Five Questions to Help You Decide if the Content is Worth the Effort

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“Repurposing” is a great term, isn’t it? When it comes to web writing, repurposing sounds much better than rewriting, redoing, reorganizing, or transforming-print-into-readable-web-text. But unlike most buzzwords, repurposing contains the essence of what good web writers do when they adapt a print document to the web: they change the document substantially so it fulfills a purpose on the web. They alter the print original so it communicates to web readers who read in different ways and for different purposes than print readers do.

So why is repurposing so rare? Why are we more likely to encounter long, deadly, print documents cut-and-pasted into web pages than thoughtfully repurposed pieces? Because repurposing documents can be difficult and time-consuming. So before you dive into the task of repurposing that brochure, status report, speech, or executive summary, ask yourself these five questions. You should be able to answer YES! to most, if not all, of the questions before you repurpose the print content.

Question 1: Will My Site Visitors Want this Content?
You know who your site visitors are: clients, members, potential customers, or researchers. And you know why they come to your site: to learn about you, to purchase products or services, or to get information. So use what you know about the people who come to your site to decide whether to repurpose print content. (And don’t just slap the content up at the site just because you can.)

Here’s an example: the owner of a commercial landscaping business in Massachusetts develops a long list of hardy desert plants for a client who is moving his business to Arizona. Should he repurpose the list for his web site? Probably not, unless he knows that his site already attracts visitors from the southwestern U.S. or he wants to expand his business into desert areas.

Question 2: Is Online Text the Best Format for this Content?
Before you repurpose, ask yourself, “Will my site visitors want this content in the form of online text or would they prefer a print download?” If your print original is rich in graphics or formatting, repurposing could be a bad idea. If your print document is long, but needs to be long to be complete, like a regulation or a procedure, repurposing it into short, web chunks could force readers to click endlessly. If you were the site visitor, would you prefer to read the content online or to download it? Use your site to disseminate print content when repurposing would damage the content.

Question 3: Does the Content Support the Mission of the Site?
You know what your site’s mission is: to inform, to sell, to build online community. All the content at your site, repurposed print or online original, should support your site’s overall mission. Any content that doesn’t support the mission detracts from it. So don’t bother to repurpose the results of your company’s employee satisfaction survey if the mission of your site is to sell financial planning software.

Question 4: Will the Content Integrate in to the Existing Site Structure? (or Will I Have to Change the Site Structure to Accommodate the New Content?)
It’s easy to spot a site with too much slapped-up print content: it’s like a house with too many additions. Yeah, there are lots of rooms, but they are hard to find or identify. (Is this a bedroom or a closet?) To decide whether to repurpose print content, you must consider how the content will fit into the existing site structure.

For example, let’s say you have a small e-commerce site. You sell fruit baskets online. Your site might have the following sections: About Us, Online Catalogue, Contact Us, Ordering Information. Now, let’s say that you recently developed and printed a small recipe book to include with each fruit basket you ship. You’re considering repurposing this print publication and making it available at your site. If you’re going to sell the recipe book, you could integrate it easily into your existing site structure by listing it in your online catalogue. But if you want to give the recipes away as free content, you will have to alter the site structure. If you bury the recipes in the About Us or the Contact Us section, you won’t be doing yourself or your site visitors any favors. And you probably won’t be giving away many recipes!

Question 5: Does this Content Have a Long Enough Shelf Life to Make Repurposing Worthwhile?
Outdated content (repurposed or otherwise) chips away at your site’s credibility. Web readers expect online content to be up to date, nearly to the minute. Repurposing print for the web takes time. So, unless a print piece will have a long shelf life on the web, don’t repurpose it. The effort may be more than the content is worth.

Ready to Repurpose?
The real work begins once you’ve decided that repurposing the print document is worth the effort. Then you begin dividing it into sections, writing message headings and hypertext links, editing for conciseness, and generally transforming it so it works in a new medium. Is repurposing print for the web nuclear physics? Probably not. But in the words of Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, “No endeavor that is worthwhile is simple in prospect; if it is right, it will be simple in retrospect.”

Good luck! Get started.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE — http://www.ewriteonline.com, a training and consulting company in the Washington, D.C. area that specializes in online writing. Rudick and O’Flahavan are authors of the book Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan Answer Online Writing Questions: Click Here For Free Answers

Five Questions to Help You Decide if the Content is Worth the Effort
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