Posts Tagged ‘Formatting

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


Information visualization provides a way of helping people make sense of large, complex data sets, such as the following:

  • Topology data
  • Epidemiology data
  • Sets of time series
  • Medical data
  • Geographic maps
  • Network connections
  • Financial data
  • U.S. Government Budget
  • Billions of customer transactions
  • Radiation doses and their impact over time

Improving large-scale analysis of these and many other massive data sets presents an ongoing challenge for businesses, academia and government. Using information visualization techniques, however, allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

Essentially, information visualization allows you to extract meaningful information from a sea of data.

And those data do not have to correspond only to the physical and concrete. They can be abstract, drawn from the domains of the symbolic, the textual, the logical, the tabular, the networked, and the hierarchical, among others.


Example: Accessing the Geosocial Universe via Mobile Devices

How popular are the various geosocial networks with mobile users? This infographic is a good example of “compare and contrast.”

Geosocial Universe

This infographic illustrates and compares the popularity of different geosocial networking services. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ranking Themes in Documents

If you’re curious about the relationships among documents, this visualization shows clusters of themes and their strengths in health- and medical-related literature.

IN-SPIRE Software: ThemeView Landscape

This ThemeView Landscape figure shows relationships among documents. High peaks represent prominent themes. Peaks close together represent clusters of similar documents. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ordering  News Topics by “Interestingness”

Ever want to find out what are the hottest news topics within a given time period? In this visualization, the most reported (hottest) topics are in the center column. Less-reported topics appear in the side columns.

Automated, Intelligent Broadcast Video Content Analysis

News visualization topics are arranged according to “interestingness” for a given time period. Hottest topics (those most reported) appear in the central column. Side columns are used for topics of lesser impact by the interestingness measure. (Click for credits and source.)


Using Information Visualization to Improve Your Publications

For your visualization to be effective, it must be useful to your audience as well as aesthetically appealing. This requires thoughtful analysis, attention to detail, imagination, and no small amount of perseverance. This YouTube video provides some examples and techniques. You may also find inspiration in Edward Tufte’s website.

The idea is that you do the heavy lifting, so your audience doesn’t have to.

To guide your work, ask the following questions:

Does your visualization have a purpose?  That is, what is the story you are trying to tell with this visualization? What information are you trying to tease out of the data and put into visual form?

Is your visualization the best one to convey the story?  That is, when your audience sees the visualization, will they immediately grasp the “big picture” of your analysis of the data? Will they easily grasp the meaningful patterns in the subject? If details are also important, does your visualization scale to that level in a way that makes sense for the subject and the audience?

Is your visualization interactive? Interactive views allow you to guide the story and are especially helpful when there is too much detail to show all at once. Although interactivity works best online, it can be approximated in print by breaking out information into related visualizations.

Is your visualization beautiful? Beauty influences comprehension. How you present something can determine its usefulness. Visual attributes such as fonts, colors, sizing, orientation of view, scaling of graphic elements and placement of graphic elements have a large impact on the user experience. For an example of WOW! beautiful maps, check out Maps: Visualizing Twitter and Flickr Data.

Tell me, do you think information visualization is the new frontier?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think? Do you use information visualization in your work? Do you generate your designs by software or have a graphic artist create them? I’d really like for you to keep the conversation going by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle

Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle


Enmeshed as we are in time, it’s no wonder that timelines are among the most-used graphical devices.

But what to do when you need some ideas about all the ways you might represent a timeline?

As I was thinking about how to show eye-catching and mind-grabbing examples of timelines in this post, it occurred to me that nothing I could quickly devise would be a match for what is already in use on the web.

So I went hunting for timelines. And was pleasantly surprised. In addition to the well-known and beloved static graphs, charts and tables, I discovered some wonderfully unusual as well as interactive methods of showing time, which I share with you on the rest of this page.

Put on your hiking boots, rev up your curiosity and check out the following sites, where you will find plenty of useful ideas for creating readily understandable timelines that will dazzle your audiences. The examples can serve as models to help you communicate your information in vivid and delightful ways.

General. This MIT site contains some excellent timeline examples that will inspire you to think and get more creative. Within each timeline, take a tour of all the clickable, interactive features.

And of course there is Google Images, which presents a dizzying variety of inventive timelines. Click on an image to access the website of origin, where you can also enlarge the image.

Geologic Time Periods. This ingenious clock representation of the geologic time scale makes the length of each period relative to all the others readily apparent to even the casual reader. A “zoom” button in the caption area lets you enlarge the illustration. Compare that model with the accompanying standard, linear timeline that conveys the relative lengths of the supereons, eons, eras and periods in the earth’s history. In both examples, note the excellent use of high-contrast colors.

Global Financial Crisis. On the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website, click on the word “Timeline” in each paragraph to display a PDF that clearly and beautifully illustrates the domestic and international timelines of policy responses to the global financial crisis.

Evolution. How do you show the major events in the development of life on earth? This is a fairly tall order, as the timeline of evolution stretches over billions of years, but the graphical and tabular models you will find at this site present a comprehensive picture.

Big Bang. The Big Bang was so huge and complex that one graphical timeline alone could not do it justice, which is perhaps why it is accompanied by a physical-cosmology table that contains many links to other related timelines. This example shows how sets of interrelated contextual information can be communicated to readers in a very approachable way.

