible chunks. Keep them short.
  • Use plenty of headings, so people can find the chunk they need. Research shows people’s eyes jump from heading to heading as they skim a page.

Example of good structure: 5 Things I Learned When I Moved My Business to an Island – notice the highlighted bullet points and easily-digestible sections.

Language and style

Keep it short and simple

Use simple words and short sentences.

Use active voice rather than passive

[Explain the difference between active and passive. Hold a bit of a discussion here. This is a difficult concept for many people.]

Examples:

  • Passive: The chocolate was eaten by the technical writer.
  • Active: The technical writer ate the chocolate.

Why use active voice? It’s shorter. And passive voice can be confusing, because sometimes it doesn’t say who must do what. Imperative (command) is even better, when appropriate.

Bad:

Your browser must be configured to xxx.
Reader thinks: OK, so I’ll assume someone has already done that for me when setting up my machine.

Good:

Configure your browser to xxx.
Reader thinks: OK, I’ll do that now.

Clarify technical terms and abbreviations

Explain important concepts at the top of the page.

Spell out each abbreviation the first time you use it on a page. For example:

If you’re using IE (Internet Explorer), ….

How to make sure people find your post

Let’s look at SEO (search engine optimisation). These are the key points for making sure people find your post:

  • Make the title meaningful, with important words near the beginning.
  • Make sure the URL contains real words.
    If you are blogging on Confluence, don’t use special characters like “?” in a page title, because the resulting URL will not contain words.
  • Decide the key words for your post. These are the key concepts, and the ones the people are likely to look for when searching.
  • Put your key words at the top of the post, in the introductory paragraph.
    This ties in well with our structure, where the first section contains a introduction and a summary of the story.
  • Put your key words in the headings in your post.

Making use of “social”

Blogging is a social activity. Tap into the power of social media:

  • Maintain a character in your blog, so that people can start seeing you as a friend.
  • Be yourself. Otherwise it’s difficult to maintain a consistent persona and people will soon pick it up if you don’t sound real.
  • Link to other people’s blogs. If your idea is an expansion of something someone else has written, include a mention of where you got the idea. If you’ve seen someone’s post about a related topic, link to it. The other bloggers appreciate this and will start linking back to you in return.
  • Be nice, positive and sincere. If you disagree with something, say so but be constructive. Some bloggers are successful by being horrid, but to make that work you have to be really good and have a curl on your forehead. I don’t like nastiness, manipulation or one-upmanship, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Watch the post, and respond to comments. Build your audience, by showing them you care.
  • Find other blogs on a related topic, add comments there, and where relevant link back to your own post.

Resources

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s How to Write With Style.

    A great thing about Kurt’s guide is that it illustrates his principles so perfectly. This excerpt is from the section called “Sound like yourself”:

    …lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.

    This bit is pretty cool too:

    Pity the readers

  • [Link to your corporate stylesheets and guidelines here too.]
  • Bloggers’ tips on blogging:
    • Seth’s post way back in 2006, a bit sparse on the “how to” but eminently elegant as always: How to write a blog post.
    • Seth’s post with more down-to-earth tips: Write like a blogger.
    • Neil Patel’s tips on engaging your readers in your blog: How to Write a Blog Post. Start reading from the top, then see what he has to say in the section titled “Hook your Readers”. It’s awesome.
    • My own, more personal account of blogging, from which some of the above material is drawn: How to write a blog post.

Workshops on effective writing – technical writers adding value

Our team at Atlassian has just started presenting a series of workshops for other Atlassians, on how to write effectively. People are very appreciative of the knowledge they gain in the workshops. In turn, we technical writers learn a lot from the participants. We see how much other people value our own skills. And we get a fresh look at writing and documentation, from another viewpoint. What’s more, the workshops are fun and invigorating. Added value all round!

I’m sharing the idea and content of the workshops in this post, because we’re finding them so valuable. It’s very rewarding as a technical writer, to see how much people value our knowledge and skill. It’s also interesting to see how much they appreciate a guiding hand in what we consider the very basics of writing a technical document.

Sometimes we forget just how much we know. :)

The format of the workshops

Each workshop takes the form of a one-hour session:

  • Introductions.
  • Lecture – see the material below. Questions are welcome at any time.
  • Questions and wrapping up.
  • Assignment of pages and posts for the workshop participants to work on at their leisure.

Before the session, the technical writer liaises with the manager of the team about to attend the workshop. We discuss the primary focus, and find out whether the team has any current plans to write documents or blog posts. Just recently in our organisation, a number of teams have put strategic initiatives in place to write and blog more. So our workshops come at a good time.

