What does single sourced content mean to readers?
In her dissertation, Lyn painted this scene:
"Judi Greene is evaluating the capabilities of 'CommonText', a new single sourcing application. She recognizes single sourcing's potential for greater efficiency in a rapidly changing publishing environment, but questions whether single sourcing truly serves readers well."
This imaginary Documentation Manager's concerns are:
- How well can single sourcing methods accommodate rhetorical variations that would improve reader comprehension?
- Is highly standardized text appropriate for cross-cultural audiences?
- Does removing meta language, particularly cohesive devices, from single sourced texts significantly affect comprehension for specific groups of readers?
The key result from Dr. Gattis's study indicates that readers are more likely to comprehend texts with lexical repetition (which are often sacrificed in single sourced documents and online Help files). When texts are cohesive, readers are more likely to consider information to be clear, well organized and easy to follow.
Dr. Gattis's conclusions coincide with future trends we and others have hypothesized:
- Human editorial oversight will continue to be essential for comprehensibility, even when composing is partially automated.
- Technical Communicators may need to specialize on different tasks within the team.
- Documentation teams will need to resist system efficiency as an overarching goal.
- Lexical repetition, cohesive devices and other textual features will need to be incorporated into specifications right from the start, i.e. during the document planning stage.
- Organizations have several options for integrating cohesive devices into single sourced texts. However, these options may reduce writer productivity.
One solution is to build cohesion into templates, boilerplate documents, style sheets, DTDs and/or schema.
Interestingly, this was the approach by RePublico software (now defunct), and are capabilities being introduced into AuthorIT and similar tools.