Quality. It’s one of those terms that everyone has a hard time defining, but everyone recognizes when they see it. In content management and tech comm circles, we talk a great deal about quality–of writing or content creation, and outputs–but we have a hard time defining it, much less measuring it. Customers recognize quality, and a lack of it, and respond with their wallets, so quality matters to the folks in the corner offices. Val Swisher (President of Content Rules and a much-admired thought leader around TechWhirl country) wrote two recent blog posts about quality: one whether the quality of writing impacts sales, and one on how quality is in the eye of the customer. She makes a great case for developing quality standards in our profession, but also questions how we can measure quality in meaningful ways. All of which got me to pondering how we measure quality in our profession right now. Hence our latest poll question on quality factors: what we use to evaluate the quality of technical content.
Over the years, I have heard a lot of complaints about the difficulty of measuring writers’ performance, and have been frustrated by the size of the blind spot so many in our field seem to have about metrics. And yet, we’re judged, and we judge others, on some set of factors that determine whether our content is high quality–whether we’re “good” writers. Is it possible to standardize quality measurements in tech comm and content development? Maybe. Val agreed with one of the commenters to her posts that measuring quality is impossible. In the purest sense that’s likely a universal truth. But at the same time, we have to find measurable attributes of quality so that we can evaluate performance, analyze impacts on revenue and costs, and plan future activities.
It could be an exercise in herding cats (which some of us have learned to do–sort of–after much pain and anguish). But it is worth talking about as a community of content producers. How do we benchmark, or develop best practices, without some common set of criteria as a starting point? The poll lists a set of attributes that could serve as starting point, or at least a straw man argument. Some of them reference Val’s posts and the work of Content Science, while others are relatively simple ideas that may or may not have a useful application here. So take some time to think about how you measure quality in your organization right now, or how you’d like to measure it, and add your thoughts about technical content quality factors via a comment posted to our community forum.