Sooner or Later, You’ll Audit Your Content

Audit? Um, no thanks. Not on my bucket list. But at some point, you will see something that needs to change about your content, the way you develop it, the way you publish it, or the way you translate it. Any process of change involves knowing three things:

  1. What to change.
  2. What to change to.
  3. How to bring about the change.
A content audit answers the first, vital, question. One way or another, you’re going to end up doing a content audit, whether you planned to or not. The question is: how much value will you get from it?

The answer depends on how early it happens, and what you do with the information you gather. A lot of the benefit could be lost if you put it off.

For example, if you’re converting your content to DITA, you could audit pre-conversion, and you would know to convert only the valuable content. If it’s post-conversion though, you’ll be sifting through documents realizing that many of them aren’t worth the effort to clean up any further. If you put it off until post-translation, you’ve waited way too long and have wasted money and time translating content you’re not going to end up keeping. If you think content audits bring too much pain, try not doing one.

But, there are reasons why poorly structured content got created, why content got duplicated, why it was allowed to become outdated. All of these are, at their root, cultural problems, not technical problems. New tools – converting to DITA, for example – don’t automatically mean we start doing things differently. What needs to happen, as soon as possible, is culture change.

These cultural problems manifest themselves in our documents. The thing is, when viewed from the perspective of the old culture, it’s harder to recognize all that’s wrong. A content audit assisted by someone already steeped in the new culture – a new way of doing things – can be the start. Otherwise, conversion and cleanup can be very eye-opening experiences, although somewhat more painful than doing an audit. Some of us just have to learn the hard way.

This post expanded on my comments on Julio Vazquez’s blog post (DITA) Conversion is futile. You can find Julio’s online home at Write Spirit.

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