What’s the Difference Between Reusing and Repurposing Information?

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In technical writing circles, the terms reuse and repurpose are often thrown about synonymously. However, there are distinctions between simply reusing text and repurposing information. Reuse is simply copying text from one location and using it again—verbatim—in other locations. You’ll often see reuse of text in social media posts: a marketing message will identically appear on a website, in a blog post, in a Twitter feed, and on Facebook. This “consistent messaging” reaches many audiences with exactly the same information. This is a good tactic when you only need to get the word out.

In contrast, repurposing information takes an idea, a kernel, and fleshes out that idea over various locations. The text isn’t the same, but the text stems from the same idea. It’s much like roast beef. Once you have the main dish prepared, you can serve it multiple ways: with potatoes, on sandwiches, etc.

What are the Pros and Cons of Reusing Text?

Reusing text is quick, efficient, and usually cost-effective. Writers can quickly import text into a variety of documents with ease. Reuse also ensures that all readers see exactly the same message, leaving little room for misinterpretation or confusion.

Reuse can also be rather boring. You would not want to include the exact same text in a blog about an event, the event presentation, and the video capture of the event. That kind of redundancy serves little good, and in fact may drive audience members away.

What are the Pros and Cons of Repurposing Text?

Repurposing information allows you to expound on an idea in more than one way. Think of it like explaining some truth: there will be multiple ways to express the same truth, and each of those ways may reach audiences in different ways. Not all people learn the same, so they don’t all want the information in the same form. And, the more critical your truth is, the more likely you’ll need several expressions of it.

So Which Tactic Is Best?

The answer is both and neither. Neither reuse nor repurposing information can be your only tactic. You have to know your overall strategy and goal, and then choose the method that makes the most sense for that rhetorical situation.

Reuse has useful applications, of course. It is the best approach when you would otherwise be writing essentially the same text in multiple locations. For example, reuse is best if you’re producing multiple variants of the same basic product, and you want a separate doc set for each. Reusing common material between them only makes sense.

Alternately, repurposing information is effective when need to

  • Convey it to different audiences
  • Convey it to people with different learning styles
  • Reinforce it through multiple exposures in multiple forms
  • Reach the widest possible audience
  • Increase the chances of it being picked up or going viral
  • Make it available for quotation or repetition in different media
  • Express different aspects of it for different purposes

Essentially, we have to steer clear of a literal translation of COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere). Publish everywhere, but distribute ideas strategically.