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Writing a one-pager to pitch a doc idea

As a technical writer, I’ve sometimes found it useful to write a short document describing an idea or a proposal. The target length for such a document is one page. Hence the name, one-pager. In some situations, a one-pager is a good alternative to a doc plan.

This post is about one-pagers used in the context of technical writing. In other contexts, a one-pager may be a pitch for a company or a student’s summary of a lecture.

Quip: An engineer pointed out that one of my one-pagers was technically a two-pager. (It was actually about one and a third pages long.) I responded that I could fix that by reducing the font size. 🙂

For me, the purpose of a one-pager is to express an idea and get input on the idea. For example, I’d write a one-pager when a doc plan would be too heavy-weight, but I want to get feedback before starting the documentation update.

A one-pager isn’t the place for a detailed design — that’d go in a doc plan or a design doc. (See my post about doc plans.) Rather, a one-pager is useful to coalesce my own thoughts about an idea, and to get feedback from my colleagues about the overall idea before I go ahead and implement it.

For example, I’d create a one-pager to propose one of the following:

  • A new tutorial for a use case that we don’t yet cover in the documentation.
  • A new type of tutorial that follows a different pattern from the other tutorials in the documentation set.
  • A change of tone in a particular document or documentation set. I’d describe the tone of the current documentation, the effect that the tone is having on readers, the new tone that I’m proposing, and the reason for the change.
  • An event, such as a doc sprint. I’d describe the purpose and format of the event in order to gauge support before plunging into further planning.

What does a one-pager look like? Well, firstly, it’s short and to the point. Because it’s so short, a one-pager often doesn’t include headings. My one-pagers tend to look like this:

Title (For example: One-pager: New tutorial type for Foo users)
Date and author

Goals: A business statement of the effect you want to achieve. (For example: customer retention, increased adoption, etc.)

A short, motivational callout, often in large text and a different style from the rest of the doc. (For example: We want to help customers use Foo when things go wrong.)

A succinct description of the idea or proposal. This is the main part of the one-pager. Start with a descriptive paragraph, followed by bullet points to capture the main points in your proposal. As well as being a useful short form, a bulleted list gives visual emphasis that this is the core of the one-pager.

In scope: Areas that are in scope for this proposal. If you don’t have anything to put here, leave out this section.

Out of scope: Any areas that are out of scope. The goal of this section is to ensure there are no misunderstandings between you and your stakeholders. If you don’t have anything to put here, leave out this section.

References: a list of relevant documents

Have you ever written a one-pager, or have you felt the need of such a document type in the past?

How to conduct a walkthrough of a doc plan or design doc

In a recent post about writing a doc plan or a design doc, I mentioned that it’s useful to conduct one or more walkthroughs of the doc plan or design doc before sending it out for review. Here are some tips on conducting a walkthrough.

During an in-person walkthrough, you can iron out potential misunderstandings. People can ask you questions, and you can get immediate feedback from people who may not find the time to review the doc in detail.

In other words, a walkthrough can help clear away the cobwebs! I took this photo recently while walking on a bush path.

Inviting people to a walkthrough

The first step is to decide who should attend your walkthrough. If you have the luxury of working with other technical writers, it’s useful to walk through the doc plan with one or more of them first. They’ll point out inconsistencies, missing pieces, and unclear sections for you, and help you crystalise your own understanding of the problem that your design is solving and iron out any wrinkles in the design.

Give yourself time to incorporate feedback from the technical writers before holding the next meeting.

Next up, invite your key stakeholders to another walkthrough. These people should be the ones who can give you input on the problem and on your design. For example, your product manager and the engineers responsible for the area of the system that your documentation will cover.

Schedule at least a full hour for the walkthrough. The time will shoot past once everyone starts discussing the use cases and design.

In the invitation, provide the link to your doc plan, but don’t expect people to read the doc plan before the meeting. Some of them may look at it, but you should assume that no-one has seen it properly.

Running the walkthrough

Your goal for the walkthrough is to ensure that people understand what you mean to convey in the doc plan. Until you’ve run the walkthrough, you can’t be sure that what people will get from reading the doc plan matches what you intended to say.

