What is quality?

Subject: What is quality?
From: BURGAMW1 <burgamw1 -at- TEOMAIL -dot- JHUAPL -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 1993 09:42:40 EDT

I'm willing to jump in and start another discussion about quality. Our
problem, where I work, is defining it. We don't produce manuals of any kind.
Our products are scientific documents: reports, journal articles, books,
What constitutes a quality document? One that has no typos? That is
easily readable, elegantly formatted, internally consistent, technically
correct? The only definition we could come up with is one that meets the needs
of the customer (i.e., engineer or scientist).
The problem is that the customer doesn't always know what he or she needs.
"A light edit, please," says the customer. (This means essentially a
copyedit.) However, the manuscript turns out to be totally unreadable, badly
organized, with unnecessary figures, data presented in tables that would be
more effective if turned into graphs, etc. We try to persuade the author to
let us do a substantive edit, but he persists in wanting only a copyedit. We
give him what he wants. The finished product certainly isn't what WE would
consider a "quality" document, but the customer's happy.
The other extreme is the customer who wants "the works." We usually like
to work on this type of document because it satisfies our need for perfection
(or as close as we can get). However, sometimes the customer is also a
perfectionist, who is constantly revising, rewriting, and reorganizing as we're
working on her document. The deadline draws near and she's still changing
things. Finally, we remind her about the deadline. "One more little change,"
she says. The document's not done on time. The customer's not happy, but she
got a "quality" document.
I'd be interested in other people's definitions of a quality document.

Murrie Burgan, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory

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