SciPy project

This page contains the details of a technical writing project accepted for Season of Docs.

Project summary

Open source organization:
SciPy
Technical writer:
mkg33
Project name:
User-oriented documentation and thorough restructuring
Project length:
Standard length (3 months)

Project description

Motivation:

I intend to work on the refactoring of the existing documentation, so that it would be easily accessible by users with different needs. It goes without saying that a researcher is most likely interested in advanced and subtle features, whereas a user without prior expertise appreciates step-by-step guides and diagrams.

I am interested in pursuing this project for personal and professional reasons: first of all, I would like to contribute significantly to SciPy because my own research has greatly benefited from it and secondly, I encounter insufficient (or lacking) documentation all too often in other software and always wonder how much faster (if it all!) users could learn how to use the code had they been provided with a thorough guide.

Goals:

I aim to improve the existing SciPy documentation both content- and graphic-wise. The most important feature of my approach to this problem is the deployment and analysis of the user survey, that is to say, a concise survey conducted online enabling various users to voice their needs regarding the documentation. I strongly believe that their opinions should be the source of inspiration (how else can we create a more user-friendly documentation?).

As regards the realisation of the project itself, the first phase will involve designing and analysing the user survey, as well as tackling several stylistic issues I have noticed in the current docu- mentation. For instance, lack of consistency (example: 2-dimensional arrays occurring alongside two-dimensional arrays), convoluted sentences that ought to be rewritten, or the lack of alphabet- ical order in certain subpages. The second phase will focus on the introduction of graphical guides containing hyperlinks to the relevant topics (based on the survey results and other commu- nity requests). In the long run, I wish to achieve a satisfactory documentation tailored to different kinds of users. Moreover, I will attempt to render the tutorials more consistent both linguisti- cally and structurally. Last but not least, I aim to write new tutorials (based on the current community needs).

User survey:

As regards the user survey, I propose to use Google Forms for several reasons. First of all, Google Forms is free and offers unlimited functionality (in terms of the number of respondents, questions, etc.), it has an appealing visual form, the most useful survey options (for instance, the customis- able linear scale, checkboxes, and multiple choice), and, most importantly, the results can be easily exported for the purposes of statistical analysis. Based on online research, it appears that Google Forms is, at least for now, the best free tool for conducting surveys. On a less serious note, it would be a nice gesture to use a Google product in a Google-run initiative.

I have created a preliminary survey with sample questions (it can be accessed at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeBAO0UFKDZyKpg2XzRslsLJVHU61ugjc18-2PVEabTQg2_6g/viewform). A reasonable number of questions in the final version ought to be between ten and fifteen. In order to obtain concrete results, I suggest that we predominantly use multiple choice questions, a linear scale, and a few checkboxes. The linear scale should not resemble a full spectrum, though (it only causes confusion and the results are likely to suffer from high dispersion). There ought to be at maximum two open-ended questions, otherwise the results will be highly dispersed and not helpful at all. I reckon that even a very high number of responses would not be problematic due to the fact that the data can be easily exported and analysed automatically with statistical software. Assuming that the number of responses is, indeed, very high, the analysis of open-ended questions could be a little time-consuming but I presume that it will not be overwhelming. After all, an average user is not likely to write an essay about the state of the documentation. In the worst case scenario, some answers can be simply stored for future analysis.

Graphical guides:

My vision of the graphical guides (intended to serve as navigational tools) is based on a popular premise that (most) humans are better at processing straightforward visual structures rather than purely text-based information. Moreover, a thematically-oriented diagram with lines connecting similar topics of interest is, undoubtedly, a highly valuable asset for less experienced users (and not only).

As regards the implementation details, I propose to use the TikZ package. First and foremost, it is a powerful tool and does not seem to be at risk of being deprecated soon. It also offers high- quality output, has a really solid documentation, and is a frequent topic on TeX StackExchange and other mainstream forums. Most importantly, the integration of a TikZ file (more precisely, the numerous hyperlinks therein) with HTML documentation does not appear to pose significant problems due to the existence of various packages and fixes for embedding a TikZ picture in HTML (for instance, TeX4ht).

The question of future maintenance of the guides within SciPy can be easily solved by using, say, Overleaf (facilitates collaboration plus offers an instant preview) and predefined templates that I will supply. Basically, the graphical guides are not likely to differ hugely from one another. The structure, colour palette, and shapes are, more or less, going to be invariant, therefore subse- quent re-shaping and further customisation will not be an issue.

(Please see the full version of the proposal - available in the shared GSoD folder.)