I’ve found the following format useful for a walkthrough of a doc plan:

  • Start by explaining purpose of meeting: to give the attendees an overview of the doc plan and the design that it proposes, and to gather preliminary feedback. Let the attendees know that you’ll send the doc plan out for detailed review after the walkthrough.
  • Describe the context of the doc plan: the problem that you’re looking to solve, and the customers who form your target audience.
  • Show the outline (table of contents) of the doc plan, so that your attendees know the scope of the doc.
  • If the doc plan is very long, decide beforehand which sections you’ll walk through in person. Often, the diagrams (user flow and information architecture) are most useful sections to cover in person. Also make sure you cover the timeline for delivery of the documentation.
  • Actively solicit feedback at all stages of the meeting.
  • Make copious notes, either as comments in the doc plan or in a separate document, during the meeting. Do this note taking yourself — don’t rely on others. Your attendees won’t mind your making notes, as it shows that you care about their feedback. Other note takers don’t have the depth of context that you have, and they may miss important items.
  • After you’ve walked through the sections of the doc plan that you intend to cover, make sure you sit back, relax, and give everyone time to think about the bigger picture. Often the most useful feedback comes at this stage, when people know they’ve seen all that you want to show them, and they can think independently.

After the walkthrough

Update the doc plan to incorporate the feedback that you’ve received. If necessary, change your design to match your new understanding.

Finally, send the doc plan out for review, by email or using whatever channel your organisation uses for this type of review. Make sure you send it to all the people who attended your walkthroughs, as well as to other stakeholders and team members.

The power of a doc plan or design doc

For a while, I’ve been thinking about the joys and pains of writing documentation plans (doc plans). It takes a long time to write a doc plan and get it approved. It’s time that you could spend writing the real docs — that is, the user guides, developer guides, API guides, and so on, that constitute our bread and butter as technical writers. Are doc plans worth the time we spend on them?

After careful thought, my conclusion is this:

Doc plans are a technical writer’s power tool. We use them to craft a shared understanding between ourselves and our stakeholders. What’s more, as technical writers, we’re well qualified to write an excellent doc plan.

In many cases, a doc plan does more than define the docs that need to be produced. The doc plan fine-tunes the engineering team’s goals for and design of the product itself. Sometimes, indeed, the doc plan represents the first time anyone has attempted to present a coherent picture of the product’s customers and their needs.

Hint: If your reviewers and approvers are primarily engineers, think about referring to your doc plan as a design doc instead of a doc plan. Engineers know the design doc pattern. They know the purpose of a design doc, and how to review it. This familiarity will make them more comfortable when reviewing your doc plan, and could therefore result in more useful and appropriate feedback.

How do you write a doc plan?

The first steps for writing a doc plan are the same as those for any other document:

Define the purpose and audience of the doc.

Before you start, think carefully about your goals. What you want to get out of the doc plan? What do you want your stakeholders to understand and approve?

If you can’t answer these questions, then maybe you don’t need a doc plan at all. Instead, would it be enough to jump straight into the documentation update and rely on the review and approval process for the documentation itself?

Writing a doc plan should be a purposeful and therefore enjoyable part of your tech writing process. You should feel excited about getting a good, clear decision and about honing your understanding of the problem that your documentation will solve. You should also feel excited about explaining your proposed solution to your stakeholders. If the process of writing the doc plan feels like a nuisance, then the process probably needs changing.

Here’s a summary of how to go about writing a doc plan. The process will probably look familiar, because it’s similar to writing other types of documentation:

  1. Define the purpose of and audience for your doc plan. I discussed this in detail in the paragraphs above, and it’s worth repeating here.
  2. Gather requirements by reading related docs and specifications.
  3. Talk to stakeholders, subject matter experts, and your own team.
  4. Scribble diagrams to cultivate your own understanding of the requirements. These diagrams will most likely be user flows that show how people will complete one or more tasks using the product that you’re documenting. Don’t throw these diagrams away! They may be useful in your doc plan.
  5. Scribble more diagrams to cultivate your proposed solution. These diagrams will most likely be conceptual illustrations of the information architecture in your documentation site, and user flows showing how people will find and read information in the documentation. Hang on to these diagrams too. They’ll almost certainly be a useful part of your doc plan.
  6. Plan the docs that you need, down to the page level, based on the above diagrams. Be aware that the detailed design is likely to change when you start building the docs. At this stage, the page-level detail is useful for estimating the amount of time required to complete the documentation update.
  7. Put it all together as a doc plan. The next section has some guidance on what’s in a doc plan.

