Improve Your Documentation with Indexes

Published on MadCap Software’s blog on January 13, 2023

Whether we’re finishing job-related tasks or making buying decisions, finding the information we need to successfully answer our questions is critical. Often we struggle during this journey and quickly become frustrated because we either discover only bits and pieces of the information we need or nothing at all.

An indexing tool helps ease this pain. From a business perspective, well-written indexes increase a product’s value and reduce costs because:

  • Customers are more satisfied with the product due to seamless information retrieval in order to use it effectively.
  • Sales from referrals and repeat buyers increase.
  • Customer or technical support calls decrease, which reduce costs.

An indexer is a user’s advocate. The indexer always keeps the users in mind by thinking about how they might look up information in the content. To accomplish this, an indexer provides as many options as possible for users to find the same information in the content.

So, you might wonder, why not just look up the information in the table of contents? It’s because the table of contents and a document index have different roles in the content. Learn more about how to improve your technical documentation through document indexing below.

Continue reading this post on the MadCap Software blog.

Why we should not worry about the competition

Holly Cohen interviews Rachael Ray at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in Philadelphia (photo by Cheryl Landes)

Anyone who owns or manages a business, or who’s responsible for marketing a business, constantly hears this advice: “Watch out for the competition.” We must always know what they’re doing. We must ensure that whatever they’re doing doesn’t interfere with what we’re doing. Or that whatever they’re doing doesn’t destroy us.

So, if we hear someone who’s bold enough to say, “I never worry about the competition,” we would wonder how successful they really are. Has their ego gone overboard? Why would anyone take that risk?

Well, someone isn’t worried, and she’s among our most successful entrepreneurs. That someone is Rachael Ray.

OK, we could argue that at Rachael Ray’s level of success, she doesn’t need to be worried about the competition. Who would dare try to compete against her?

Rachel doesn’t worry about the competition, because her focus is on her commitment to her audience—her customers. “I worry about the promise we’re keeping as a group of people,” she said during an interview with Philadelphia-based chef and cookbook author Hope Cohen at a Pennsylvania Conference for Women I attended in Philadelphia.

“The keyword here is listen,” she said. “You have to listen to your customer, your consumer, your audience. And you have to be committed to that—that you are there out of a commitment and a promise to them.

“I also think that you have to know who and what you are and what it is you’re trying to deliver and stay in that lane. It’s great to grow and think about how you can evolve into the next thing, but you also have to find what your promise is. For example, for our brand, our promise is acceptability, can do, and value.

“I don’t want to be the cheapest pot and pan, but I want to find the best value in that fabrication, or in that genre. I want you to pick up the cookbook or watch the TV show and feel you’re a part of it and you can do anything that you see on the pages in print.

“These are the things we are committed to as a community…We all have a common vision, and I think that’s very important.”

She summed it up by saying, “What you’re trying to accomplish needs to be a common vision.”

That’s how she keeps her promise to her audience. She listens to them and delivers what they want. If she’s focusing on what the competition is doing, she’s no longer listening to her customers and cannot keep her promises to them.

This doesn’t mean that we simply ignore what our competition is doing. We could even be inspired by what they’re doing. As a result, we might come up with new ideas that help us provide what our customers need. But we should not allow our observations to distract us from our commitment to our customers.

That same inspiration might even reveal new opportunities to broaden our product lines or services while still maintaining our common vision and keeping our promises to our customers. Our customers will appreciate it and, in return, remain committed to us.

Watch Hope Cohen’s full interview with Rachael Ray.

How we can help during challenging times

Spring desert bloom in central California

As business owners, we’re advised to post content that’s helpful to our targeted readers yet promote our products and services. But given our current situation with COVID-19, is promoting our businesses really helpful? Our messages might sound insensitive, like we’re taking advantage of a terrible situation.

Everyone is facing challenges from this pandemic in different ways. But in general, we’re all scared. We’re worried about the present and future. We need comfort, support, and hope.

