Tag Archives: Sarah O’Keefe

Good writing adds value: here’s proof

We’ve all heard it. We all believe it in our hearts. Good writing adds value.

But maybe you still don’t have a ready answer when someone says Prove it!

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonHere’s something for you: Marcia Riefer Johnston’s weekly Tighten This! game. (If you’re not already playing , you should be. In fact, why don’t you go over there right now, and then come back. I’ll wait.)

Each week Marcia supplies a challenge sentence that’s bloated with hot air and/or gobbledygook. The sentences are real, coming from corporate or governmental communications. Many of them are contributed by the game’s participants; Marcia finds the rest herself.

Players are asked to “tighten” the challenge sentence into something less wordy and more lucid. After the judges — Marcia, her husband Ray Johnston, and me — select a winner, Marcia compares the winning entry with the original sentence and calculates a cost savings based on translating the content into 25 languages at 25 cents a word, times 10,000 sentences (about the length of a Harry Potter novel, or a set of hardware setup guides).

In half a year, using Marcia’s formula, the Tighten This! writers have cut bloat to the tune of $29,812,500.

Nearly $30 million in savings, just by turning bad writing into good. That’s value!

Last week’s game brought one of the most dramatic examples of adding value. The winning entry trimmed a sentence from 51 words to 6:

Before:
The line manager or a mentor should be allocated to each new employee to act as a guide and counsellor during the induction process so that new members of staff learn about the company and are given the necessary support and opportunity to put their learning into practice in the workplace.

After:
Assign each new employee a mentor.

That’s fine, you might be saying. But my stuff isn’t translated into 25 languages. In fact, it’s not translated at all.

That’s OK. There are other ways in which good writing adds value.

Sarah O’Keefe’s and Alan Pringle’s Content Strategy 101 contains several sample case studies that demonstrate how good content can support both sides of a business case — cost savings and revenue enhancement — through things like reduced support calls to increased sales. I encourage you to buy the book: you’ll find it to be good value for your money.

So, yes, you can prove that good writing adds value. And adding value is what technical communication is all about.

Cam you share other case studies — especially ones in which you were personally involved — to show that good writing adds value?

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Your guide to content strategy maturity models

I can tell that the science of content strategy is maturing. Why? Because I’m seeing more and more maturity models.

This week’s inbox contains a link to Suite Solutions’ Knowledge Value Maturity Model, which  describes levels of Lagging, Performing, and World Class for 10 aspects, or “tracks,” of content.

Click any image to see a larger version.

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model by Suite Solutions (source: Center for Information-Development Management)

For me the Suite Solutions model falls short because it doesn’t crisply differentiate between content and corporate knowledge. Content refers to published matter, for both internal and external consumption; knowledge is (or ought to be) much broader, encompassing processes, business intelligence, and so forth.

Also, some of the tracks are way less relevant than others. Display format, for example, defines the World Class maturity level as “wearables and glasses” — where, in fact, the best display format is simply the one that best meets the needs of the audience.

I can’t help comparing the Knowledge Value Maturity Model with the Content Maturity Model published last month by Kathy Wagner of Content Strategy, Inc. I think this one is closer to the mark — for starters, because it focuses on content rather than on the broader knowledge.

Content Maturity Model

Content Maturity Model (source: Content Strategy, Inc.)

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An appeal for DITA keys: Powerful, useful, and mostly ignored

Last week, in his webinar on conditional content, Noz Urbina showed a demo of content reuse using DITA’s conref attribute. I took the opportunity to ask for Noz’s opinion of keys and keyref.

old fashioned keyKeys provide a powerful and useful function, Noz replied. But few people use them because the authoring tools don’t do a very good job of making them easy to use. And the tool manufacturers haven’t added the functionality because they don’t think anybody wants to use it.

It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario.

Noz is one of the smartest people in the content publishing space (and I highly recommend viewing that webinar, if a recording becomes available.) But is the story of keys really as simple as he makes it out to be?

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