What’s in a doc plan?

What you put in your doc plan depends on what you want to get out of it. As discussed in the previous section, think about your goals for writing the doc plan. Those goals determine what you’ll include and what you’ll leave out.

Your organization probably has a template or two for doc plans. The internet offers some templates too. I’ve linked to a few templates and examples at the bottom of this post. In my experience, templates are useful as a starting point, but I almost always remove some sections and add others of my own, based on what I need for each particular doc plan.

Here are some useful sections to include in a doc plan:

  • Title (for example: ProductFoo doc plan, or Doc plan for migration from Foo to Bar)
  • Author
  • Summary of the purpose of the doc plan (very short, just one or two sentences)
  • Other metadata:
    • Status (draft, under review, approved, etc)
    • Date created
    • Reviewers and approvers
    • Other items that are specific to your environment, such as a short link to the doc plan, your team name, etc
  • Introduction (context, including a reference to existing documentation if you’re proposing and update to an existing site, the project or product that the documentation applies to, and other background information)
  • Goals and non-goals (a clear description of what you want the documentation updates to achieve, the scope of the documentation updates, and what’s out of scope)
  • Use cases (also known as user flows; diagrams are useful here)
  • Detailed design for each use case
    • Structure of the documentation site (information architecture; diagrams are useful here)
    • Description of the content required, down to the level of a page (deliverables)
  • Implementation phases and timeline (estimates of when the content will be ready for publication, based on an assumed level of staffing)
  • Measuring the results (metrics, user studies, and other ways of determining the effect of the documentation delivered)
  • Dependencies and related projects

I’ve highlighted in bold the sections where we as tech writers may feel most comfortable and most excited. These are the sections most closely related to the design and creation of the documentation. Yet the other parts of the doc plan are equally important. In fact, they’re key to getting buy-in from our stakeholders.

How comprehensive does the doc plan need to be?

There’s a lot of other information that could go into a doc plan. For example:

  • Risks, including assessment of potential impact and mitigation
  • A detailed staffing plan (the writer(s) who’ll create the documentation)
  • Alternative designs that you’ve considered and discarded
  • A plan for translation/localisation of the content
  • A log of updates that you’ve made to the doc plan

My recommendation is:

Include only what you need. If you’re not sure, cut it out.

If you’re starting from a template, remove sections that are not relevant. Keep your doc plan lean and mean. This will make for a faster review and approval process. People will feel happier about giving feedback on and signing off something that they understand. If there’s too much content, much of it irrelevant, people will lose track of, and lose confidence in, the bits that are important.

The resulting design, after you’ve incorporated people’s feedback, will be stronger.

What happens after you’ve drafted your doc plan?

After creating the first draft of the doc plan, the goal is to get other people to look at it and give you feedback. This feedback is essential, as it ensures that your understanding of the requirements is correct, and that the documentation that you’ll build will in fact satisfy the requirements.

I’ve found the following strategies useful:

  1. Walk through the doc plan with another tech writer, if possible.
  2. Walk through the doc plan with your stakeholders. I’ve found that an in-person walkthrough is very helpful, rather than immediately sending the doc plan out for review through email or other asynchronous means. During the walkthrough, you can iron out potential misunderstandings. People can ask you questions, and you can get immediate feedback from people who may not find the time to review the doc plan in detail.
  3. Incorporate any feedback from the walkthroughs.
  4. Send the doc plan out for review. Include the people who attended the in-person walkthroughs and all other relevant stakeholders. Set a deadline for review comments. A week is usually a good amount of time.
  5. Incorporate feedback from the review.
  6. Send the updated doc plan out again, and let people know you’re asking for approval. Give a deadline for the approval.
  7. Prod people until you have the approval you need.

Now you can start the most exciting phase of all: creating or updating the documentation!

Do you need to keep your doc plan up to date after the documentation is published?