We also ask the participants and team leads to think of documents that need writing, so that their post-workshop assignments can be real documents.

After the session, the participants complete their assignments and choose one of the available technical writers to do a review. The review is a half-hour one-on-one chat, focusing on the document and any further questions the participant may have.

Kicking off the workshop

[The next few sections in this post contain the content of the workshops. The content is on a page on our internal wiki, which the technical writers use as a basis for the workshop. Participants can also use the page as a reference after the session.]

In this session you’ll learn how to write documents that people will find, read, and get what they need from. The aim is to provide a practical guide to help you get started quickly, and to put you in touch with the technical writers who can assist with reviewing your work.

We cover two types of document:

  • A “how to” guide on the corporate intranet.
  • A blog post on the corporate external blog.

Getting started on a document

How do you write a document?
One word at a time… not!

The big picture is the important thing.

  • Sit back, think, and plan the document before you start.
  • While writing, if the words don’t come, make a note and continue writing. Preserve the big picture. Come back later to fill in the gaps.

Talking to your audience

User icon: rrobins User icon: kegan User icon: jmlemieux User icon: brollins

Who do you want to read the document? Who are the people you’re writing for, and what do they already know?

  • Think about those people carefully. Make a mental picture of a person who has the characteristics of your target audience.
  • Use that imagined person to make all decisions about your document.
  • When in doubt about wording, speak to the imagined person out loud. Write down what you said. Write it down immediately, while it’s fresh. [I usually tell an anecdote here, about how some writers stick a picture of a person on their computer monitor, and talk to that picture.]
  • If there’s more than one audience, consider writing a separate document for each audience. For example, consider separate documents for administrators and ordinary users.

The structure of a page

[The aim of this diagram is to illustrate that a page should have a number of headings, with short bits of text between them. After a quick look at the diagram, we discuss the sections in more detail below.]

Structure of a page

Structure of a page

State the purpose and audience at the top

Tell people who the document is for, and what it will help them do. This will let them know if it’s the right document for them.

Separate the concepts (“what” and “why”) from the task (“how”)

Some people already know the concepts. They’ll skip past that bit and go straight to the “how”. Other people know how to do something – they’ve found the right spot in the user interface, or found the right form on the intranet. But they want to know why they should do it, or what it means.

Use “chunking”

Split the content into easily-digestible chunks. Keep them short.

Use plenty of headings, so people can find the chunk they need. Research shows people’s eyes jump from heading to heading as they skim a page.

Lead your reader by the hand

Give clear, numbered steps. Don’t skip any steps.

People have come here because they’re stuck. Don’t worry, they’ll go away again as soon as they’ve got the idea.

Add related topics and/or next steps

Send the readers away immediately if they’re in the wrong place. After that, don’t send them away until you’re sure they’ve got what they need. So, keep links to a minimum in the main portion of the page.

  • At the top: In the section about purpose, add links to documents the reader may need instead of this one. For example, if you have separate documents for administrators and users, link from the one to the other.
  • At the end: Put related topics and next steps at the end, when you’ve finished with your reader.

Examples from our product documentation

[At this point, the workshop participants have already absorbed a lot of theory. It's a good time to show them some examples of good and bad design. Use these examples as a discussion point. Ask the participants what is good or bad about each page.]

Good structure

https://confluence.atlassian.com/display/DOC/Deleting+or+Deactivating+Users

Good structure and design

Good structure and design

Comments:

  • Our current style is to put the related topics at the top on the right, instead of at the bottom. We’re discussing a change, because the design doesn’t work too well on mobile devices.
  • Instead of a warning macro, we’ve used a panel (uncoloured) with an exclamation icon. There’s some discussion about coloured panels, and whether people skip over them when reading a page. See the references to “banner blindness” in the resources section below.
  • [This is a good place to break for a quick chat about banner blindness. Find out what the workshop participants think about it, and how they themselves read a document.]

Not-so-good structure

[This is a page that has grown organically, with contributions from many people over a long period of time. It's had a revamp in the latest version of our documentation. The link points to an earlier version.]

https://confluence.atlassian.com/display/CONF50/Database+Setup+for+Oracle

Unplanned structure and design

Unplanned structure and design

Comments:

  • No clear step-by-step flow.
  • No indication of what each section is for, and whether you need to do them all.
  • Other comments? [This is a good place for discussion amongst the workshop participants.]

Language and style

[This section contains a few key tips on language and style - the bread and butter of technical writers, but not necessarily well known by other people.]

