Team Collaboration Strengthens Content Mapping Results
How to Effectively Unify Content Across Multiple Document Sets
Kim Burris & Carolyn Kretz, nSight, Inc.
As the information explosion that started in the ‘90s continues to inundate businesses and consumers with more details than any human (or even many computers) can effectively process, more and more companies are realizing the importance of unifying their content using a content management system (CMS). Turning gigabytes of information into bite-sized chunks of reusable content requires adopting an effective content mapping strategy.
While content mapping may seem like a time-consuming and tedious process, it becomes more effective and manageable when you employ a systematic team approach. The key idea here is collaboration: writers, editors, subject-matter experts (SMEs), project managers, and even product or marketing managers and engineers all have a role to play in developing a content mapping process that unleashes the full power of a company’s CMS.
How Do We Define Content Mapping?
Content mapping is the process of strategically identifying, locating, and categorizing chunks of information that can be shared or reused through a CMS. By conducting a careful audit of all product information (including all collateral, user manuals, product guides, spec sheets, press releases, web sites, and marketing or sales material) in the company, we can determine which chunks of content are identical or repeated, which chunks of content are inconsistent and need to be reworked, and where unique content should remain unique. In our personal experience as a technical writer and editor in the computer industry, we have found that content mapping was most successful in cases where the company carefully fostered a collaborative approach. This means that the content creators across all departments who designed, created, managed, and distributed the information had input into the content mapping process.
However, that’s not to say that content mapping must be limited to one type of documentation (say technical documentation only). You have to start somewhere, and it might make sense to limit the scope of the project to one product line or type of documentation initially to prove the benefits of the process before rolling out a grand-scale endeavor.
Why Map Content?
The benefits of content mapping are intrinsic to the reasons for using a CMS. To efficiently reuse chunks of content across multiple documents, the individual bits of content must be located and labeled. By mapping the content in a systematic way, we can
- Facilitate the efficient use and reuse of content across documents
- Help writers find and identify reusable content
- Improve the consistency and accuracy of documentation
- Reduce the number of pages (and word count) of documentation
- Reduce the costs and time involved in localization
- Make updating documentation easier and more thorough
In addition to identifying and cataloging the content, the content mapping process forces us to unify and improve sections of content that may be unclear or inconsistent. As we review the content to determine what can be made identical and what should be left unique, we must take a careful look at the meaning and purpose of each word in our documentation. The end result is more concise, accurate, and consistent content across all of our documentation.
How Do We Map Content?
The process of content mapping can be summarized in six steps (see Table 1). Content mapping is successful when a team of writers, editors, SMEs, and product managers work together—perhaps dividing up the workload— with several writers reviewing different documents, editors verifying that writers are following the metadata use guidelines, and SMEs focusing on the technical accuracy.
|Step 1 ||List deliverables. ||Create a spreadsheet to compare document set contents, section by section. |
|Step 2 ||Analyze content. ||Determine whether content is identical, similar, or unique. |
|Step 3 ||Rework sections. ||Rewrite, restructure, and label sections for optimal reuse across documents. |
|Step 4 ||Categorize content. ||Identify content types and apply keywords from list. |
|Step 5 ||Calculate reuse potential. ||Use projection formula to calculate reuse potential. |
|Step 6 ||Update content map. ||Update spreadsheets with new content added to documents to maintain content map. |
Table 1: Content Mapping Process
Step 1: List the deliverables
The first step in content mapping is to determine which documents should be included in your selected set of deliverables and then create a master list of content sections. Carefully survey your company’s document types to include all relevant documents. For example, if you are mapping documents for a computer product, you might include the product guide, user guide, installation guide, and troubleshooting guide.
Use the table of contents from the largest document (in this case, the user guide) to create a master list of content sections (see Figure 1). This list becomes your reference point for comparing all other pieces of content, so make it as comprehensive as possible. At this stage, getting input from the product manager or another SME may be valuable.
After listing the sections, add the document sets that will be compared to the master list, including the document used to create the list (see Figure 2).
Figure 1: List of Deliverables
Figure 2: Document sets
Step 2: Analyze each section
After creating the master list of content sections and listing the deliverables, the hard work begins. Review each document, chunk by chunk, and determine whether the content is identical, similar, or unique. As you evaluate the sections, label each section on the spreadsheet (the content map) that reflects your conclusion about whether the content is unique or can be reused. A collaborative effort will make this process easier, especially if each member of the team reviews a separate document and then all meet to compare findings.
