Our latest webinar, “Is search the solution for findability?” was a discussion between Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler and veteran technical writer/indexer Cheryl Landes. The two discussed how indexes can improve findability and speculated about what indexes will look like in the future.
The webinar was an action-packed 60 minutes! The recording and Q&A are now available below. Enjoy!
Are you able to suggest an optimal way to craft a Site Map that maximizes SEO concepts without looking like an index (or keyword list) on the page?
Cheryl: This is a very interesting question and one I haven’t thought about. Probably the most optimal method would be to figure out a way to import your metadata for the page titles and page descriptions into a separate page and then format the information into an outline:
Parent page title, such as the Home page
Description of the parent page
Next page title, such as the About page
Description of the parent page
Child page title, such as any pages associated with the About page
Description of the child page
In each page, you would need to include separate tags for your page titles and descriptions as part of your metadata.
There would need to be an automated way to import this metadata into your site map, especially if you have a large website. Doing this manually would be tedious.
I do some editing for a college level e-publisher. The books are not bound books; they are only available electronically. I happened to see an index in one of the books I edited. This client uses automatic coding to call out key terms (e.g., boldface or italic words). Their hits results in lots of hits without differentiation (just like a bunch of undifferentiated locators in print indexes). What is needed to get sub-entries in such indexes?
Cheryl: Since I’m not sure the type of software or scripting the client is using, this is hard to answer. I’m guessing, based on your question, that your client has created some sort of custom script to pull out these terms. That makes me wonder whether the client has somehow tagged or styled these key terms so that the script knows what to find. The tags would have been inserted manually, unless the key terms were styled and the client did some sort of search/insert process for the tags with this script or another one.
To add subentries, the information would need to be added into these tags. This is where XML comes in handy, because you can create entries and subentries in XML tags and then compile the tags into an index. This takes human analysis, however, to produce a quality index. I suspect this publisher may not want to go to this expense, although the readers would benefit from it.
I also wonder if this publisher is aware of how students use eBooks. Recently, while I was preparing for this webinar, my friend and colleague Jan Wright pointed me to an article on Forbes blog about how students use eBooks. Here are the findings:
- Undergrads prefer print books by 58%.
- Ability to search within and across content is the primary advantage of e-books.
- Annotating and highlighting is vital and not working.
- Borrowing or purchasing print copies of is common.
- Students use eBooks for search and discovery tasks (TOC and browse), then move to print editions for reading, note taking, text comparison, deep study, better navigation.
- Undergrads want print copies available for borrowing from the library, with 66% rating it as important.
- 41% rate the option to buy a “print-on-demand” copy as important.
- Textbooks: hard to use if there aren’t page numbers displayed and good chapter breaks: instructors and students have issues matching assignments.
- Taking notes is not easy yet, figures are hard to see, looking up references a pain.
- Less than 40% of University of Washington (UW) students used the Kindle regularly for classroom reading.
Clearly there are issues with functionality and indexes are needed. For more information about the above study, see http://blogs.forbes.com/alexknapp/2011/05/19/what-do-amazons-e-book-sales-mean-for-the-future-of-books/ and http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/college-students2019-use-of-kindle-dx-points-to-e-reader2019s-role-in-academia.
Can you provide a concise info source (link) on how to set up a PDF so that users land directly on the content and not on an attachment?
I’m not aware of a source, but here’s how I do it in FrameMaker. This is done from the book file for your document, and before you start, you must have set up your index and generated it.
- Open the FrameMaker book file for your document.
- In the book file, select File > Print book.
- In the Print Book dialog box, check the Generate Acrobat Data box. When you click this box, the Print to File box will also check automatically. If you leave the Print to File box checked, the book will print to postscript first, and then you’ll need to double-click on the postscript file to finish the conversion to PDF. If you uncheck the Print to File box, then you bypass that process and the book automatically prints to PDF.
- Click the Print button. The book is converted to PDF and will open in Acrobat to view (if you deselected the Print to File box). You can then go to the index, click on any page number, and go directly to the text where the index marker was set.
