Losing Focus

Is it too late to write about Stéphane Dion’s ill-fated video response to the Prime Minister’s professionally produced presentation? Dion’s rambling video not only arrived late to the networks, but was out of focus and improperly framed. It did more to end his short-lived career as opposition leader than anything else. It is for people such as Dion that words such as hapless were created.

An article in Maclean’s revealed the source of this debacle. Apparently, Dion was so obsessed over the content of his presentation that there was not enough time to shoot it properly. As a result, history is left with a film that makes You Tube look like an IMAX theatre.

A fool learns from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of fools, and there is no greater fool than Dion. All communication, whether video, audio or textual, is made up of content and form. Content is the pure substance of the message; form is the wrapper the message rests in. Even if Dion’s content had been perfect, its form was so flawed that it effectively hid the content.

It’s easy for technical communicators to become so obsessed over the content that they forget the form. The most well-written and well-researched document will be rendered nearly useless if the presentation of the information is poor.

A checklist is a beautiful thing. Before releasing the final version of the document you sweated over, do a formal form check:

  1. Is the cover page correct, including the logo, title, version number, and author?
  2. Have you included all the standard, common sections such as legal and copyright information, document conventions, support and contact information, and standard product information?
  3. Is the table of contents correct and current?
  4. Are all headers, footers, and page numbers visible and correct?
  5. Are all the chapter names and numbers correct?
  6. Are the various headings and paragraph styles correct? Is all numbering properly sequential?
  7. Are all your variable values, conditions, and reused text sections correct?
  8. Are your margins consistent?
  9. Are there any missing or poor quality graphics?
  10. Have you updated you index to reflect your new, changed and deleted topics?
  11. Have you run a spellcheck?
  12. Does your released document have the correct filename?
  13. Have you checked all these things one more time?

It is all too easy to get lost in the words and forget their container. Do not rush. Plan for and use the extra time to check everything. Otherwise, you’ll be the Dion of Documentation.

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