December 08, 2011
The standard model for creating large documentation sets pretends, in essence, that the content springs from a single faceless source, namely <Your Company>. This is one of the concerns (not the only one) of a style guide, namely to define an overall tone for a content set that originates with different authors. And of course corporate-created documentation is generally not credited, and certainly not at the article level.
We're starting an experiment with changing this for our own docs. For our last couple of big tutorial sets, we're attaching author names and bios to the bottom. Here are a couple of examples:In both cases, the author info is at the bottom.
We're also going to be experimenting with adding this info to MSDN topics. Here's an example (actually still a prototype) of what that might look like:
We reckon that adding author attribution has these benefits, in no particular order:
There is of course lots of precendence for this. Blogs have author attribution, obviously, and blogs have long had the benefits listed above. Books have prominent authorship, same benefits. The Patterns & Practices group at Microsoft often (not always, oddly) includes attribution (example).
- Authors help develop their "brand".
- Readers can learn to associate an author's name with a specific level, quality, and focus of work.
- Content will get a personality and human face.
- Readers get the (correct) impression that documentation is created by actual people.
- Writers get public acknowledgment of their work — the company in effect puts its own stamp of approval on the writer's work, by name.
It's actually interesting to contemplate whether there's any downside. The original idea of a monolithic corporate voice was probably of concern in the pre-blog days when such a voice was perceived to have more authority, perhaps. But the plethora of high-quality, attributed content on the web has probably gotten people very used to the idea that every article is written by somebody. And so it is.