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My second-chance points strategy with documentation

by Tom Johnson on Jun 25, 2017
categories: technical-writing

In addition to being a technical writer, I also play basketball. I might spend more time playing basketball, in fact, than I do writing on this blog. I never played college ball, but I love playing pickup basketball several times a week at various courts. Now that NBA season recently finished, I figure it may be relevant to expound a bit on a pet theory of mine about how to win at pickup basketball games, and how that same strategy might apply to winning at documentation.

In my experience, what wins basketball games more than anything else is rebounds. Why? When you dominate the boards with rebounds, you end up getting second-chance points. When you snatch a rebound, particularly an offensive rebound, you get another shot attempt.

Typically teams shoot with around 33% accuracy (meaning they make 1 of 3 shot attempts — this is my rough estimate). If you get twice as many offensive rebounds, you get twice as many shot attempts. The end result of getting one extra rebound per possession is that you’re essentially shooting 66% instead of 33%.

If you look at the NBA Stat Summary on games, you’ll see that the team that gets more rebounds usually wins. I monitored this casually at least 50 times during the recent NBA season, and most of the time (roughly 70-80% of the time), the team that had more rebounds won.

Note that I haven’t meticulously crunched the numbers in a statistical way, as that would take far more time than I want to devote to the topic. And admittedly, there are scenarios where this strategy breaks down. When you have high accuracy shooters — such as Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Paul George, etc. — rebounds become less important. But I’m talking about pickup basketball, not NBA superstar teams.

In pickup basketball, rebounds are even more influential because so few pickup ballers even bother to rebound. Most players take a shot and then retreat back down court. As a result, if you focus in a determined way to get rebounds, it makes a huge difference in your team’s ability to win.

In technical writing, how do you increase your second and third-chance points? Very easily — the doc may not be awesome on the first try (you could be missing steps, or maybe you used the wrong names or had outdated info, or maybe you missed the end user’s goal entirely). But you take the feedback you get from a review and you iterate with a new version. That new version is like getting a rebound and making a second-shot attempt. When you submit the doc through yet another review, it’s like getting third-chance points.

My favorite possessions in basketball games are when my team misses the shot 5 or more times, but we keep getting the rebound and making another shot attempt. Eventually the shot goes in. (This also demoralizes the other team, and they start backbiting with their teammates about not boxing out.)

Each time we do a doc review with someone, even if the person isn’t a real user but is a team member or other employee, the feedback we get can make our docs stronger and stronger. Eventually we get to the point that on that fourth or fifth iteration, our documentation is right on target — a swoosh. The more we do reviews and incorporate feedback across each topic in our documentation, the more points we figuratively accrue to the extent that our doc succeeds with users.

Here’s a graphic that shows my point:

Note that I don’t mean we should publish multiple versions of the same content, only that our doc should iterate through multiple versions before it gets good enough that it connects with the exact needs of the user.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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