Keep it short and simple

Use simple words and short sentences.

Use active voice rather than passive

[Explain the difference between active and passive. Hold a bit of a discussion here. This is a difficult concept for many people.]

Examples:

  • Passive: The chocolate was eaten by the technical writer.
  • Active: The technical writer ate the chocolate.

Why use active voice? It’s shorter. And passive voice can be confusing, because sometimes it doesn’t say who must do what. Imperative (command) is even better, when appropriate.

Bad:

“Your browser must be configured to xxx.”
Reader thinks: OK, so I’ll assume someone has already done that for me when setting up my machine.

Good:

“Configure your browser to xxx.”
Reader thinks: OK, I’ll do that now.

Clarify technical terms and abbreviations

Explain important concepts at the top of the page.

Spell out each abbreviation the first time you use it on a page. For example:

If you’re using IE (Internet Explorer), ….

…with regard to Workplace, Health and Safety (WHS).

Titles

The title is your most important tool for helping people find your document. This is especially true on a Confluence wiki, where people use the quick search a lot. The quick search is based entirely on the page title.

  • Put the key information at the beginning of the title.
  • Make the title describe the purpose of the document.

How to go about writing a page

[After quite a bit of conceptual and theoretical information, the workshop participants welcome a practical guide at this point.]

Step by step:

  1. Decide on your audience.
  2. Write the purpose.
    First write it for yourself, then refine it for the audience. This helps to form the content of the page.
  3. Write the title.
  4. Outline the document by creating the headings.
  5. Fill in the details.
    Keep each section short.
  6. If unsure, or struggling to find the right words, make a “TO DO” note and continue. Come back later.
    Hint: I use “xxxxxxxxxxxxxx” instead of “TO DO”. It’s quick to type, strangely satisfying, easy to search for, and stands out when I’m reviewing the page. [This bit often leads to some animated discussion amongst workshop participants. Some of them already do something similar. Others love the idea, and smile with delight.]
  7. Review the content yourself:
    • Have you included everything you intended to include?
    • Can you cut anything out?
    • Should you split the document?
    • Is your language and tone right for the audience?
  8. Ask someone else to review the page.
    As any writer will tell you, it’s impossible to review your own work. Your brain knows what you wanted to say, and that’s what your brain will see even if that’s not what’s written.
  9. If possible, do some user testing.
    Grab a colleague from a different department. Get a different perspective!
  10. Watch the page, and update it based on comments.

More about structure, at space level (specifically for Confluence wiki)

[It's time for more theory.]

We’ve already talked about the structure of page. The structure of your space also important. People often need to browse to see what’s available. Perhaps they don’t know what to search for, but they do know the general area they’re in.

Scenario: Jack searches for “proxy” and finds a page. But it’s not the one he wants. So he looks at the nearby pages.

How:

  • Group related topics under a common parent.
  • Use the Documentation theme to show the space structure.

Making sure people find your page

Already discussed:

  • Structure of a wiki space
  • Page titles
  • Links to related topics

In addition to the above, let’s look at SEO (search engine optimisation) both internal (on the intranet, for the Confluence search engine) and external (on the corporate blog, for Google etc).

These are the key points for making sure people find your page or post:

  • Make the title meaningful, with important words near the beginning.
  • Make sure the URL contains real words.
    If you are blogging on Confluence, don’t use special characters like “?” in a page title, because the resulting URL will not contain words.
  • Decide the key words for your post. These are the key concepts, and the ones the people are likely to look for when searching.
  • Put your key words at the top of the post, in the introductory paragraph.
    This ties in well with our structure, where the first section contains a introduction and a summary of the story.
  • Put your key words in the headings in your post.

Tools

  • Templates and blueprints – make some of your own.
  • Use the spell checker in the browser.
  • Gliffy is great for simple diagrams.

Other hints

  • Writing is a creative process, and it keeps happening even when you think you’ve stopped!
    You’ll find yourself thinking of stuff to add to your document at odd times. While walking in the bush. Or in the middle of the night. Make a note. Email yourself. Put it on Remember The Milk. Whatever works. Such ideas are gems. Don’t lose them.
  • Optimise your page for people using mobile.
    No section and column macros (on Confluence wiki).
    Short sections with lots of headings.
  • Limit the number of note- and warning-boxes to a maximum of two per page. Using more than this can indicate an organisational problem in the text.

Writing blog posts

[This is just a summary. We have another workshop that focuses on blog posts.]

