Most technical writing projects involve either an update to an existing manual, or a modification of some existing documentation to make it cover a new product.
This is obvious to most of us. A company typically has a certain technology upon which it bases its products. Each time they have a new release, they release new documents to cover the new features.
But just as the engineers started with the base version and added onto it, so too technical writers typically start with an existing document and begin adding and modifying it. Often, during the life of a product, a product will mutate as the company finds additional features or markets for the base technology. Once again, the engineer will take the base technology and modify it for a new product line. And, again, the technical writer will do the same with the documentation.
Most likely, a fair amount of the content from existing manuals can be reused. A writer just needs to find it and then modify it appropriately. What happens if the desired content is not found? That’s where a tremendous amount of wasted time is introduced because the writer will have to recreate it. Not only does this waste time, it also leads to growing inconsistencies and problems with content update in the future.
The bad news is time spent for search is too much:
“Roughly one-third of productive time is spent in knowledge reworking. The other nearly two-thirds is spent in knowledge finding and communication, with only about 10% of time spent in actual creation of new knowledge” (Kit Sims Taylor, “The Brief Reign of the Knowledge Worker and Technological Unemployment: Information Technology and Technological Unemployment”)
I’ll repeat: 10% of time is spent on creating new content. 90% of time is spent for search and recreation. If I were a boss, I would rather allow my employees to spend these 90% of their working time in a cafe or water pool. At least, they’ll have fun there.
Do you want to learn more about other reasons why decision makers will like DITA? Stay tuned and read my following posts.