Topic-Based Authoring

Presented by Sharon Burton, Technical Writer and Information Designer for PointClickCare


Topic-based authoring lets you create and reuse content, reduces project schedules, and improves your workflow. If you are looking to move to a structured writing environment such as DITA, it's the first set of steps towards that goal.

But how to get started? What's a topic? What to do with your legacy content? How exactly do you plan this way of developing content? How long will it take to see reduced project schedules? What skills do you need to make this move? And how will this help your users?

This six-week certificate course will cover all this and more. You'll end the course fully armed to make this move as painlessly as possible in your workplace, armed with best practices regardless of the tools you use.

Each week includes at least an hour lecture and as well as assignments and readings to do in your own time that support the lecture for that week. We use activities and hands-on exercises to help participants apply the guidelines and ideas presented.

Session Descriptions

Topic-Based Authoring—What is Topic-Based Authoring?

In this session you will learn:

  • Historical overview of structuring information
  • Definitions
  • Good writing
    • What is it?
    • How do we get it?
  • Chunking information
Topic-Based Authoring—Audience Analysis

Discover how to find out about your users and how this impacts topic-based authoring:

  • Personas
  • Good writing
    • What are they?
    • How do you get one?
    • How do you use them?
  • Scenarios
  • Identifying and supporting multiple learning styles
    • VARK
  • How to find out about these people
    • Surveys
    • How to create
    • How to abstract information from survey questions
Topic-Based Authoring—Analyzing the Old and the New

Learn how to start analyzing the information types in your legacy documents and what that means for new content.

  • What kinds of information do we have?
    • Why we care
    • Who are our users and what do they need?
    • How this impacts what we do
  • How to create standards for our information
Topic-Based Authoring—How to Create Project Plans

Learn how to create a project plan for creating new content and restructuring legacy content.

  • What can be done
  • What must be done
    • How to know the difference?
  • Managing people and technology
  • How to represent this in spreadsheets and other planning tools
  • Estimating staff, time, and effort
Topic-Based Authoring—How to Convert Legacy Information

Learn best practices for restructuring legacy content.

  • How exactly to start going about it
  • Hybrid documents
    • What are they and when is it okay?
  • What issues exist with the major tools and how to work around/with them?
Topic-Based Authoring—Looking Forward

Look at the future and your specific issues.

  • Now where can you go?
  • How can you reuse this content?
  • What else needs to be done before you move to structured authoring?
  • Your specific questions, concerns, thoughts, issues

Presenter Biography

Sharon Burton is a nationally recognized practitioner, business expert, teacher, and speaker in the field of technical communication. With almost 20 years of experience in the field, she has consulted with large and small companies to improve their product documentation and/or their documentation processes. Sharon has received many awards from organizations such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and Apex, including the designation of Associate Fellow from STC.

Before becoming product manager/product evangelist with Author-it, she held the same position at MadCap Software; prior to that she was technical publication manager at a large company in Southern California where she built a team of 13 writers. Prior to that position, Sharon owned and ran Anthrobytes Consulting for 10 years.

Sharon is also a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology and an adjunct professor in the engineering department at the University of California, Riverside, where she teaches technical communications to young engineers. An occasional newspaper columnist, her articles on life in Southern California have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Inland Empire Weekly.

What They're Saying

"I can’t thank you enough for this class and your willingness to help us floundering tech writers learn about topic-based authoring and all the supporting knowledge we need! I am already using the information you provided to start a brand-new, topic-based help project for a new app!"
      —C. M.

"It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a class of any type, and I truly enjoyed this class. The information was invaluable and your delivery was refreshing!"
     —M. C.