After you’ve published the documentation, do you need to ensure that your doc plan stays in line with further updates? The answer depends on the processes in your specific business environment, but in general I’d say no. A doc plan does have value after the updates are done and dusted, as it shows the reason for the update and the overall design. In most situations, however, a doc plan is an artefact of the consultation, design, and review period of the documentation update. There’s no need to continue updating the plan after the documentation is published. The documentation site itself is the source of truth for current information about the documentation design.

Examples

Here are a few examples of doc plans provided by various people or groups:

Any more?

Do you have any examples of, or templates for, doc plans?

Related posts

Since publishing this post, I’ve written a couple of related posts:

Live streaming with StreamYard to record presentation and webcam view

I’ve recently started a YouTube channel called Soothing Musings with Sarah. I’ll tell you a bit about the channel itself later. First, though, I want to share what I learned about how to record a presentation alongside a webcam view of myself. After quite a bit of investigation, I found that the best combination of services for my needs is StreamYard, Google Slides, and YouTube.

For my video format, I wanted to include a mini window showing myself talking. I therefore needed an app that would record a webcam view. Alongside the talking me, I wanted a main window showing pictures of the thing I was talking about. For the main window, I decided a slide deck would be best, so that I could include text as well as photos. So, I needed an app that would record a slide presentation, as well as the mini window of me as presenter.

Here’s the end result:

I already had a Gmail account, which gives me access to Google Slides for presentations, and YouTube for sharing videos.

Getting started with Google Slides and YouTube

You can get help from the Google documentation on how to set up an account. You can use the same account for Gmail, Google Slides, and YouTube. There’s also information on how to create presentations with Google Slides.

Setting up a named YouTube channel

When you set up a YouTube account, you automatically get a YouTube channel that has the same name as your account. For my videos, I wanted a channel with a specific name: Soothing Musings with Sarah. YouTube calls a named channel a brand account (or sometimes just an account). A brand account doesn’t need to be a business account.

The YouTube docs describe how to set up a named channel. One thing to note is that there may be a 24-hour delay before your new named channel is available. I found there was no delay for my default YouTube channel, but the delay did occur for the named channel (brand account) which I created.

StreamYard for recording of presentation and webcam view

StreamYard gives you a browser-based streaming studio. I’m using Chrome as my browser. StreamYard works by streaming your recorded video directly to YouTube. All you need to do is set up your screen layout and other options in StreamYard, then record the session. As soon as you finish the session, you can watch your video on your YouTube channel. StreamYard gives you a link to the video on YouTube, which you can find on the StreamYard dashboard.

After you finish recording your video on StreamYard, YouTube still needs to complete some post-processing, which can take a few hours. When that’s done, your video becomes visible in the list of videos in your YouTube channel. That’s also when you can set the video thumbnail and download the video. Note that you can view the video on YouTube immediately after finishing the session on StreamYard, even before YouTube’s post-processing is finished.

Connecting StreamYard to YouTube

Here’s how to connect StreamYard to your YouTube channel:

  1. Sign up for a StreamYard account. StreamYard offers free and paid plans.
  2. In StreamYard, go to the destinations page. As you can see in this screenshot, I currently have two destinations set up in Streamyard: one for my default YouTube account, and one for my brand account. Your destinations page is probably empty at this point:
  3. Click Add a Destination.
  4. On the next page, click YouTube Channel:
  5. Follow the prompts to sign in to Google and to choose your account or brand account. Make sure you use the email address that you used to set up your YouTube channel.

When that’s all done, you’re ready to create your first recording, which StreamYard calls a broadcast.

Recording your session on StreamYard

The following steps include some tips that I gleaned while experimenting with StreamYard. They may not all apply to you, but they’ll at least help you get started.

