Docs Automation

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Question: Isn’t there a way to set up my docs so that each piece of information appears in only one place?

Answer:
Theoretically yes, if you don’t mind a cure that is worse than the disease.

It has always been my own fantasy to set things up so that no matter what changes, all I have to do is open a little scratch file, or my Master List ‘O’ Variables, make the change and poof! It propagates everywhere as if by magic. After I do this, I flex my fingers to convey to the requestor that I, and I alone, possess the Power.

Sometimes it works and I feel mightily clever. Then one day it all falls apart. Some new situation comes up that I hadn’t anticipated, and my house of cards comes tumbling down. The phrase “So sharp you’ll cut yourself” applies as a sort of Murphy’s Law of Content Management. Here are just a few examples:

  • Grammatical issues. Look for mismatched articles and pronouns.
  • Product bifurcation. A single product changes into 2 different things. You might need to split topics or change cross-references.
  • Conditional text. I have made this mistake many times. Just keep adding conditionals for every possible situation and see what happens.

We haven’t touched on document check-in and versioning, either. This part is worth automating but there are times when you still need human intervention.

The best way to keep complexity in check is to hand off your projects to someone else every so often and see how maintainable they are. If the other writer is bewildered by your 200 conditional text tags and variables, style overrides, special scripts that live exclusively in your workspace, and other deviations, then maybe you’ve gone too far down a slippery slope.

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