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Reuse methods

There are two methods for reuse: opportunistic reuse (an author makes a conscious decision to reuse content) and systematic reuse (planned reuse where content is automatically inserted). Within each method of reuse are three options: locked reuse (reused content cannot be changed), derivative reuse (reused content can be changed) and nested reuse (multiple versions of the content are contained within the same element). This section details the methods and options for reuse.

Opportunistic reuse

Opportunistic reuse occurs when the author makes a conscious decision to find an element, retrieve it, and reuse it. Opportunistic reuse requires that the author be aware of the opportunities for reuse and be motivated to search for and retrieve reusable content. Opportunistic reuse is the most common form of reuse. Opportunistic reuse does not rely on specific technology; it can be done without a content management system, although a CMS is advisable.

Any content can be used in an opportunistic reuse situation. In some ways, opportunistic reuse is a replacement for the "copy and paste" that many organizations use. However, opportunistic reuse is not copy and paste because reused content does not actually include the content in the "document"; it is actually a "pointer" to the source content.

Many organizations use opportunistic reuse when they need to rapidly reconfigure their information products to meet new product or customer requirements. One organization found that they could even create new translated documents by using existing reusable elements without having to have any new content translated (that is, they could use existing translated elements in a new configuration).

Opportunistic reuse provides authors with the greatest flexibility because it provides them with the choice to reuse content and to determine which reusable content is appropriate. However, opportunistic reuse results in the lowest incidence of reuse because it puts the burden on the authors to want to reuse content, to know that potential reusable content exists, and to go and find the content they want to reuse. If there is a lack of motivation, or a lack of awareness that a suitable reusable element exists or might exist, or if it is difficult for authors to find the appropriate element, reuse may not occur. In addition, authors may reuse content inappropriately; there are no safeguards to prevent this.

To increase the effectiveness of opportunistic reuse, organizations can optimize retrievability, provide guidelines, and ensure that authors are effectively trained. Retrievability can be optimized through the use of content management systems, effective categorization of content, and rich metadata. Reuse guidelines include models to help authors identify where content should be reused (see Chapter 8, "Information modeling"). Training ensures that authors are trained to use the models and the content management system and to follow guidelines for reuse. Organizational incentives can provide motivation for authors to reuse content.

Systematic reuse

Systematic reuse is planned reuse. Specific content is identified as reusable in a specific location. Then the content management system automatically inserts (auto-populates) the reusable content in the appropriate locations in the document. The author does not have to determine whether the reusable content exists or search for and retrieve it. Systematic reuse ensures that content is reused and reduces the burden on the author to know that reusable content exists, to find the reusable content, and to insert it appropriately.

Systematic reuse is dependent upon detailed information models, reuse maps (identification of where content is reused in your information set), and support for dynamic delivery of content through your content management system. This means that systematic reuse is planned for in advance, in the modeling and system configuration stage. Authors do not determine reuse; the system determines reuse.

The content management system uses your information models to identify where content can be reused. If a content element exists and matches the author's specific content requirements, the reusable elements are automatically inserted into appropriate spots in the document (that is, the document is pre-populated with content).

Systematic reuse is the most costly to implement because it requires the most planning for reuse, the creation of detailed models and reuse maps, and appropriate technology (for example, a dynamic content engine), but it provides the greatest return on investment. Return on investment is achieved through guaranteed reuse (reuse is automatic and not dependent on author motivation and knowledge of existing content).

Authors can perceive systematic reuse as being overly restrictive (that is, it does not provide flexibility and opportunities to be creative). This perception can be reduced if authors are provided with the opportunity to modify reusable content where appropriate (derivative reuse) and to choose not to use reusable elements when they are not appropriate in the given instance. However, care should be taken to ensure the effectiveness of systematic reuse is not diminished through increased flexibility. You need to ensure that content that must be included cannot be removed, that content that should not be changed is not editable, and that authors are educated on the value of systematic reuse.

Use systematic reuse when your content is very structured and you can explicitly identify where content is to be reused, and where you want to ensure that specific content is reused.

Examples of systematic reuse can include corporate standard information such as trademarks, copyrights, license information, and warranties. However, systematic reuse can be used wherever an organization wants to ensure that content is reused (for example, in product descriptions, warnings, cautions, notes, definitions, company profiles, and disclaimers).

Example: Systematic reuse

A consulting company that does process re-engineering creates a series of reports (analysis, recommendations, implementation). To assist consultants in the report writing process the company has implemented systematic reuse. Analysis reports identify the issues observed within the organization. The consultant summarizes the issues at the beginning of each section. The summaries are reused in the Executive Summary unchanged (locked). The issues are reused (locked) in the recommendations report and each issue is addressed by a recommendation. The recommendations are summarized at the beginning of each section and are reused (derivative) in the Executive Summary. In this way, after consultants write the content, they don't have to worry about copying and pasting content into the other portions of the report or the next report; the content is automatically reused appropriately (see Figure 2.1). In addition, the author can choose to change the reused content to ensure it fits the current situation (for example, in the Executive Summary of the recommendations).

Figure 2.1 Systematic reuse.

Locked reuse

Locked reuse is where a reusable element is reused unchanged. Only an author with appropriate permissions may change the content of the element. This ensures that key content is reused identically. You can systematically reuse or opportunistically reuse a locked element.

Types of content that are commonly locked include legal information, cautionary information, standard statements of disclaimer, company descriptions, product positioning, or branding information. Any content that you do not want changed by others can be locked.

Use locked reuse when you want to ensure content is not changed when it is reused.

Derivative reuse

When an author edits a reusable content element, the resulting element then becomes a derivative, or a "child" of the original "parent" element. An element that is systematically reused or opportunistically reused and is not locked can become a derivative element. A derivative element continues to be related to the original, such that if the original (parent) changes, the author of the derivative (child) element is notified of the change and the change can be incorporated or not as desired. Providing derivative reuse increases the flexibility of reuse.

Derivative reuse is common in organizations where key content should be retained, but such changes as the following may be made to the content:

  • Tense (for example, in content used over time in different reports)

  • Spelling (for example, American English versus British English)

  • Order of the content

  • Emphasis (for example, changing the focus of benefits from one set of features to another to address different regional needs)

  • Use (for example, a brochure which would be very marketing oriented and a user guide which would be more product usage oriented)

Translated content is an example of derivative reuse (the original language element is reused, but the content is replaced by the translated content); however, the relationship is maintained to ensure that whenever the source element is changed, the translated element is identified as requiring change. In the case of translation, the entire content of the element is changed; however, in the majority of cases of derivative reuse, only a few words are changed or sentences are added or deleted. For more on content relationships see Appendix E, "Content relationships."

Example: Usability reports

A company is planning to conduct a usability test of its new Internet site. They create a proposal for management to indicate the types of users they will select, then they conduct the test and write the summary report. They derivatively reuse content from the proposal in the summary report. Compare the pieces of the two reports (Table 2.1) to see how the content changes derivatively.

Table 2.1 Example of derivative reuse

Usability test proposal report selecting test subjects

Usability summary report selected test subjects

The following criteria for selection will be used to ensure we get appropriate test subjects from all our key customer areas including:

The following criteria for selection were used to ensure we got appropriate test subjects from all our key customer areas including:

  • Commercial customers
  • Commercial customers
  • General public customers
  • General public customers
  • Decision-makers
  • Decision-makers

The selected test subjects should meet the following criteria:

The selected test subjects met the following criteria:

  • English as a first language
  • English as a first language
  • Uses the Internet at least twice a week
  • Uses the Internet at least twice a week
  • Uses Product ABC
  • Uses Product ABC
  • Has previously used our Help Desk for assistance
  • Has previously used our Help Desk for assistance

Each participant will be asked to complete a pre-test questionnaire (see Appendix A "Checklist for implementing a Unified Content Strategy") to enable us to assess prior knowledge and experience.

Each participant was asked to complete a pre-test questionnaire (see Appendix A) that enabled us to assess prior knowledge and experience.

Nested reuse

Nested reuse is content that has a number of reusable elements contained within a single element. The sum of all the elements creates an element, and subsets of the element can be used in alternate information products. Nested reuse does not involve building from small reusable elements; rather it involves an element that contains all the reusable sub-elements.