  1. Get ready to be filmed. 🙂 Brush your hair, arrange your collar, do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable. Of course, you can choose not to include a webcam view in the recording. In that case, as you were.
  2. Go to the StreamYard broadcasts page and click Create a Broadcast:
  3. If StreamYard prompts you with a dialog window named Broadcast to, choose the YouTube channel that you want as the destination for your video recording.
  4. Set the title, description, and privacy for your video. I like to set the video to private at first, so that I can review it before the general public can see it:
  5. Click Create Broadcast.
  6. Check the view from your camera and the sound from your mic, as prompted by StreamYard.
  7. Set a display name. This is the text that appears on the bottom left of the webcam view. Looking at the video at the top of this post, you can see that my display name is Sarah Maddox, and it shows up as white text on an indigo background.
  8. This is when you enter the StreamYard studio. It looks like this:
  9. Take some time to examine the options, in particular the various settings available in the strip on the right-hand side of the studio. In the above screenshot, I’ve selected the Brand option, which is where you can set your brand colour etc. Some of the options are available in the paid plans only. For my brand colour, I chose indigo, which is why my display name has an indigo background. You can find some good colours on the material design website.
  10. If you want a recording of yourself to be part of the video, click the box with the webcam view near the bottom left of the studio page. That’s the box that shows a moving picture of you. By clicking the box, you add the webcam view to the video.
  11. Check the angle of your video camera, and make sure the webcam shows just what you want it to show.
  12. Now it’s time to set up the layout of your video. Click one of the layouts that appear in a row like this:

    I like the layout that shows 2 people on the left plus the presentation on the right. That’s the one highlighted in the above screenshot. Even though I’m showing only one person (that is, one webcam view) I like the sizing ratios in this layout.
  13. Move over to your Google Slides deck, and click Present then Presenter view, so that you can use the presenter view window to drive the presentation:

  14. You’ll see a presenter view window that looks something like this:
  15. In StreamYard, click the Share Screen, option, which appears at the bottom of the StreamYard studio:

  16. Choose the option to share the Chrome tab and select the presenter view for your presentation:

  17. Bring the presenter view window for your presentation to the fore, and drag the presenter view window to a convenient position, so that it doesn’t cover any bits of the StreamYard screen that you want to see while presenting. In particular, make sure you can see the “Go Live” button. The “End Broadcast” button will appear in the same place when you’re actually broadcasting, and you’ll want to find that easily.
  18. Now it’s time to start the recording. In StreamYard, click Go Live at the top right of the studio window:

  19. Click Go Live again to confirm that you’re ready. This starts the streaming to YouTube. (It’s OK! If you’ve set the privacy option to private, no-one but you can see the video while you’re streaming or even when you’ve finished.)
  20. Press Alt+Tab (or Cmd+Tab) to bring the presenter view to the fore again.
  21. Go for it! Have your say and show your slides.
  22. When you’re ready to stop recording, click End Broadcast at top right of the StreamYard studio:

  23. Click End Broadcast again to confirm. Wait a second or so until StreamYard lets you know that it’s closed the stream.
  24. Take a look at your video! In StreamYard, you can click Links at top right of the studio window, then click View on YouTube:

  25. Alternatively, you can click Return to Dashboard and see your list of recorded videos on the Past Broadcasts tab:
  26. Click the three dots next to each recording to see various options, including the option to view the video on YouTube.

You can also see the video directly from YouTube. In your channel, Click Your videos then select Live streams from the dropdown list:

  • After some hours, the video appears in the Uploads list too.
  • In YouTube Studio, the recording appears on the Live tab.
  • Note that the Download link for the video in YouTube Studio doesn’t work immediately — it’s greyed out. It took a few hours for me before the link became active.

Other hints:

  • While recording in StreamYard, you can remove the webcam window but retain audio: Click the layout option that shows just the full screen. You can then put the webcam back again by choosing your original layout option.
  • The StreamYard docs are excellent, including a good set of FAQ.

Other services that I tried

I tried a few other services to get the layout that I needed. When live streaming with YouTube Live, I couldn’t share my screen. ScreenCastify is very easy to use and produces nice results, but I couldn’t get the onscreen camera box (webcam view) to appear when in presenter mode with Google Slides. 

My channel: Soothing Musings with Sarah

My YouTube channel is a new type of communication for me. I’m attempting to use voice mixed with beautiful pictures of nature, plus a soupçon of information, to convey a sense of calm. Hence, Soothing Musings with Sarah. At this point, the channel has a couple of videos streamed via StreamYard. I’m experimenting as I go. There’ll probably be more to come.

If you’re investigating how to record a video with a camera view and a slide deck, I hope you find this post useful.

