Reusing content lets you reduce content development costs while simultaneously improving the quality of the information. Everyone is familiar with basic reuse—copying and pasting from one document to another. But copying and pasting creates disconnected copies, which then must be updated separately (or recopied after an update). If an organization needs to reuse more than a small amount of content, a better strategy is needed.
- Linked content, where one copy of the information is referenced in multiple locations. For example, a basic topic, “What is a relational database?” might appear in the introductory materials for numerous information products created by a database company. Instead of copying and pasting, the information is stored in a single location, and all of the information products point to the same topic. Reused graphics are nearly always linked.
- Common or boilerplate content, such as copyright pages or warnings. A standard warning (WARNING: Choking hazard) must use identical wording throughout all information products, so it makes sense to provide it in a central location—and restrict changes.
- Reuse across mixed content types, where information is used in different formats (and even departments). For example, a mobile phone manufacturer might have a database of user interface strings (such as Call or Send or their translated equivalents) that are used to build mobile phone software menus. The technical content group could also access this database to insert UI strings into their content. When (not if) the UI designers change the interface labels, the technical content changes with them. Another example of mixed content is the creation of a database for software error messages, which are then delivered both inside the software and in a reference document.
- Reuse across departments, such as technical training and technical communication. The challenges in this area are tied less to technology and more to people. For instance, it is quite common for technical training groups to use technical content as a foundation for classroom training or e-learning materials. They insist, though, that the information needs to be rewritten to meet their requirements. A better strategy is to write content that both groups can use efficiently, but this requires close collaboration and mutual respect.
Reusing information is a powerful way to reduce the overall cost of publishing customized content. Many content strategy projects are justified based on cost reductions via reuse. Effective reuse also drives down the cost of localization because it reduces the total amount of unique content.