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Document Usability, Pt. 6: INDEXES

October 14, 2015
A portion of the index in the 2013 Master Plan for the East Bay Regional Parks District

A portion of the index for the 2013 Master Plan (East Bay Regional Parks District)

This post follows the ongoing discussion on usability solutions for planning, government and business documentation.

In the last post on usability, Usability Pt. 5: GLOSSARIES, we continued our discussion of solutions to enhance and maximize the usability of documentation in government and business.

From an overall standpoint, I believe one of the primary goals in government documentation involves looking at new and innovative ways to improve usability and the user experience, and some of those ways involve adding usability features to the documents.

Now, in this 6th installment on INDEXES, we move onto the fun part. (and my favorite!)

The power of the index

Most readers are familiar with indexes, but unaware of Read more…

Document Usability, Pt. 5: GLOSSARIES

October 5, 2015

This post follows the ongoing discussion on usability solutions for planning, government and business documentation.

An examination of solutions began last week in Document Usability, Pt. 4 when we discussed abstracts. To access all the components of this usability discussion, go to the navigation post on the series. As the “Solution Series” rolls out over a span of a few weeks, there is coverage for Read more…

Our ongoing Usability discussion continues with the “Solution Series”

September 28, 2015

This is a navigation post for the ongoing discussion on usability, and the bearing it has on documentation in government and business.

The discussion began with Document Usability, Pt 1: An Introduction for Government & Business, and continued with Document Usability, Pt. 2: What Exactly is “Usability?” to help break things down and give it clearer definition. Then Document Usability, Pt. 3: Identifying the Challenges for Government & Business discussed the challenges and problems with documentation that are pandemic in business and government today.

The part of the series that begins finding solutions has begun, beginning with Document Usability, Pt. 4: ABSTRACTS. The next posts are Document Usability, Pt. 5: GLOSSARIES, then Document Usability, Pt. 6: INDEXES and finally Document Usability, Pt. 7: CASE STUDIES as the latest discussions. In the coming weeks a couple more usability features will be discussed.

My intention is to focus on town planning — not only because it represents my background and subject specialty — but in my experience I’ve found these hard working players in local government dealing with a wide array of in-house documents on a consistent basis. In most cases their days, workweeks and careers are essentially defined and guided by the content that lies within.

We’re recapping this series on usability with documentation in this short post so you can navigate to any part of the discussion at any time….if you find yourself deep in the weeds of the blog you can always hit the banner for The Commuter, which will bring you back to this headlining post.

If you opt-in as a subscriber, you will receive these new posts as they’re hot off the press!

Check it out, it's the Top Hat Indexer's top hat!

Paul Sweum, the Principal, Town Planner & Technical Writer for Top Hat Word & Index, provides over two decades of professional technical communications and writing experience, of which his subject focus involves a career as an urban planning professional. He served mainly small communities and towns where he worked up from a planning intern to that of staff planner, then to a community development director in the states of Arizona and Washington. He spearheaded numerous projects including authoring and editing a wide variety of planning documents.

These technical communications were not only designed to reflect the vision of communities, but served as consensus-building tools to inform citizens, developers, public officials, decision-makers, and agencies at various levels of government. By coaching these various stakeholders, Paul helped to empower communities as they shaped the planning visions of their future.

Feel free to drop Paul an email at if you have anything on your mind you wish to discuss. Paul works as a usability specialist for town planning, government and business documentation, in addition to indexing for nonfiction books and technical documents. With his eclectic background and experience, he’s often called into planning departments to help in a variety of ways; whether it’s with in-house documentation, pinch-hitting to resolve a backlog of projects, file systems assistance, or other types of advisement.

Document Usability, Pt. 4: ABSTRACTS

September 27, 2015

With the ongoing discussion on usability, we left off with Document Usability, Pt. 3 in the last segment.