At the same time, we can help each other get through this professionally and personally. Here are a few ideas, some of which many of my professional colleagues and friends have adopted.

Share knowledge and skills

What’s your expertise? Can you share some tips on a useful, relevant topic in a video, social media, and blog posts? What could you turn into a mini-course or tutorial?

Lately I’ve seen free and deeply discounted courses on photography, self-care, career development, social media, playing a musical instrument, cooking, drawing, painting, and knitting. Offering courses for free, pay-what-you-can, or deeply discounted helps others learn new skills, improve existing skills, or simply have a fun diversion during a tough time personally and financially.

We can also share knowledge by helping others directly. This week, I attended some virtual write-ins and readings hosted by fiction and non-fiction writers who have never used Zoom. Whenever they needed help with the software, attendees who knew how to use it jumped in.


Many performing arts organizations are hosting free streams of concerts, operas, plays, and other performances until they can reopen. They’re struggling, because ticket sales usually account for at least 50-75% of their annual revenues. Donating whatever we can in thanks for these free performances can go a long way. Some organizations, such as the Seattle Symphony, have generous benefactors matching donations for a certain timeframe or dollar amount.

Many musicians are hosting free virtual concerts on Facebook Live, YouTube, and Zoom. A few have hosted free live concerts where they can practice social distancing. This week, I received an email newsletter from Tony Starlight, a singer and songwriter from Portland, with a video clip from a concert he hosted for his neighbors from a boat. He floated around the lake, playing his guitar and singing while everyone watched from shore. After the show, his neighbors gave him tips, which he didn’t request but appreciated. They were grateful for his generosity and wanted to do something in return.

Food banks and homeless shelters desperately need cash donations to support growing demands on their services.

We can also donate our time virtually. Here are some ideas:

Many organizations in our communities need volunteers, too. I volunteer on the marketing and events committees at Animal Aid, an animal shelter in Portland. There’s a lot of help I can provide remotely, such as writing newsletter articles, writing posts for social media, and editing.

Find more virtual volunteer opportunities at Catchafire and VolunteerMatch.

Dot relaxes in her teddy bear bed at Animal Aid in Portland, Oregon.

Promote others

The Grocery Cocktail & Social in Vancouver, Washington, is closed until our state’s restrictions from COVID-19 lift. On Friday night, they hosted a Virtual Cocktail Hour via Zoom. They posted invitations on Facebook and Instagram, welcoming anyone to make their favorite beverage and log in for a chat.

I wanted to help promote Virtual Cocktail Hour, so I shared their announcement on my Facebook profile. I also wrote a post on my travel blog and tweeted it. I replied to their announcement on Instagram with a link to the blog post. After the event, they posted a thank-you reply on Instagram with a screenshot of the post.

I’ve scheduled more posts to promote virtual events for businesses and organizations in the Vancouver-Portland metro area, where I live. It’s a small way I can help spread the word about them and show thanks for their contributions to our community.

Everyone can help their local small businesses and organizations by sharing their announcements on social media and recommending them. It makes a huge difference.


We can continue networking despite sheltering in place. Be proactive. Text or call someone. Check in on colleagues via LinkedIn messaging. Pick a topic and set up a video discussion, or just hang out in a Zoom session. Host a virtual dinner or happy hour via Zoom or other media.

What are some other ways we can help?

What have you done? What have you seen others do in your community? Do you have more ideas? Please contact me with your comments.

What is the future of indexing?

We have seen many changes in the publishing industry during the past ten years. Technological advances in book production and decreased readership led to many publishers closing or being consolidated into larger concerns. This industrial disruption has affected every professional indexer, some more than others. Many indexers added services to supplement declining income, while others left the field or retired. Yet others remain busy, working as many hours as they want in the craft.

Change is still under way as technology evolves and improves. Although this can be frightening, new opportunities are emerging. At the same time, some things might not change.

So what can we expect? Based on my experiences as an indexer and technical communications consultant who works with new technologies, I am seeing a mix of traditional indexing thriving, along with some different indexing methods to accommodate modern book production. Here are my observations in more detail.


