For a technical writer, it can be difficult to find those use cases and examples that bring the documentation home to the reader. This is especially so in an agile environment, where requirement- and functional specifications tend to the minimalist. When you’re explaining an intangible and complex concept like “nested groups in Crowd”, it’s good to have some concrete examples that your reader can identify with.
This week, we released Crowd 1.4. Crowd is a web-based single sign-on (SSO) and identity management tool. That’s complex enough. Now add one of a new features in this release, the esoteric “nested group”.
“Nested group” — Is that a cluck of broody chooks?*
I’m quite proud of the new documentation on nested groups. It has some good use cases and diagrams.
* A “chook” is what we call a chicken in Australia 🙂
Where did the use cases come from?
Given that I’m working in an agile environment, where documentation is not abundant, and also that I don’t have face-to-face contact with our customers, it might have been difficult to find meaningful use cases. So where did they come from? Our customers “talk” to us via our Confluence wiki and our JIRA bug tracker, as well as other channels like user forums, support requests, etc. For a technical writer, the community wiki and bug tracker can be a good source of information about requirements and the stuff that happens to our customers out there in the wild.
For the nested groups documentation, I gleaned a lot of information from people’s comments on the feature request in JIRA. Thank you to those people who made such informed and informative comments! All I had to do was transform the information into more generic examples and add some illustrations.
Diagrams on a wiki?
What’s so magical about Gliffy and these diagrams? It’s that you can create and edit the diagram on the wiki page. When you view the diagram, it renders as a JPG on the web page. But if you have wiki permissions to edit the page, you can edit the diagram too. The Gliffy drawing interface is very intuitive to anyone who has used other drawing packages. This means that the drawings are “part” of the wiki — anyone can update them (permissions permitting) at any time, from any place.
Where do other technical writers get their examples?
I’d be really interested to hear where you glean your information from, especially if you’re in an agile environment or writing the documentation from scratch, with very little information falling down the traditional SDLC waterfall to land neatly in your pool of words.
We’re not business analysts, so we don’t have the time to do a full use case analysis or requirements investigation. But we often do need concrete and real examples. Has anyone else mined a bug tracker, walked a wiki or surfed a user forum to find this sort of information, and do you have any other handy tips?
An illustrated use case for this blog post? 😉
A termite nest on a tree in Manly Dam Park (near Manly, NSW, Australia):
Some words are captivating. Here are a few I’ve come across lately. They’re all related to linguistics. Maybe that’s why they appeal to me. Or maybe it’s just the way they sound. I’d be interested to know if you think these words are cute, and whether it’s because you’re a linguaphile too?
Bahuvrihi — a compound word like ‘lowlife’ or ‘sabertooth’, where the meaning of the word is not a type defined by one of its parts. A ‘sabertooth’ is a type of tiger, not a type of tooth. A ‘lowlife’ is a type of person, not a type of life. This property is significant, because it affects how we use the word in a sentence. For example, when talking about more than one of these things, we automatically use the regular plural rather than the irregular. So we say ‘I went back in time and saw a lot of sabertooths’ — not ‘saberteeth’. And we say ‘lowlifes’, not ‘lowlives’. Compare ‘workman’ (not a bahuvrihi, because a workman is a type of man) with ‘walkman’ (a bahuvrihi). We talk about many ‘workmen’. Can we say, ‘how many walkmen do you have’?
Dvandva — a compound word made of two equally-weighted nouns, like ‘girlfriend’ and ‘singer-songwriter’. These words have a similarly intriguing effect on our internal language generator, but let’s not go there 😉
Synechdoche — that’s when you use part of something to refer to its whole. ‘I got me a new set of wheels’ means I bought a car, not just the wheels. When you ‘count heads’, you are counting the number of people, not just their heads.
And my favourite: hapax legomenon — a word or term which is used only once in a particular body of text.
This weekend I’ve been writing some Christmas cards, and struggling as usual to find the right words. Maybe I’ll drop in the odd hapax legomenon to spice things up 😉
Thank you to Kate for lending me Words and Rules, the book in which I found these words. And to Steven Pinker for writing it.
Some tree news:
Here’s a tree recovering from a fire in the Manly Dam reserve:
And here’s a grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) which survived the fire altogether: