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Repurposing Print Documents for the Web

Repurposing print documents for the Web can be time-consuming and difficult. It can often take just as long to re-write the material as it did to write the original.

If there's no clear central approval authority it can often take longer, especially where approval is required from the subject matter expert who wrote the original print version.

Repurposing printed material for the Web can be expensive - it takes time, resources, patience, and a genuine commitment from everybody concerned to the sometimes drastic re-writes that are needed.

Ask a Few Questions

Before starting to repurpose print material, ask a few basic questions to make sure the time and effort is worthwhile:

  1. Does the audience want to see this information?
  2. Is the Web an appropriate format for this information?
  3. How long will this information be relevant?

There are a couple of less tangible considerations as well:

  • The resource costs don't stop once the material is up on the site - consider the costs involved in maintaining and removing the material.
  • While you're working on something that may be obsolete in a few weeks, you're not working on something that will be of use for much longer.

1. Does the audience want to see this information?

It's surprising how often that question isn't asked.

It's no use dedicating the sort of resources it takes to properly repurpose print documents, just because we can. Just as it's of little use to be able to boast that our site has 5000 pages, if 4950 of them aren't being read.

If you can't come up with clear answers to three very basic questions…

  1. Which members of our target audience will want to see this information?
  2. Why will they want to see this information?
  3. What will they do with this information?

… then don't do it - or write a summary, link to the original in PDF, and leave it at that .

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2. Is the Web an appropriate format for this information?

Graphical material - which often relies on background images and fancy fonts to get a message across - doesn't translate well to the Web.

Neither do long pages of tables containing text, numbers, and references to footnotes, which lose the ability to be viewed comprehensively when readers can only see the page in small chunks (e.g. balance sheets).

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. If I needed this information, would I prefer to read it online or download it?
  2. If both options were available, would I read the online page, or just skim the headings and go straight to the download?

Always keep in mind that, if a document is slow reading in its printed form, it's 25% slower when read on the Web.

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3. How long will this information be relevant?

If it takes a week (or more) to repurpose printed material for the Web, and 2 weeks (or more) to get approval - is it worth the time and resources involved if the information will only be relevant for 6 weeks?

Get a rough idea of the time involved by asking:

  1. How long will the document take to re-write and restructure for the Web? Include time for additional research and fact checking.
  2. Realistically, how long will it take to gain approval?

A good rule of thumb is to add 5 - 10 days for re-writes, and then total the amounts.

If the information won't be relevant for at least 4 times the amount of time spent on repurposing it, it probably isn't worth spending the resources.

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