Content Fidelity

Years ago, a friend described his sister’s job hunt. He chuckled as he told me that she didn’t get any callbacks after distributing about 40 copies of her résumé and,  “She said it’s my fault.”

I asked, “Why is that your fault?”

He replied “Because I told her that she should use Quark to make it more appealing. I told her how she  could add graphics and make the type look nice and she was all over it.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it Quark (Quark Xpress) is a layout and typesetting program that dominated the publishing and advertising industries for many years before the rise of Adobe’s InDesign (the successor to Pagemaker).

“Why is that your fault that she doesn’t have a job?” I asked.

“Because, there was a mistake in the Quark version that wasn’t in the original,” he responded.

Ah, few things are more disheartening to young person seeking to start a career than realization of an error on a résumé.

“You mean she made a typo? I remember completing a rez on a typewriter and sending it out all over the damn country and I discovered later I had misspelled “liaison” and I freaked out. Did you show her how to spell-check in Quark?” I said.

“Yeah, she spell-checked it, but that didn’t help her.”

“Did she use the wrong word in a sentence?”

“No, guess again.”

The suspense was killing me,  “No, tell me I give up.”

He started laughing–that heaving, teary-eyed, snotty-nosed laughter–as he told about the line in the original copy of the rez, in which his sister referenced a summer job at their hometown’s library and the line in the Quark version. In her original document, she described how she: “Executed children’s learning programs…”

The Quark incarnation read: “Executed children.”

OUCH! Hard to imagine that any amount of graphics or typography would overcome that. I would have curled up in a fetal position and not left the house for weeks (OK months).

She shook off the initial embarrassment, corrected the error and sent out another wave of résumés. She landed a job just a few weeks later.

I don’t remember if my friend’s sister had re-typed the content into the Quark document or she had pasted it there. Regardless of how it got there, she had a content-fidelity problem, in which there was a major discrepancy between the two versions of her résumé.

Content-fidelity errors like this happen with incalculable frequency in organizations, both large and small. Everyone makes typos (or “copy-os” or “paste-os”). Sometimes they are caught in QA, other times they are not. Some errors are minor embarrassments, some are damaging to a company’s reputation.

Some are expensive to fix.

Some will get you sued.

Years ago, the technical communications sector recognized the risks of recreating content , thus developed  single-source, intelligent content architectures to allow for content to be created once and automatically expressed in multiple channels. Perhaps the best part is that when mistakes are identified they can be fixed in a single location and automatically updated across all content products within the organization.

If your organization habitually recreates content, or pays exorbitant fees for outsourced content creation, you may want to reconsider your content processes. There are numerous resources that will describe single-source, intelligent content, but I think  this  book is a good place to start.

Moving to an intelligent content framework requires a commitment to change and change is hard. Though allowing your competitors to make the change before you do will be even harder.

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