NOTE: This method does not work in InDesign CS4 and Word. This functionality is not available in either program for indexes. I do not have InDesign CS5, so I’m not sure if it works there.
Is there one tool in particular you recommend indexers learn or work with?
Cheryl: My favorite for electronic content (online help, etc.) is MadCap Flare because of its flexibility in single sourcing. I am also a big fan of Adobe FrameMaker for embedded indexing. But other tools have similar capabilities. As indexers, we need to become familiar with all of the tools available that have indexing features for embedding and online help.
Mind Touch, the sponsor of this webinar, has a very interesting social knowledgebase product that provides a lot of flexibility in organizing and managing content. Check it out.
As I mentioned during the webinar, I think indexers’ roles are changing beyond simply indexing content and delivering indexes to clients. I think we will be called upon more and more as consultants to help publishers and other companies figure out how to organize their content. In my world as a technical writer, I have assumed this role many times during the past 20 years, because many of my independent clients are start-up companies or small businesses who need help in this area. We need to understand the roles of these tools and how they work so that we can help our clients make intelligent decisions. Also, learning how to use these tools keep us employable as indexers!
All of the toolmakers offer trial versions, ranging from 15 to 30 days, which gives us ample time to kick around the tires.
Explain what you mean “indexes should be blogs”?
Cheryl: This would consist of pulling in links from various credible sources on the same topics into a blog…kind of like a big “see also” library. So there would be a discussion about something on the blog, or the blog’s theme is a particular topic, and then there would be a “See also” heading with all kinds of resources related to that topic: other websites, videos, podcasts, etc.
What kind of “listing of the day” would people want to read? I’d like to hear more about how, and for what kind of content could like idea be used for?
Cheryl: I can see many uses. To illustrate the first example, when I worked for the dot-com mentioned during the webinar, we published a “tip of the day” to our customers. It was a brief paragraph, usually two or three sentences, about how to use a feature in our product or how to use a feature more efficiently. Back then, we e-mailed these daily tips to customers who subscribed to our e-mail list. (That was at the height of the dot-com boom, long before social media took off.)
Here’s another example: You might be interested in a particular topic and follow a blog you love. Or maybe it’s a Facebook page or Twitter account. The owner of this medium may find external links that s/he may think would be of interest to her/his followers. So as the “listing of the day,” this person may post a different link every day as a service to her/his readers. These links could be compiled into a big index on a blog or webpage (see previous question about “indexes should be blogs”).
Can we use the highlighting feature instead of page numbers in searching the index terms in an e-book?
Cheryl: Not that I’m aware of. The highlighting feature is used to flag, or highlight, information we want to refer back to in the eBook.
Here are some links describing highlighting that might be helpful:
What are your thoughts about See references
Cheryl: In print content, I’m a big fan of See references but not in online content. Instead, I prefer double-posting, triple-posting, quadruple-posting, whatever it takes so that all of the alternate points of entry are available in the electronic index. The reason I’m not a fan of See references in online content is that using them means more clicks for the user. The fewer clicks, the better from a usability perspective.
When I first started writing and indexing online help in the mid-1990s, the help authoring tools (HATs) did not have cross-reference functionality. Double-posting, etc. was our only workaround. Back then, the users of the content I produced did not seem to have problems finding the information they needed if they looked it up with an alternate term in my help systems. Since then, now that HATs have cross-reference functionality, some people have argued that my double-/triple-/quadruple-posting technique is a usability issue, but again, I haven’t noticed it and I still follow the same best practice when writing online help. Most people are able to translate synonyms. As mentioned during the webinar, some people might struggle with this, depending on the extent of an individual’s vocabulary, or vernacular, but overall, I have not seen it as an issue. On the other hand, the audiences for my technical content are different than general readers of an eBook or social media. This is a topic that needs to be addressed as functionality is developed for indexes in the various mobile devices and other types of media.
Interested in attending our next webinar?
Tune in with Scott Abel and Joe Welinske this Friday, October 7, 2011 in “Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps”. Sign up Now!