May 23, 2013

Reuse Statistics and Self Justifications

A writer I know recently boasted that his team is reusing around 85% of the topics they write and that it totally justifies their move to topic based writing. I was moderately impressed until I found out that the reuse was across a single product. At that point my skepticism became full blown disbelief.
85% reuse is an incredible amount of efficiency across multiple products. Across a single product's library it is absurd, particularly when the writers claim to be following the mantra "do not repeat yourself." At 85% reuse, the writers may only be writing content once, but they are definitely repeating themselves. It doesn't matter what the content looks like from the writers perspective; it is what the readers see that matters.
Of course when someone is bragging about something like this, what really matters to them is reuse. They had some reuse goal in mind or spent a lot of money to implement reuse and needed to prove they could do it. This may make the team look good to the efficiency experts, management types, and the metric mavens, but it is a lousy way to make content.
The other telling thing about this conversation, which happened over a longish e-mail thread, was how the team responded to questions and criticism. The most common criticism was that the content was choppy, disjointed, and repetitive.
The responses were all self-justifying: It is that way by design because it fits into how Google searches land readers into the middle of pages. (I'm not saying that how Google searches land people into your pages is not a valid concern, I am saying that I have never once heard of a documentation team that designed their content around Google search results.) It isn't choppy, it is streamlined. The "flow" content is wasted effort.
There was no reflection. There was no listening. There was no attempt to address the concerns.
As someone whose sole job is to communicate information, I find the unwillingness to think about criticism about how that information is presented unconscionable. There is always room for improvement. Also, acknowledging an issue doesn't mean you have to do anything about it.
You cannot get too attached to your content in this game. It isn't your baby. It isn't a reflection of your soul. It is information that somebody else created. You are merely the conduit through which it is communicated. Learn to be the best conduit you can.

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