Skriftlig InfoMethodologyModular writingSave time and money with reuse

Save time and money with reuse

One of the most important purposes of modular and topic-based writing is the reuse of information elements. Reuse means using these items again. Reusing text is not the same as copying the text and pasting it somewhere else.

Now you may object, saying that text from one document can easily be copied into another and that this is also "reuse". That is certainly correct. It also works fine as long as the copied text is not to be changed. How many places is it used? The same applies to translation. A copied text must be translated again, and even if the translation tools "remember" the text and translate it automatically, you still have to pay for it.

Reuse

Reuse is defined as the electronic recontextualization of separate information elements (multimodal text fragments). The information elements must be established as separate data files or as addressable elements in a source file. The elements are inserted into one or more of the main documents using electronic references (links). In the event of changes to the source file, the information in all the main documents will automatically change accordingly.

One of the mistakes you can make in a technical manual is precisely using the "copy/paste" functionality in your tool. There is nothing wrong with copying text, but the text contains information, and you have to maintain it. If you copy information once you get a maintenance problem. If you copy the same information several times, you may have a maintenance nightmare. Can you remember at any time how many places in how many books you have used a given phrase, or how many places you have specified a technical detail?

It is very easy to include technical specifications in ordinary prose text. It could be something as banal as "the washing machine motor rotates at 1200 revolutions per minute". Suppose you copy this sentence into three or four places in the owner's manual, then a few places in the maintenance manual, a couple of times into a website, and finally a brochure. So what do you do if the product manager comes to you the day before launch and says "I forgot to tell you that the spin speed is changed to 1100 rpm. It shook to pieces when we tested it at 1200..."

In the true sense of the word, reuse allows you to change this in one place.

Reuse is a relevant principle in our time, even if it is mainly put in a different context than technical documentation. Norwegian Wikipedia writes:

Reuse indicates use more than once. The concept is strongly linked to environmental protection as the second level in the waste hierarchy but gives extended meaning in all situations where an existing object or concept is reused, after first being used in its intended main use. The new use can be the same as the first time or used as something else, in contrast to recycling where the object is picked apart into raw materials for new use.

Reuse is an energy-saving and resource-saving element of best environmental practice.

Examples of reuse also include second-hand sales, refurbishment and reuse of code in high-level programming.

Consideration of resource scarcity is the main reason for reusing objects and concepts, but in many cases, there is also economic profitability in reusing objects or concepts.

Norsk Wikipedia, [1] (Translated by the editor)

Note the last part of the last sentence: "but in many cases, there is also economic profitability in reusing objects or concepts".

There are of course some challenges here. Although you can save time and money with reuse, the infrastructure in your documentation system facilitates reuse. Important points are:

  1. You must have a tool that supports such functionality.
  2. You cannot reuse information you do not know exists. Therefore, your tool must allow you to search, or allow you to organize the information in an orderly structure. It is best to combine this.
  3. The idea of reuse must be inculcated and nurtured in each member of the writing team. It is often easier to create a new piece of information than to look for one that might already exist. The search job must always be done first to avoid duplication of information.
  4. Different texts from different authors with different information elements will necessarily give different voices. It is important to refine writing style and increase competence so that everyone knows how to write for reuse. Incidentally, the same applies to illustrations. It is necessary to define a common style for how illustrations are presented.
  5. Language skills differ from one author to the next. This can mean that unfortunate wording slips through. At the same time, it is a strength of reuse that another author can then correct the language error(s) so that all the result manuals are still correct.

References

  1. Wikipedia: Gjenbruk, https://no.wikipedia.org, Oktober/October 2022 (Link)

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GR 2023-01-15