Kent Taylor & Jennifer Beaupre, acrolinx

The application of quality management tools in the content development process provides a range of benefits to writing, production, and program management teams. This article presents a new perspective on developing an Enterprise information quality strategy. We will also suggest tactics that can drive the strategy, and ease the impact on real-world virtual collaborative writing practitioners.

When information products have consistent style, voice, terminology, and brand identification no matter where, when, or by whom the material is written, they are easier to read, understand, translate, and use. Unobtrusive Quality Assurance tools support collaboration within and across writing teams, providing access to Spelling, Grammar, Style, and Terminology standards as writers create content. And objective quality metrics and reports at handoff points in the information supply chain provide independent Quality Control checks and balances. This Information Quality Management process ensures consistency and clarity across information products, which makes them easier for writers to develop, for translators to translate, and for customers to use.

As organizations become more global in nature, they rely on collaborative writing teams to create content for documents, web pages, knowledge bases, and other forms of published information. It is essential for companies that their writers share a common writing style, voice, and tone to convey consistent messaging to the customer. Collaborative writing gets interesting when writers are not co-located and cannot easily communicate with one another during the information development process.

Content should be read and understood as if it was written by one person, in one sitting, even if in fact twenty people with different cultural backgrounds were involved in three time zones over two months. To achieve this effect in a distributed environment, information quality standards must be implemented and enforced. In other words, the writers must have a common strategy or mindset, and use common terminology when developing customer-facing content. However this can be extremely difficult- especially if the writing teams are:

  • Geographically distributed, which makes it harder to coordinate work across time zones
  • Culturally diverse
  • Composed of individuals with varied backgrounds and experience, including education or field of specialization
  • Constrained by tight deadlines

Content that appears to be put together by multiple writers can lead to a poor customer experience and can have substantial consequences for brand and reputation, as well as both top- and bottom-line financial performance. Inconsistent style, grammar, spelling, terminology, and voice can lead to a number of problems including:

  • Reader confusion and dissatisfaction
  • Unnecessary calls to support desks
  • Increased translation/localization costs
  • Incorrect/improper and potentially dangerous product operation
  • Equipment damage, injury to personnel, and litigation

With an enterprise content quality strategy, writers can tap into a common “mindset” when writing corporate content, and writing teams can decrease inconsistencies that naturally occur when multiple authors are contributing to a body of content. While variety might be “the spice of life” it can also be “the kiss of death” to corporate communication. It is essential to apply quality management principles to the content development process including:

  • Formal, documented standards and processes
  • Reliance on objective metrics for quality monitoring
  • Real-time, objective feedback to process participants (quality assurance)
  • Formal metrics and reports at process gates (quality control)
  • A strong focus on building in quality from the very beginning of the process
  • Role understanding by everyone in the supply chain
  • Knowledge of the quality output by everyone in the supply chain (how well it conforms to standards)

How to set up the process

The process of managing content quality in a collaborative writing environment involves applying well-known quality management principles to the tasks and activities found in a corporate or commercial information supply chain. A quality management strategy in the context of the information development lifecycle can greatly decrease inconsistencies, redundancy and poorly written content.

From this standpoint, information quality in a distributed environment can be improved if the organization sets up agreed-upon information quality standards that can be easily accessed by all and enforced across the enterprise, including:

  • Style guidelines
  • Grammar and spelling rules
  • Terminology and phraseology guidelines
  • Standards that follow well-known principles for readability and usability
  • Translatability guidelines

Having published standards is of course the starting point, but deploying the standards, and ensuring that they are adhered to are the real keys to success. Almost all large successful companies have standards, but few effectively monitor and manage conformance to those standards, and adjust processes or tactics to address deviations. The reason for this dichotomy is simple: without appropriate Quality Assurance and Quality Control tools, monitoring and management is done manually, which is generally subjective, time-consuming, and prohibitively expensive.

Fortunately, emerging AI-based tools can automate Information QA and QC processes; high-end tools can actually analyze written text more subjectively, consistently, and to a deeper level than human copy-editors. These tools provide real-time feedback to writers and editors, and generate detailed metrics and reports.And they help writers to all write in the same way, even when they are geographically and culturally diverse.

To enforce corporate information standards and ensure that writers follow the standards, it is also important to set up quality metrics that help to enforce ensure conformance to standards. For instance, once document content is finalized, but before it is produced and translated, it is essential to ensure that the content consistently conforms to corporate style, tone of voice, and terminology.If the document does not adhere to standards, cost-effective corrective action can be taken.Ideally, if writers have built in real-time feedback (Quality Assurance) in their authoring environment, non conformances found during Quality Control checks at the end of the process will be minimal or non-existent.

Information quality management tools like acrolinx IQ™ can plug in to most authoring environments to enable both Quality Assurance to help authors follow the company quality standards as they write, and Quality Control to help managers monitor and manage quality and processes at a global level. Tools with natural language processing engines combined with repositories for terminology, reusable sentences and style guidelines can help writers tap in to the corporate mind set and create content that is consistent, understandable, and translatable. Though the standards can be enforced without tools, it is both costly and time consuming. Setting up guidelines, measuring quality, and providing writers, editors, and managers with the right tools to succeed should be an essential part of any information quality strategy.

As with well-proven quality management strategies in the manufacturing and software environments, an enterprise information quality management strategy obviously leads to improve quality, but it also results in improved customer satisfaction, substantial cost and cycle-time reductions, and ultimately improved revenue and profitability.

Isn’t it time for you to start thinking about an effective enterprise information quality strategy for your company?