Nested reusable information enables authors to create content for all the outputs at the same time, thereby providing context and frequently speeding up the content authoring process. When content is nested, all the relevant content is available at a glance.

Nested reuse can be used any time when greater or lesser detail of content is required for one information product or another, or when it makes it easier for the author to create all the necessary content on a topic/subject in one place.

Use nested reuse when you want to retain the context for alternate content or when content is a subset of other content.

Example: Product description

A company produces a product called the B-Brother. They reuse a product description (see Table 2.2) in three different information products: a brochure, an operations guide, and an e-commerce site.

Table 2.2 Comparison of product description content


Operations guide

E-commerce site

The B-Brother model 1984 is a programmable device that connects directly to consumers' televisions to track the channels they flip to, what programs they record, and what commercials they skip. The information is instantly transmitted to the cable or satellite provider.

The B-Brother connects directly to consumers' televisions. It can be programmed to track what channels they flip to, what programs they record, and what commercials they skip. The information is transmitted to the cable or satellite provider.

The B-Brother model 1984 is a device that connects directly to consumers' televisions to track their television watching habits.

As you can see by reading the three examples, the content is different, sometimes only slightly different, but still different. It doesn't need to be different. First the authors unify the content as shown in Figure 2.2 to create one product statement that encapsulates what the company is trying to say about the product.

Figure 2.2  Unified product description.

Then the content is identified, as shown in Figure 2.3, to indicate which components are appropriate for each information product.

Figure 2.3 Product description marked to indicate information product reuse.

The product description includes a short description of the product (the first sentence) that can be used in all three information products. The second and third sentence can be used in the brochure and the operations guide, which require more content. This is illustrated in Table 2.3.

Table 2.3 Product description reuse


Operations Guide

E-commerce product description

The B-Brother model 1984 is a device that connects directly to consumers' televisions to track their television watching habits.

It can be programmed to track what channels they flip to, what programs they record, and what commercials they skip. The information is instantly transmitted to the cable or satellite provider.

The B-Brother model 1984 is a device that connects directly to consumers' televisions to track their television watching habits.

It can be programmed to track what channels they flip to, what programs they record, and what commercials they skip. The information is instantly transmitted to the cable or satellite provider.

The B-Brother model 1984 is a device that connects directly to consumers' televisions to track their television watching habits.


Example: Procedure

A company has developed training, user documentation, and help for its time tracking system. The content needed to be updated and they have decided to redesign the common procedural information as a nested procedure. Figure 2.4 illustrates an original procedure that is common across training materials, user documentation, and Help.

Figure 2.4 Original procedure content.

Table 2.4 shows how the procedure was unified with nested reuse to create one procedure that could be used to produce each of the information products. All the content for the procedure is contained in one place. The content for the Help is nested within the content for the user guide, which in turn is nested in the training materials.

Table 2.4 Unified procedure content


Information product



User documentation


Creating a time tracking entry

Objective: The objective of this lesson is to create a time entry for a project.



1. Open TimeTracker.

2. Select New from the File menu.

Select: Intranet Redesign



3. Select the project to apply the time to.

Click the drop-down list to display the available projects.


4. Select the task.

Click the drop-down list to display the list of tasks.


Select: Meeting



5. Enter a description of the work done in the Description box.

Make the description as descriptive as possible to help management better understand the work completed. If you had any problems accomplishing the task, record the problems here.


Enter: Identify the stakeholders for the redesign project.



6. Enter a date. The date defaults to today's date.

Change the date to yesterday's date.



7. Enter the time spent on the task to the nearest 15 minutes.

Enter: 1:30:00



8. Save the entry.

Related topics



  • Verifying time entries.



  • Submitting your timesheets.



  • Creating reports.



Notice that the formatting that was visible in the training materials (exercise content in the left column) or Help (hypertext links) is not shown in this nested example. Formatting is applied when the content is published in the relevant information product, not during the authoring stage (see Figure 2.5).

Figure 2.5 Formatted published version of the nested procedure.

The nested procedure enables an organization to create all the necessary content at the same time and publish the content as desired to the appropriate information product. Creating all the content in context makes it easier to write it and to ensure consistency.

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