Your blog post is likely to be technical, so the process of writing it has much in common with writing a technical document.

Here are some quick pointers:

  • Maintain a character in your blog, so that people can start seeing it as a friend. Blogging is a social activity. Be yourself! Otherwise it’s difficult to maintain a consistent persona and people will soon pick it up if you don’t sound real.
  • If you’re writing on the corporate blog, ask for guidelines about the tone and style to use.
  • Write each post around a story or a ‘hook’. This will give the post a theme, making it easier for you to write and easier for people to read.
  • Make sure the title reflects the main story. This will attract readers and give you a good position in search results such as Google or Bing.
  • Add structure to the content. Yes, even in a blog post. Put headings in the post itself. Split the information into easily-readable chunks.
  • Give plenty of factual information, preferably hard-won. That’s what people value. Code samples and screenshots are great.
  • Link to other people’s blogs. If your idea is an expansion of something someone else has written, include a mention of where you got the idea. If you’ve seen someone’s post about a related topic, link to it. The other bloggers appreciate this and will start linking back to you in return.
  • Be nice, positive and sincere. If you disagree with something, say so but be constructive. Some bloggers are successful by being horrid, but to make that work you have to be really good and have a curl on your forehead. I don’t like nastiness, manipulation or one-upmanship, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Resources

  • Kurt Vonnegut:

    Here’s my all-time favourite: Kurt Vonnegut’s How to Write With Style.

    The best thing about Kurt’s guide is that it illustrates his principles so perfectly. This excerpt is from the section called “Sound like yourself”:

    …lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.

    This bit is pretty cool too:

    Pity the readers

  • Avoiding framed and decorated text boxes:
  • [Link to your corporate style guide here.]

That’s the end

In designing the content of the workshop, my aim was to give the participants as much practical guidance as possible in a short space of time. I picked the top things we technical writers know, about how to make a document work.

To add variety to the one-hour session, I chose a mix of theory and discussion sections. The sessions to date have been lively and interactive. We ask participants to complete a feedback form a week or so after each session.

The actual writing happens after the session, in the participants’ own time. They can then request a one-on-one review with a technical writer, before publishing their document either internally or for the whole wide world. Participants have expressed their thanks and said the content is useful, and have indicated a wish to attend a follow-up session.

What do you think of this type of workshop, and its potential as a way technical writers can add even more value to our organisations that we already do? I’d love to hear if you have run something similar within your own organisation too.

Change management helping customers train their staff

For our recent major product release, we published a change management guide as a quick tool for customers to see what’s changed in the product. The document is called Planning for Confluence 5. This post describes how we went about designing the change management guide, and whether it’s working. I hope this information may be useful to other technical writers and change managers.

This week our development team released a major version of the product, Confluence 5.0, with many changes that will affect the way people work. We wanted to make sure administrators know they will probably need to warn their colleagues before upgrading the wiki. We also wanted to give a good overview of the changes that will affect people’s day-to-day activities.

Defining the audience

The release notes do a good job of describing what’s new in the release. That information is primarily useful to people who are looking to purchase the product for the first time, or renew their existing licences. The upgrade notes tell administrators what they need to know before, during and after the upgrade. For this release, we needed a way of telling everybody else what was coming. Enter the change management guide.

Many organisations, especially the larger ones, develop their own procedures and training material for their staff, incorporating guidelines on using our product. The change management guide is also intended to help the people who produce those guides, as it’s a good indication of the areas of major change.

Are people finding and reading the document?

I’ve put a link on the documentation home page as well as in the upgrade notes. I’ve moved the document to the top of the left-hand navigation panel, so that it hits that sweet spot where people look first and most often. I’ve tweeted about the document, and mentioned it on Google+.

Are people finding it, and are they sticking around long enough to read it?

This report from Google Analytics shows the traffic on the page.

Google Analytics report for the page

Google Analytics report for the page

Key dates:

  • The Google Analytics report covers the period from 10th to 28th February.
  • The software release date was 26th February.
  • I published the document on 18th February, so that early adopters could see it. (Views before 18th February were therefore all by Atlassian employees.)
  • The spike shows the highest number of hits on the date of release (26th to 27th February, in different time zones). The highest number of hits per day is on 27th February, at 486 views.

Interpreting the figures:

  • People have looked at the page 2,196 times over the 17-day period.
  • The number of unique visits to the page is 1,760 over the same period. So yes, people are finding the page.
  • People are spending more than 3 minutes on the page, on average. That would seem to mean they’re reading it, rather than bouncing straight out.
  • There’s a 57% bounce rate. In other words, people are reading this page and then leaving, without visiting other parts of the documentation site. That’s a fairly high bounce rate. For this page, I think that’s good thing. The target audience is people who already know what the product does. They don’t need to read the rest of the documentation. They just need to know what’s going to change.

