Dig a Hole, Fill It: The Nature of Repeat Work

While I am a huge fan of writing first drafts of content, I often end up doing a lot of repeat work. This isn’t because I’ve made mistakes and have to do the work over (though that has happened on rare occasions). Rather, it’s the nature of technical writing for practitioners to edit, update, or rewrite documents that they have worked worked on previously. This is one of the realities of the job, but it is not simply a matter of digging the same hole only to refill it later. Allow me to explain.

Why Does Work Get Redone?

Editing

When you return to a document for editorial purposes, you are reviewing work that needs to be checked for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, content, or other potential errors. This is not meant to be an insult to your prose, it’s a quality check and a process that helps make your writing better. (I say this because I used to take it that way, which is a block to learning and self-improvement.)

 

Updating

The most common reason for revisiting a document you’ve worked on (after simple proofreading or comprehensive editing) is to update the content. The reasons for content updates should be familiar:

  • The product (e.g., software) has been updated.
  • The content–such as for a class on sales programs–changes regularly.
  • The customer wants to refresh the look, feel, flow, or tone of the product.
  • The customer/content owner changes and wants to put his/her own personal stamp or emphasis on it.
  • An event in the news has caused the content to become obsolete or overcome by events (OBE).
  • The requirements for the document have changed. For example, I’ve written proposals in response to a draft request for information (RFI) or request for proposal (RFP), only to have to go back and do substantial rewriting once the final RFI/RFP was published because the customer changed what they wanted.

Rewriting

Sometimes you create a document such as a marketing brochure or fact sheet that doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations. The reasons could vary. They might not like the style or tone. They might not like the emphasis or organization of the content. They might want to redo the product because of “artistic differences” they have with the graphic design or layout, and while they’re at it they ask for editorial changes as well. Again, these changes are not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your work, though that can happen too. Sometimes a customer doesn’t know what s/he wants until you show him/her a rough draft and you end up playing a few rounds of “bring me a rock.” Occasionally it can be enough for you to get the customer thinking by getting something down on paper or in electronic form. I’ve written white papers that were completely off base–not because I was not paying attention, but because the customer did not explain him (or her)self clearly or wasn’t entirely certain what the final product should be. My draft helped clarify their thinking by showing them what they didn’t want.

The bottom line is that you should not be surprised or dismayed if you find yourself redoing the same content repeatedly. It’s the nature of the work. And if you’re a freelancer, you can look at it from this important perspective: billable hours.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
Quote | This entry was posted in clients, editing, proposal writing, technical writing, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dig a Hole, Fill It: The Nature of Repeat Work

  1. Pingback: Rereading Your Content | Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication

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