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Ask yourself

by Christine Benson on December 9th, 2009

Do you really need that?  

As an Information Architect and HUGE Martha Stewart fan, I have unrealistic expectations about how organized my house should be. I periodically take on projects to get sections of my house in order. I approach them similar to my work projects, with audit and analysis, followed by designing a solution and implementing the structure. 
 
Early attempts at these projects would always stall in audit and analysis. I would come across the random things that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Unable to find a home or at least some friends for said item would paralyze me into inaction.
  
But I’ve since found a solution that’s made my projects finish without fail… I get rid of it. 
 
This doesn’t always work, but approaching a large organizational task by assuming that I will be getting rid of anything that is redundant or without a home clarifies the usefulness of the item and my emotions about it. 
 
If I truly cannot part with it, then it needs a home. Usually that home is a highly prominent location that allows for organization based off of frequent use, like a utility drawer.
 
I’ve since transferred this process to wrangling source content. When I’m left with the stragglers that aren’t like anything else, I consider a series of questions: 
 
"What will this information add to the experience?" 
"What would be lost if this information went away?" 
"Who would be affected if they look for this and can’t find it? 
"By including this information, will it get in the way of more important information?" 
 
If any or all of the answers to the above mean I need to keep it and there’s still no obvious home, perhaps I need to reconsider how I’ve organized things. 
 
If I don’t need to keep it, then it’s simple. It just goes away.
  
Useful, usable website content is not about providing every single piece of information that anyone could ever think of, but instead focusing the information that people are most likely to want and use.
  
Getting rid of extra stuff clarifies your message and makes it easier for the majority of people to learn what they came there for. 
 
So when you’re faced with leftover pieces of content start with "what if we got rid of it?" If you can answer that, the rest is much easier. 

  • jerihastava

    Nice analogy. Helping clients “let go” of content that is no longer serving the greater good – so to speak – can be challenging. I'll definitely use your series of questions.

  • Dave

    Huh, it sometimes surprises me how well a good analogy works to make something more clear. Sound advice for any kind of writing!

  • jerihastava

    Nice analogy. Helping clients “let go” of content that is no longer serving the greater good – so to speak – can be challenging. I'll definitely use your series of questions.

  • Dave

    Huh, it sometimes surprises me how well a good analogy works to make something more clear. Sound advice for any kind of writing!

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