Metrics for Technical Writing.?

Subject: Metrics for Technical Writing.?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Smith, Kevin T" <kevin -dot- t -dot- smith -at- bankofamerica -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 16:53:23 -0400

Kevin Smith wondered: <<Are there any examples available for metrics that represent technical writing? I would like to collect baseline numbers and track our activity in an IT Development Shop.>>

My take on this is that metrics are generally useless unless you know what you're trying to accomplish by collecting them and choose metrics that support that purpose. Moreover, industry-wide metrics are meaningless unless you can confirm that they apply to your specific situation; compare, for example, the difference in writing productivity between the often <ahem> casual documentation process for open-source software and the insanely intense process that a W3W or IEEE standard goes through.

If you want useful metrics, you need to narrowly define your goals, rigorously develop a metric that tells you whether you're succeeding, and only then ask for data from comparable situations to see how good your benchmark is. Anything else is "lies, damned lies, and statistics". Honest scientists will tell you that quantifying something does not by itself make that something meaningful.

I can tell you, for example, that my editing productivity varies by more than 100% depending on the nature of the manuscript and the author's diligence--that's based on something like 10 years of productivity data for literally hundreds of authors from around the world. I can also tell you that, all else being equal, I'm unusually fast given how heavily I edit. (I know this because I tag-team edit with a goodly number of editors around the world, and know their productivities.) So would my editing stats be meaningful to you? Not a chance.

A few thoughts to point you in the right direction:
Have a look, then feel free to ask more specific questions (here on the list, so you can get a range of opinions).

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Metrics for Technical Writing.: From: Smith, Kevin T

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