The Future of Embedded Indexing, The Indexer

Should you learn how to create embedded indexes in Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and other software packages? If you do, can you build a stable base of embedded indexing clients and have a steady flow of work? Lucie Haskins and Cheryl Landes answer these questions and many more in these two articles published in The Indexer in June 2016.

Breaking into technical marketing, ISTC Journal

Are you a technical writer who enjoys telling stories and evangelizing about products
and services? Then technical marketing communications is an excellent niche for you.

With the growth of content strategy and social media, the demand for technical marketing communicators is increasing rapidly. Salaries for regular, full-time employees and hourly rates for contractors are often substantially higher than in most other areas of technical communication because of the demand.

If you are interested in this field, what is it? What types of work will you do? And, most importantly, how do you break in? Continue reading →

Do content strategy and business priorities mesh?

Updated April 13, 2024
Originally published on The Content Wrangler’s blog on February 10, 2014

Content is business. Great content sells. Bad content doesn’t.

No matter how hard we try, “content and usability strategy can’t predict outcomes,” said Jared Spool, the Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre, at his annual presentation sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society, GBC/ACM, and BostonCHI at Constant Contact in Waltham, MA.

“The key is understanding business models. Great business models are designed.”

Business models have strategies, and like content strategy, there are priorities. Spool said there are five priorities for any business strategy:

  1. Increase revenue.
  2. Decrease costs.
  3. Increase new business.
  4. Increase existing business.
  5. Increase shareholder value.

And, he continued, these priorities are the same for content and usability strategies. “Take the money and put it into the (user) experience and see where it gets you,” he said.

An investment in great content goes far. For example, Zappos’ quick, convenient return policy has actually helped the company increase its business. If you’re unhappy with your purchase for any reason, you can return it absolutely free. The return policy is accessible from one click, a big Help & Support button in the top right corner of Zappos’ Home page. You can read clearly written instructions or watch a video. If you return a product, you can print out the pre-paid UPS shipping label directly from Zappos’ website. The ease of usability actually encourages customers to buy more at Zappos, because they have a delightful shopping experience.

Investing in great content is much more profitable than spending the same money on advertising, Spool says. “Ads don’t work. When you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.” He used as an example, where users see mostly ads on the page when they look up definitions. The content on is free, because it’s funded by advertising. But to find the content users want, they have hunt for it by scrolling down on the page. So what happens? Readers ignore the ads, although they must work to find the content they’re after.

Spool cited several statistics about the performance of ads. There’s a 0.1% click-through rate for 1,707 ads seen per year. Four of 10,000 clicks are for the best ads. And 31 out of 100 ads have never been seen. So the odds that people will actually make a purchase from seeing an ad are slim to none.

“The best performing ads don’t look like ads,” he said. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool. “Things that work the best are out of the company’s control.”

On March 28, 2011, The New York Times began a radical business strategy of reducing the number of ads on its website and switching to digital subscriptions, also known as a metered paywall. Readers are allowed to view 20 free articles, videos, slide shows, and other features per month. When the twentieth article is viewed, they receive a message that they need to become a digital subscriber. Since then, the Times has earned more money from the metered paywall customers than from advertising.

Why? Quality content. People are willing to pay for great content.

The New York Times played with a business model and the returns to get the best results. And because they followed the five standard priorities of a business model, they’ve survived and thrived at a time when many newspapers are going out of business.

So the lesson here is that delightful content creates a great user experience. And with those great experiences come customer sales and loyalty. Content and usability strategists “create delight by working at the intersection of business and design,” Spool said.

Is your content delightful? Do customers delight in the experience? If they are, you’ll know, Spool says. “The better the content, the better the business.”

That’s the bottom line.


Cook, Jonathan E. and Shahzeen Z. Attari. “Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall.” Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking, 15(12), 2012, pp. 1-6.

New York Times. “A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions,” March 17, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2024

Zappos’ return policy