World War I. This timeline of World War I uses tables to list key dates and event descriptions. The various war theaters are color-coded.

Immigration History. If you have questions about the history of immigration, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation timelines can help you. Each time period you select is accompanied by overview descriptions and relevant images.

History – Examples. Here are some typical ways to show a history timeline. Although this site is geared to teaching students about timelines, the examples are good and could be used as general models by anyone.

World History. The TimeMaps Atlas of World History uses maps with date tabs to allow you to step your way through key events in world history. These highly interactive timelines impart a full sense of the sweeping context of time for each event, its time period and its geographic location.

Emerging Diseases. The Global Health Council website shows several useful ways of representing emerging-disease timelines. Examples include pathogens identified since 1972, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and avian influenza.


For more about timelines, you might like the following post in my blog: Timelines about Life

Do you have any timeline examples to share with the readers of this blog? We’d all love to hear from you, so leave a comment, including the link to one of your personal favorites.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

When you write sales and marketing copy, remember that the layout will affect the readability and eye appeal of your words.

Will your text appear online or in print? If you are responsible for the layout as well as the copy, you’ll want to experiment with graphics, colors and typeface. Consider also that you may need more than one layout if your copy will appear in more than one medium. If you are working with a graphics designer, review at least one draft of the piece to be sure the layout is clean, easy to read and eye-catching.

Does the layout draw readers into the copy? Is it inviting? Are there enough (but not too many) subheads to break the information into logical chunks? Does the use of typeface encourage readers to notice the most important information first? Does the layout move the reader along from the headlines through the copy to the contact information and take-action statements? Do photos or drawings convey what you intend to communicate about the product or service? Do captions make sense in the context of the piece?

Here are some tips for enhancing the eye appeal of your copy:

  • Use large, bold type for the headline.
  • Use one, dominant visual image. Keep visuals fairly simple and easily understandable by your audience.
  • Place body copy below the headline and the primary visual.
  • Use a clean, readable typeface for body copy. Generally, a dark typeface on a light background works best.
  • Use subheads to break information into logical chunks, which will help lead the eye through the text.
  • Leave enough space between paragraphs so the page appears clean and uncluttered.
  • Remember that short paragraphs are easier to read than long ones.
  • Keep the lead paragraph very short; three lines (or fewer) are optimal to drive your point home.
  • Remember that a simple, clean layout is usually the most effective way to communicate your message.

A good layout should grab readers’ attention and make your copy sparkle. It’s the “secret sauce” that can add the right touch of magic.

How well are your company’s sales and marketing communications working?  What layout tips would you recommend?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Use graphic images to communicate, not decorate. For example, you might use graphic images to show development over time, or to illustrate the parts of a mechanical device, or to convey some type of abstract change, such as a software release process.

Whether an image will be used online or in a printed document, a general rule of thumb is to “keep it simple.” Keep the number of parts in the image to a minimum, and avoid fine lines and reams of tiny text. If an image becomes too complex, subdivide it into several simpler images.

Keep images consistent in appearance by using a color theme, similar frames, and so on. Be wary of  “special effects” or other unusual or distorted perspectives. Remember, the objective is to communicate with your audience.

A picture is not worth a thousand words. Most people learn and process information more quickly and easily when both words and images are used to present the material. Use graphic images to enhance and expand on one or more points in body text, or to convey something that is difficult to explain in words alone.

Remember to use captions for each image, so your audience clearly understands what the image represents. If appropriate, use labels to call out the parts of the image. If an image needs a very brief description to tie it to its associated body text or clarify its context, use inset comments between the caption and the image, or just below the image.

In some documents, images are essential. In others, words suffice to tell the entire story to your audience. How to use images, or indeed, whether to use them at all is part of planning, which is the first phase of writing a document. Elizabeth Lexleigh    The Write Ideas

When you evaluate your document, ask yourself if its appearance helps your customers easily learn what they need to know, or whether it makes their job harder (or even impossible). Formatting affects how your customers perceive your product.

Bad formatting (on a printed or a web page) tends to push the reader away, while an attractive layout and legibility pull the eye through the text and graphics.

In many cases, depending on the document and its purpose, you will need to work with a good graphic artist. After all, the writer and the graphic artist each have different talents, and both make important contributions to the overall success of a document.

When you check page layout, look at each page with a critical eye, and put yourself in the reader’s shoes: Does material crowd the page? Or make generous use of “white space” (margins)? Is there enough space between lines and paragraphs? Pages should not look like a binary stream.

As a rule of thumb, call out key ideas as headings, and limit supporting paragraphs to six to eight lines. Put procedural steps in a numbered-list format. Help the reader by highlighting important points.

Select a typeface that is appropriate for your medium (print or online, for example) and your audience. Be sure the print quality is readable, so that readers will be able to easily see the typeface you choose  — if you have ever tried to read very light or smudgy text, for example, you know what I mean.

Figures, tables and other artwork should be located as near as possible to the corresponding body text and, in most cases, should be numbered and captioned.

If you or your reviewers notice these (and similar) problems in the evaluation phase of a project, then it’s time to revise the “look and feel” of the document. No matter how great the content, it’s just got to have “curb appeal.” The right appearance can make all the difference in the world.

By the way, whenever you find a document that contains appealing, well-formatted pages, make a copy of a page or two and save them in a file. It won’t be long until you have a stash of handy formatting ideas ready and waiting for your next writing project.

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