Step 3: Rework sections
After comparing the sections and identifying similar content, rewrite, rework, and label the sections of content for optimal reuse across all documents. Code the text to be added to the CMS. Collaboration among the team members is paramount at this stage of the process.
Step 4: Categorize each section
Next, identify the metadata (content type and keywords) for each section. The metadata enables writers to locate specific content in the CMS for reuse. Content types categorize sections of content according to their purpose within the document and often reflect actions. For example, in a computer manual, they may include booting, copying, creating, displaying, and deleting. Using your predefined list of content types created by the team, add your category label to the content map spreadsheet and then tag the source file (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Categorize each section
Step 5: Calculate the reuse potential
One of the benefits of using a spreadsheet to create a content map is that you can create formulas to calculate the reuse potential for each type of content. As you determine whether content is similar, identical, or unique, your spreadsheet can track and calculate a total reuse potential for each document. Tally the number
of similar (S), identical (I), and unique (U) chunks for each deliverable.
Estimate potential reuse with the formula:
Percent of reuse = 100 (S + I)
(S + I + U)
This calculation helps your team (as well as management) see the potential value in reusing chunks of content (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Calculate the reuse potential
Step 6: Update the content map
The final step in a content mapping project is maintaining an updated content map. If you rewrite content in step 3 (for instance, to make it identical), you need to update the map to label the chunk that was previously similar as identical. You also need to update the map when you revise the document for future editions. Make content maps accessible to all current and future content creators, and be sure to train them on using your content mapping guidelines. As new document sets are created, add them to the spreadsheet. You may wish to assign someone to permanently “own” this task.
Practical Tips for Content Mapping Success
As you undertake a content mapping project, keep in mind that your goal is to find ways to reuse as much content as possible. Not only will this save time and work in future updates, but it will help ensure consistency and accuracy across your documentation. Here are a few practical tips:
Create reusable chunks of content
Keep in mind how the information can be repeated from document to document. The idea is to write once, then reuse.
- Rework existing text to make it more generic, perhaps by removing any specific references to a page or product name. For example, you might remove a product name from an introductory paragraph about air conditioner installation instructions when the name is already included in the chapter title (see Table 2).
- Conditionalize the text. Use your editing software to assign values or “profile” the content to determine when certain bits of content should appear in one document but not others.
- Condense and cut. Remove redundant or superfluous information from your content chunks to keep them specific and on point.
|Original content ||Similar content ||Suggestions to make content identical |
There are six colors in a rainbow
The colors in a rainbow are:
Change the format of the list (bullets).
Change the lead-in sentence.
|A prominent researcher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, urges colleagues and staff to limit their use of cell phones. ||A prominent researcher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, urges colleagues and staff to limit their use of cell phones. ||Change the word “from” to “in.” |
|Sometimes, similar content appears to be identical at first glance. You must carefully examine the chunks of information to ensure that you don’t overlook subtle differences in text, fonts, and punctuation. ||Sometimes, similar content appears to be identical at first glance. You must carefully examine the chunks of information to ensure that you don’t overlook subtle differences in text, fonts and punctuation. ||Place a comma after the word “fonts.” |
|The XYZ computer is supported by two operating systems: OS A and OS B. For information about supported versions, see “Supported software,” on page 27. ||The XYZ computer is supported by two operating systems: OS A and OS B. For information about supported versions, see “Supported software,” on page 27. || |
Although the content looks identical, the cross-reference to material that is not part of this chunk renders it not identical.
To make this content reusable, you can:
Conditionalize the cross-reference.
Remove the cross-reference.
Add the cross-referenced information to this content section.
|These XYZ air conditioner model 570 installation instructions describe features, enhancements, and important notes about installing an XYZ model 570 air conditioner. ||These ABC model 1000 clothes dryer installation instructions describe features, enhancements, and important notes about installing an ABC model 1000 clothes dryer. || |
Remove product-specific information that is understood based on the document title or high-level section heading. For example:
This document contains installation instructions and describes product features, enhancements, and important notes.
Table 2: Similar content examples
Systematically compare documents
Document comparison features in text editing tools can only go so far and can only help when the content is very similar. To effectively map content across different document sets, you need a systematic manual process based on collaboration.
- Determine in advance the level of content to which you want to map. For example, you might map to the section level, to the paragraph level, or down to the table or procedure level.
