Documents Made to Measure


Content and documents written for users should be like a good fitting shirt – comfortable enough to enable the wearer to function in the most effective way possible.

Basic shirts are offered in only small, medium, large and extra large options. The collars can be too tight, the sleeves too long, and the body rarely flatters the wearer. At the end of the day, the wearer can end up itchy and tired.

At the other extreme, bespoke shirts from London’s Jermyn Street are handmade to your exact body shape and size – but a price.

In between those two choices, you can buy “Made to Measure” shirts.

Fit is everything

In gentlemen’s shirtings, fit is everything, and the same thing is true for content. Companies such as Charles Tyrwhitt and TM Lewin offer Made to Measure shirts where you can specify the collar size, the length of the arms, the slimness of the fit, the length of the collar, shirt pocket options, the type of cuff, and type of fabric (like iron or non-iron cotton). Marks and Spencer take it further, modifying the shirts to take account of your weight and age. You get something that’s a much better fit to the user, and it costs only a little more than a basic (S, M, L, XL) shirt.

Made to Measure content

Shirt companies are able to offer a wide variety of choice at an affordable price because they use standard modular components that can be interchanged for each customer. You can take the same approach to your documentation as well – delivering content that’s the best fit for different skill levels, use cases, locations, reading devices, configurations, and so on.

Marks and Spencer made to measure shirts

By taking a modular, Made to Measure approach to writing your content, your content can be more like Cary Grant and less like Jeremy Clarkson.


Mike Unwalla

Ellis wrote: Shirt companies are able to offer a wide variety of choice at an affordable price because they use standard modular components that can be interchanged for each customer.

I agree. But, please explain how content can be modularized. The development of content is the most time-consuming part of a project.

Ellis Pratt

Hi Mike

You’re right to say that content creation is time consuming. The modularisation comes from being able to create re-usable chunks of content that appear in the Help, the training courseware, the Getting Started guide and so on. Also it means you can create PDF, tablet ready content, online Help and other media from the same content.
With DITA, we may see a public library of content appear that could be re-used and adapted by writers to suit their own situation. DITA’s conditional variables, Conref and Conref Push mean you could create customised topics without having to touch/modify the base, vanilla topic used from the library.

Made to Measure is mass customisation

Mass Customisation is the technical name that is applied to the made to measure tailoring industry. The same technique can be used in other industries but on-line tailoring is where the technique has really taken hold.

Simple tailoring websites offer literally millions of combinations to allow the user to get the right style and cut. It is a trend that will continue. Soon a department store will again carry fabric but have a CNC fabric cutter and a sewing machine.

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