Erika Allen, Innovatia, Inc.
Whether you are already authoring in DITA XML, or considering the move from FrameMaker or Word to DITA, you will want to leverage the reuse of your existing or legacy content as much as possible to maximize your return on investment.
For most documentation sets, the stare-and-compare method to evaluate and enable reuse is too time consuming and prone to human error to consider, so focus is generally placed on capturing reuse of new content as it is created. However, existing content could represent as much as 90 percent of the entire body of a new release. Maximizing reuse of this content would provide huge translation and storage savings, as well as improved writer efficiency for future updates. How can you reduce the time required to analyze and implement reuse of this large body of content? Software can provide the content forensics to quantify the value of your topics.
You are delivering content in shorter time frames than ever before. You have more products and versions to support; yet, your budget is flat. You need to capture content for reuse, but how do you balance the time required to capture reuse of existing content against the time required to write new content?
While capturing content for reuse is a valuable exercise, you need to ensure that the cost of looking for reuse opportunities does not exceed the potential savings downstream. An author needs a quick way to find reuse opportunities that are easily achievable and require minimal effort.
Manual content analysis can be very time consuming. Typically, the analysis is performed by experienced people who have in-depth knowledge of your content. Unfortunately, looking for reusable content isn’t the best use of their time because they usually look for exact sentence matches instead of looking to reuse larger chunks of content that are similar but not exactly the same. When using text analytics software to do this work, you not only want to retrieve exact-match information in as little time as possible; you also want to see comparisons of closely matched content that have reuse potential. To maximize efficiency, the author should be focused on the low-hanging fruit first. In the world of DITA XML, you need to identify whole topics for reuse.
Save time to quickly and accurately identify potential reuse within your content. Instead of using the traditional stare-and-compare method for identifying reuse, use text analytics to perform this work in minutes.
Look for software providing a full report by topic, illustrating similarities among topics to quickly identify your opportunities for reuse. It should maximize the overall reuse potential of the content and place all similar topics into clusters, so that you can easily see which topics offer reuse potential and where. A quick comparison of those topics in a side-by-side or differences view merges the topics into one view and uses formatting to identify the unique and shared content is a must.
How you implement the reuse is up to you. Do you reuse the topics? Do you create relationship tables to replace repetitive topics with links to the original topic? Perhaps you choose to reuse sections or paragraphs instead of complete topics. The choice is yours.
If you currently author in FrameMaker or Word, these metrics are useful in planning what content to migrate to DITA XML. Not all content has to be converted, and good analytics will help identify what’s needed.
Looking at good metrics can give you an accurate view of how much content you currently reuse and your potential for further reuse. These metrics can help set realistic expectations about how much time you will need to implement the reuse. Proactively plan to reuse existing content and track progress with report metrics to reinforce a system of accountability.
Good analytic software can analyze documents in an incredibly short period of time, reducing analysis from hundreds of hours to minutes. That time saved from the analysis phase is better spent on the planning and implementation phases instead. With software prioritizing the opportunities, there is no need to plan and implement reuse all at once. Do it as time allows—fit the reuse work into natural breaks as your schedule permits.
Optimizing the Authoring Process
With software identifying the reuse potential, authors are able to focus on writing new content. Then, during the ebbs and flows of the content development process, they are able to jump right into implementing the reuse identified. What was once a three-step process for the authors (analyze, plan, and implement) is now a process of identifying exactly which topics to attack first. You should expect similar topics be grouped together, with the rates of similarity clearly identified. The author can easily make decisions about how to implement the reuse of given topics.
Your solution should allow teams to track progress and provide reports for management.
In addition to identifying initial potential reuse opportunities for your documentation, run it again after implementing reuse as a quality assurance tool. Track results and look for new opportunities.
Running a report at the beginning and again at the end of a release provides you with a new set of metrics. Track team performance by comparing results before and after a release and see how far you’ve come. Track writer performance based on work assignment.
- Replace “best guess” with quantitative data identifying current and potential content reuse
- Reduce authoring effort to analyze and reference existing content for reuse
- Save on translation and localization costs and publishing time
- Ensure information accuracy and consistency
- Improve management visibility of reuse opportunity with a means to monitor progress
In short, a balanced approach to time spent capturing reuse of existing content can improve productivity, lower costs, and improve customer satisfaction. Most of your content has already been written. Wouldn’t it be useful to impact the reuse of that content during an update to maximize the savings?
About the Author
Erika Allen is a Senior Technical Writer at Innovatia. With over 15 years of experience in developing content with reuse, Erika has built a reputation with clients for achieving significant savings, with a focus on minimalist writing, DITA XML structured authoring strategies, and content reuse. When not working with clients, Erika spends her professional time developing her technical writing skills, and teaching others the art of minimalist writing.
Innovatia has been helping large enterprise companies with content strategy and content development best practices for over 10 years. We can help you achieve revenue, productivity or user experience targets with services and software to augment your existing processes.