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Avoiding the duplication of information

I really liked a recent article from Conversion Rate Experts called Duplication is evil, which addresses how “a seemingly innocuous act — the duplication of information — backfires and creates a wasteful tangled mess.”

If you’re in engineering, a reliable system of issue numbers for technical documentation will be part of the company’s DNA. This discipline doesn’t always flow through to sales and management, however. The article explains that the problem begins when someone allows the same piece of information to exist in more than one place, so that others (or the author) subsequently update different copies of the information. We then have versions that don’t include important updates, such as a price list that contains old prices, a contract missing an important clause or a document with an old email address. As time passes, it becomes more difficult to consolidate the different versions or even to work out which version should be the official one. This can quickly lead to a shambles.

There’s some great advice in the article, but a core strategy might revolve around three elements: use a centralised version of every document, which contains a revision history (Google Docs is great for this); have recognised file formats for the master (so you know others, like PDFs, cannot be masters); and use links to centralised versions of documents, rather than including copies in other documents or communications.