In that post, various challenges and trappings for government and business documentation were identified….so let’s identify some solutions with Abstracts. As the “Solution Series” rolls out over the next few weeks, I’ll cover each usability feature that plays a critical role in easing the navigability of complex documentation for an audience, whether they’re laying eyes on it for the first time or a regular user.

From an overall standpoint, I believe one of the primary goals in government documentation involves looking at new and innovative ways to improve Read more…

THW&I presents “Usability for Planners” & “Counter Culture” in Bremerton

September 26, 2015
The Kitsap Conference Center over looks the ferry terminal in Bremerton

The Kitsap Conference Center overlooks the busy ferry terminal in Bremerton, WA

Yesterday was a busy day!

I hosted two morning workshops at the WA APA Peninsula section conference at the Kistsap Conference Center in Bremerton, Washington. The workshops are an ongoing series that I will be bringing to future planning gatherings.

Let’s begin with “Usability for Planners: Bringing Your Plans and Codes to Life!” This presentation focuses on how to make plans, codes, and in-house government documents more usable and interactive. It identifies Read more…

Planning and a Patient Public: Anticipating the New Seattle Waterfront

July 18, 2015

Bertha on the move again? It appears to be finally happening.

After lots of stalled action on renewing Seattle’s waterfront (with the Bertha faux pas that went on, and on, and on….), part of the process of replacing a double-Decker swine of a freeway that’s orphaned and compromised the city’s waterfront for decades — literally less than three months into the Eisenhower presidency in April 1953 — there’s hope for progress on the horizon.

Read more…

Document Usability, Pt. 3: Identifying the challenges for government & business

November 25, 2013

usabilitywebvectorsIn the last post on Document Usability, Part II of this discussion, we broke things down to examine the definition of usability.

Hopefully that shed more light in understanding its applicability in the world of documentation.

Specifically, in the world of government documents — while effective usability has the potential to appear in many types of forms and functions — at the end of the day it still provides the singular purpose of helping users access and absorb information in less time.

The primary purpose of government documentation is to serve the many users and stakeholders of those documents, with the public being the Read more…

My Conversation with Graham Nash

November 24, 2013

Graham-Nash2Graham Nash made an appearance at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle on Friday of this weekend, Nov. 22. The subject was his new memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, released earlier this year.

A Q&A interview went on for about 45 minutes before things turned to the audience for a few questions. Throughout the segment he spoke of his humble upbringing in the post-war UK, early musical influences such as The Everly Brothers, the years as a member of The Hollies, and of course the formation of CSN with newly available musicians from other bands that had dissolved at the time; David Crosby (from The Byrds) and Steven Stills (from Buffalo Springfield).

There was some discussion of the music scene in Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles in the early 70s, and what was going on with other musicians in the community such as Read more…

Document Usability, Pt. 2: What exactly is “Usability?”

November 24, 2013

Usability is like oxygen. You don’t notice it until its missing. –Unknown

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

So….try to contain your excitement on this topic, if you can. 🙂

However, if you’re here reading, and a government official such as a planner or a business professional, it’s worth your time to review this before further examination of your in-house functions and needs with your documentation.

What exactly do we mean by “usability” in documentation? Perhaps you haven’t put much thought into it, but as a technical writer and usability specialist, that’s part of my job.

First, let’s take a step back by looking at the definition of usability. Read more…

Document Usability, Pt. 1: An introduction for government & business

November 11, 2013

city-hall-ideaOver many years in town planning, I always tried to figure out ways to make a planner’s day easier.

Let’s face it. Government documents can be cumbersome beasts to work with, and that’s not the fault of policy planners, consultants, or writers as much as the highly technical nature of the content and the edict of state mandates in document structure.

This is 110% an issue of usability. Most folks would rather spend an afternoon with a dentist’s drill in their mouth than interface with government documents. Zoning codes, comprehensive plans, capital facilities plans and the like can make a staff member’s head spin as much as the citizen who comes into city hall with an inquiry.

I’ve written about usability in government and business documentation in previous posts. Read more…

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