How to add a banner to website pages using Hugo

A while back, I needed to display a banner on every page of a documentation website. Furthermore, I wanted the banner to appear only under specific conditions. We use Hugo as the static site generator for the website. Here’s what I figured out, using Hugo templates.

I wanted to add a banner to the archived versions of the Kubeflow documentation, such as v0.7 and v0.6, letting readers know that they’re viewing an unmaintained version and pointing them to the latest docs.

Here’s an example of such a banner:

In Kubeflow’s case, the purpose of the banner is to catch people who enter the archived documentation from a web search and make sure they realise that a more up-to-date set of docs is available.

Summary: Adding a banner to a page with Hugo templating

In essence, you need to do the following:

  • Figure out which Hugo layout file is responsible for the base layout of your pages. In the case of the Kubeflow docs, the responsible layout file is at layouts/docs/baseof.html. You can see an example of the layout file in the Docsy theme: layouts/docs/baseof.html. (Kubeflow uses Docsy on top of Hugo.)
  • Add the code for your banner to the layout file. Or, even better, create a partial layout, often called just a partial. A partial is a snippet of code written in Hugo’s templating language. Put the code for your banner into the partial, then call the partial from the base layout. For the Kubeflow version banner, the code sits in a Hugo partial named version-banner.html.

There’s an explanation of the code later in this post.

Making the banner’s appearance conditional

In order to offer docs for multiple versions of Kubeflow, we have a number of websites, one for each major version of the product. The overall configuration of the websites for the different versions is the same. For example, we have the current Kubeflow documentation, and archived versions 0.7 and 0.6.

I wanted to make sure we had to do only minimal extra configuration to cause the banner to appear on the archived doc sets. I didn’t want to have to edit the layouts each time we create an archive. A good solution seemed to be a parameter that we can set in the site’s configuration file.

How it works – first the configuration settings

The parameter that controls the appearance/non-appearance of the banner is named archived_version. If the parameter is set to true, the banner appears on the website. The parameter value is false for the main doc site, kubeflow.org. When we create an archived version of the docs, we set the parameter to true.

The parameter is defined in the site configuration file, config.toml. The configuration file also contains a version number and the URL for the latest version of the docs. Both these fields are used in the banner text.

Here’s a snippet showing the relevant part of the configuration file:

# The major.minor version tag for the version of the docs represented in this
# branch of the repository. Used in the "version-banner" partial to display a
# version number for this doc set.
version = "v1.0"

# Flag used in the "version-banner" partial to decide whether to display a
# banner on every page indicating that this is an archived version of the docs.
archived_version = false

# A link to latest version of the docs. Used in the "version-banner" partial to
# point people to the main doc site.
url_latest_version = "https://kubeflow.org/docs/"

How it works – the content and logic

For the Kubeflow website, a Hugo layout file is responsible for the base layout of the documentation pages:layouts/docs/baseof.html. You can see an example of the layout file in the Docsy theme: layouts/docs/baseof.html. (Kubeflow uses Docsy on top of Hugo.)

I inserted the following line into the base layout:

{{ partial "version-banner.html" . }}

The above line calls a Hugo partial named version-banner.html. The partial contains the banner content and logic. (I’ve contributed the logic for the version banner to Docsy, which is why the URL leads to the Docsy repository.)

Below is a screenshot of the content of the partial. Unfortunately I can’t paste the code, because WordPress strips out all HTML:

You can copy the code from the partial: version-banner.html.

The code does the following:

  • Check the value of the archived_version parameter. If true, continue to the next step.
  • Get the value of the url_latest_version parameter, for use in the banner content when giving readers a link to the latest version of the docs.
  • Get the value of the version parameter, for use in the banner content when showing readers the version of the website that they’re viewing.
  • Create an HTML div containing the styling and content for the banner.

Here’s the screenshot of the banner again, so that you can compare it to the HTML div:

Docs or it didn’t happen

I created a user guide for other people who want to use the banner logic on their sites using the Docsy theme: How to display a banner on archived doc sites.

I also updated the release procedures for the Kubeflow engineering/docs team, explaining that we must set the archived_version parameter to true when archiving a website version.

In closing

I hope this post is useful to you, if you find that you need to add a banner to a website using Hugo templating!

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