December 9, 2015

Is it possible to create a web knowledge base from existing book manuals?

Check out our presentation from the largest conference on technical communication in the world- tcworld 2015 – to see how to create one (1) mobile-friendly web knowledge base from existing technical documentation books. This, without requiring any manual work to rewrite or re-structure the book content.

The presentation show how taxonomies are used to classify content in several book manuals, managed in the Excosoft Skribenta component content management system. These books are deployed to a responsive web knowledge base (generated by Skribenta Finder), where users use filters and relations to find answers.



The findability problem –
Companies struggle in meeting customer demands

Many organizations have recognized that their customers, end users, want to efficiently be able to find relevant information on any device. Almost 70% of 300 companies, participating in a recent survey, reported that customers ask for content that is more searchable possible using faceted search. To include such a feature in a product offer is an absolute priority, especially when all competitors can offer it. Thus, a main focus and challenge for technical communicators now and in years to come, is to design for findability.

Findability means making end user assistance attractive, so that end users will want to use it to search your product instead of going to un-official information sources such as a colleague or online forums. Findability is achieved when users can get answers with equal or less effort than from other competitor un-official information sources.

A focus on findability implies that users are active and searching for information. When, for example, users are stuck in product use, they ask questions and search for answers. They begin by selecting the most relevant information source, perhaps the user manual.

However, the information design of traditional book oriented manuals does not satisfy the demands of the searching user. Research within human-computer interaction and information science has shown that users often prefer alternative information sources to the traditional book like manual— whether the manual is online or paper based. One explanation is that users have difficulty finding information when it is organized in a static arbitrary structure, which doesn’t appeal to the logic of the user.

Current ways of delivering technical documentation– such as via a PDF or CHM file, HTML web help, or Wiki, etc., all have something in common: content is organized in a static, arbitrary structure. In such a book-like format, the table of contents is often the user’s only option when it comes to finding relevant information. It’s an almost impossible challenge to design a static structure that everyone finds logical. Putting such documentation on the web, will not help.

Many users find it cumbersome to search for information (especially when documentation is not on-line), since they are forced to search in several books, one by one, each having a static structure. It is often not possible to search in all books from a single query, yet this is even more difficult to do on a mobile device.

Technical communicators need to move away from the book-like paradigm altogether, and provide user assistance designed to accommodate the information-seeking behavior of users. This means that answers must be easy to find in one knowledge base on a mobile device or tablet, instead of distributing answers across books.

Furthermore, companies have invested a lot in their existing book-oriented documentation. Starting from scratch to make a knowledge base is not an option for most companies. But, if we cannot organize information into static structures, what are our options?

Contact me at for more information or download the Skribenta Finder brochure.

About the author

Jonatan Lundin

Jonatan is a pioneering information architect backed by over 20 years dedicated to XML documentation, and designing for findability.

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