- Compare content chunks one at a time. Interestingly, the content that requires the most careful evaluation is that which is the most similar.
- Consider the subtle differences between two content chunks before labeling them identical. It’s possible that the only difference between two chunks of content is punctuation or font style, in which case, you can easily make the chunks identical.
- Check with the SME to ensure that the meaning won’t be changed by removing words.
Rethink your document formats
Part of the content mapping process may be to evaluate the bigger picture of how your documents are used. Consider how to streamline your documents to reduce the page counts and include only the most relevant information in each document.
- Be mindful of balancing general with specific information. You don’t want to remove information that is essential to clarity, but you should remove unnecessary information that makes the chunk too specific to reuse.
- Move specific information to a separate document and cross-reference it. For example, you might remove information about boot-up problems from the installation guide and put it in a troubleshooting guide, which you can cross-reference in the installation guide.
- Consider the main purpose of the document. Cross-reference any secondary or nonessential information.
Adhere to a predefined list of content types
Although defining content types may be a precursor to the actual content mapping process, creating a manageable list is essential to successful content mapping. If your list is too large, it will be difficult for writers to use. If it’s too narrow, it may not include important content types. Here are a few tips for creating and adhering to a usable list:
- Start with the most comprehensive list you think is necessary and then pare it down by half. For example, you might have 50 terms on your first list of content types and then cut half of them.
- Rely on keywords to qualify similar content terms rather than creating additional terms. For example, in a computer manual, if you have “booting” you probably don’t need “rebooting.”
- Avoid using synonyms; they will become cumbersome to differentiate and may be misused.
- Avoid terms that are too granular. Instead, think in terms of action words; using verbs is often useful.
- Focus on the purpose of the section from the user’s (or reader’s) perspective.
- Review and update your list, if necessary, as the content mapping process continues. Again, collaboration from all departments and content creators will help optimize this list.
Create metadata usage guidelines
Ideally, your team will have created a usage guide for your metadata (content types and keywords) before starting the content mapping process, but often the guide is a work in progress. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Use metadata consistently to ensure that the CMS can optimally manage content. You may want to put someone in charge of overseeing the appropriate use of metadata.
- Assign only one content type to each section.
- Use keywords to clarify the content further.
- Give examples of when to use one term instead of another. For example, for a computer manual, you might define the appropriate uses for specific terms such as installing, adding, and booting.
- Encourage ongoing collaboration between writers, editors, and other content creators to help improve the usage guidelines and track any issues.
Making Collaboration Work
As we have said, effective content mapping requires systematic manual work and collaboration. This process is most successful when a team of writers, editors, SMEs, and product managers work together, dividing up the workload. Keep in mind that it is usually best if writers don’t map their own work. Much in the way that it is easier to edit someone else’s work, it is easier to map someone else’s content as well.
Frequent team meetings will make content mapping more productive. One useful practice may be to read similar content aloud while someone else reads a comparison silently. This practice enables you to identify subtle differences and determine if the differences should be preserved. Then, you can compare content maps for different products to find additional candidates for reuse in other document sets. Remember, the initial investment of time and effort will save time and expense later and improve the quality of future documentation.
As you work on content mapping, consider the changing roles of writers, editors, and SMEs in this process. The modular structure of content-mapped documentation requires increased collaboration.
Editors will find that their role changes from editing for style to editing to fit the map. SMEs must lend input to develop effective guidelines and content types that work across multiple product lines. Writers must confer with SMEs and product managers to ensure that reworked content doesn’t change its meaning. With content mapping, there is less room for personal expression and individual opinions and more need for consensus. Remember, in the long run, content mapping will reduce the effort needed to produce quality documentation. And that should be everyone’s goal.
Kim Burris, a senior technical editor at nSight, Inc., has over 20 years of experience in technical communication. For the past 5 years, she has been the managing editor of the nSight DocuTeam for the StorageWorks Division Information Engineering group at Hewlett-Packard Company. She received a BA in Romance languages from Boston College and pursued graduate study of French at Middlebury College.
Carolyn Kretz is a senior technical writer at nSight, Inc. with over 13 years of experience in technical communication and training. She has been writing and content mapping for the past 3 years as a member of the nSight DocuTeam for the StorageWorks Division Information Engineering group at Hewlett-Packard Company. She received a degree from Endicott College.
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