Comparing this page to the Confluence documentation home page:

The home page is the most popular page in the Confluence documentation (apart from an anomaly: a page that tells people how to configure their Java home variable in Windows, which is not specific to our product).

Over the same period of time, the report for the documentation home page shows:

  • 12,140 page views
  • 9,431 unique page views
  • 1.12 minutes average time spent on the page
  • 27.8% bounce rate

My interpretation: The new change management page has a surprisingly large number of views in relation to the most popular page. (The number of views of the new page is about 18% that of the home page.) People are spending more time on the change management page than on the home page. People use the home page as a place to click through to other parts of the documentation (hence the lower bounce rate) but they leave the documentation site satisfied, immediately after reading the change management page. Yesssss! :)

Hehe of course, you could probably interpret the figures differently.

Designing the content of the change management guide

We chose to design the content around the concepts of before and after, which we termed “previously” and “now”. This is the primary difference between this document and the release notes. The focus of this document is on what’s changed, not on what’s new. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if there is a new feature in the release that won’t disturb the way people work, it doesn’t need to be part of this guide.

This screenshot (it feels weird taking a screenshot of a document!) shows a couple of the “previously” and “now” images we’ve used to illustrate the changes in functionality.

Change management helping customers train their staff

For the full effect, take a look at the document itself. You can click the images to zoom in: Planning for Confluence 5.

Easy to scan

We want people to find the information they need quickly. The page includes a number of pictures as well as words. Most of the pictures are annotated screenshots. The text is important too:  People will search the page (Ctrl+F) to find specific topics.

The page has consistency of terminology and structure. There’s a short introduction, telling people the purpose of the document. There are links to related information, in case someone has wandered in off the Internet and landed on the wrong page (“every page is page one”). The table of contents on the right tells people at a glance what’s on the page.

Plenty of headings mean people can scroll down and absorb the content easily. The structural design of putting the “Previously” sections on the left, and the “now” on the right, makes it easy to grok what’s happening.

Aesthetics

The page looks good. We want readers to have a pleasurable experience of the document, leading into a pleasurable experience of the product.

Feedback

Unsurprisingly, given the way life goes on a wiki, the page has turned out to be a handy place for people to comment on the release, and for the product managers to respond. Docs alive! :D

The Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki has moved to a shiny new site

The Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki is a companion to my book about technical communication, technical writers, wikis and chocolate. This week we moved the site to a shiny new Confluence OnDemand server. Please take a look, sign up if you like, and also please consider changing any external links you may have pointing to content on the site.

The new address of the Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki is: https://wikitechcomm.atlassian.net/

The old address was: https://wikitechcomm.onconfluence.com/

What does the move to Confluence OnDemand mean?

Confluence, Tech Comm, ChocolateConfluence OnDemand is Atlassian’s new hosted platform. Our site will now automatically get the latest and up-to-datest version of Confluence. It’s currently running an early version of Confluence 5.0! So we’ll be able to play with the latest Confluence features before anyone else. If you’re interested, keep a watch on the frequently-updated Atlassian OnDemand release summary.

My seat-of-the-pants feeling is that the new site is significantly faster than the old one. :)

The hosted platform restricts certain functionality, primarily add-ons and customisations of the wiki. I won’t be able to install add-ons or plugins that are not pre-approved by Atlassian. This won’t have a big effect on people using the site. We no longer have the awesome add-ons from K15t Software for creation of ePub and DocBook exports. The Copy Space plugin isn’t there either. Gliffy, for drawing diagrams, is available in Confluence OnDemand, along with the add-ons listed here: Atlassian OnDemand Plugin Policy.

Existing content, redirects, and external links pointing to the site

This bit is for the 77 people already using the wiki. :) All your pages, blog posts, comments and other pieces of information are safely on the new site. Please let me know if you spot anything amiss.

Atlassian has put redirects in place. If you try to go to the old address, you should automatically end up on the new site. The old site will be decommissioned in a few weeks’ time. There’s no scheduled date for the shutting down of the redirect service, but it’s probably a good idea to update any external links you may have, to point to the new site.

The book

The book is called Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication. It’s about developing documentation on a wiki. It’s also about technical communicators. And chocolate.

Do come and join the fun at the book’s wiki site: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki.

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