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Two Alternatives to a Full-Scale Re-do

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This issue is our second one dedicated to the topic of repurposing print documents for the web. In How To Repurpose Print Documents For The Web (archived at http://www.ewriteonline.com/newsletter/issue10R.html), we offered these five questions to help you decide whether your print content is worth the effort repurposing requires:

1. Will my site visitors want this content ?
2. Is online text the best format for this content?
3. Does the content support the mission of the site?
4. Will the content integrate into the existing site structure?
5. Does this content have a long enough shelf life to make repurposing worthwhile?

No doubt, many of you hoped to answer NO to most of these questions and to be spared the time-consuming task of repurposing a lengthy and complex document for the web.

However, if you answered YES to our five questions, you may be ready to repurpose your print brochure, report, or white paper. If you’re like most of us, time or staff constraints make a full-scale repurpose difficult (or impossible. Maybe you’ve been told that the latest (print) research report has to be available on the web immediately, not in the week it would take to do a thorough print-to-web repurpose.

Or maybe the print document that needs repurposing is a policy manual or legal document. In this case, users might need to reference the entire document as written. Changing the print document might alter the meaning.

Is there a middle ground, an alternative to the Full Monty which involves stripping the print piece bare and reassembling it for the web? We offer you two repurposing options:
1. The Bite, Snack and Meal Approach to Repurposing: present the print piece on the web in its existing form (the Meal) and supplement the print piece with alternate formats (the Bite and the Snack)
2. The Value-Added Approach to Repurposing: increase the print document’s usability on the web by providing additional information of value.

Repurpose By Providing Choices: Try The Bite, Snack, And Meal Approach
If you’ve attended our web writing classes or read our newsletter, you may recall our Bite, Snack, and Meal formula for web writing (archived at http://www.ewriteonline.com/newsletter/issue8R.html). The core of the concept is that effective web writing means providing content in a variety of sizes to satisfy the information appetites of different users. In web writing, a Bite is a powerful message headline, a Snack is a concise summary, and the Meal is the entire document.

Consider using this approach when repurposing print documents for the web. Post the Meal — the entire research report, for example — on the web without rewriting it. Then supplement the Meal with a Bite and Snack. Write a Snack, a one-paragraph or a one-page summary, for readers who may not want to read the Meal, the entire research report. To beef up the summary (Snack), write links that take the reader to relevant portions of the full document (Meal). This approach gives readers choices; they can read just the summary, or the portion of the report that interests them, or the full report.

Now, take a look at two web sites, which repurpose print documents using this approach.

Use The Bite, Snack, And Meal Approach To Repurpose A Long Report
Accenture web writers faced the challenge of making their report on ecommerce in Europe — e-Europe 2000: Connecting the Dots? – useful to web readers at http://www.accenture.com/xd/xd.asp?it=enweb&xd=ecommerceeEurope2000_home.xml. A full-scale repurpose of the report would require time-consuming rewriting and reformatting. Instead of rewriting, Accenture made the entire report available as a PDF file. But Accenture’s web writers gave the user alternatives by adding useful Snacks and Bites to the report that were not available in the print version. Each of the eight chapters is previewed in a short Bite: a headline plus a one-sentence description. Each Bite is linked to a one-page summary of that chapter.

Use The Bite, Snack, And Meal Approach To Repurpose “Hot News”
At FirstGov for Workers, a government web site for workers, the web writers used the Bite, Snack, and Meal approach on their “hot news” page (News for Workers) at http://www.workers.gov/docs/news2.asp. This web page includes time-sensitive press releases, executive orders, and regulations. Using the Bite, Snack and Meal approach to repurposing has two advantages: First, web writers can make time-sensitive material available immediately (for example, on the day an executive order is issued) and post the order or regulation in its entirety. Second, for readers who want to keep abreast of changes but don’t want to read the entire executive order, the page provides short, easy-to-read Bites and Snacks.

For example, an April 2001 posting updates workers on Bush administration executive orders that reverse the Clinton administration’s policies on labor union involvement in government-contracted projects. In this case the headline (Bite) provides a complete message: Bush Revokes Clinton Administration Union Policies. The Snack summarizes the four orders and provides links to the complete executive orders issued by the White House.

Try The Value-Added Approach: “Print Plus”
Sometimes you can repurpose a print document quickly by supplementing it with additional and related information. This information can be links to other pages on your site or at other Internet sites, as well as audio or video clips. In your zeal, resist the temptation to put up everything you can think of or find to supplement the print document. Remember, your purpose is to add value. Consider your readers. What additional material would they find truly useful? What will increase the usability of the original print piece? Overloading your readers with too much information, or extraneous information, adds confusion, not value.

For a classic example of the Value-Added Approach to repurposing a print document, take a look at the Starr Report (The Independent Counsel’s Report on the Investigation of President Clinton) on the ABC News site at http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/us/dailynews/starr_report_intro.html

This report was so “hot” that it had to go up immediately. And because changing even one word (is!) could significantly change the meaning of the document, news organizations had no choice but to make the entire print document available online. This complex and legalistic report was a chore to read in print. Take a look at http://www.rightgrrl.com/starr_report/report.pdf. Slapped up on the web, it goes from onerous to impossible — small type, double columns, imbedded footnotes, and obtuse legalese.

So, how did ABC news writers repurpose this must-read document? First, they hyperlinked the Table of Contents to the body of the report so readers could identify the section that they wanted to read and go to it immediately. Second, they provided a list of “major players” and linked the names to short bios. Third, they added links for readers to access through a menu on the right side of each web page.

These links included:

  • A video archive, which included clips of key statements and events (“I did not have sex with that woman!”)
  • The text of transcripts of witness statements
  • A timeline of major events in the investigation
  • Daily headlines and related news items
  • In repurposing a print piece, sometimes there’s no getting around the Full Monty. But at other times, you serve your reader best by making the print document available and supplementing it with useful summaries or value-added links. After all, good web writing gives readers choices.

    And next time you’re repurposing, keep in mind the words of author Harry Mathews, “A man is too apt to forget that in this world he cannot have everything. A choice is all that is left him.”

    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

    Two Alternatives to a Full-Scale Re-do
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