Abby and the Broken Fence

– Robert Raymond

In the US, many new houses are built with fences separating “your” space from “my” space. These fences are typically made from shabby material, to keep the prices down, and routinely fall down in about 10 years. A few weeks back, a rather strong storm ripped its way through my town and took a portion of my fence with it. The 16-foot gap opened onto a large open space–rare for where I live, but that open space is one reason I bought this particular house.

But I have a 16-foot gap in my fence, which diminishes the structural integrity of the entire remaining 44 feet. As much as I enjoy the view, and as I write this I am sitting in my home office, enjoying it, not fixing the fence is not an option.

So I am left with two options: fix the portion that fell down, or fix the entire fence. And here is where the juggling act begins. I can fix the portion that fell–I can patch the fence–for $500. Or I can fix the entire fence for $1250. Simple math tells me that I’m getting the entire fence for about $21 a foot. I’m getting the patch for about $31 a foot. If I patch, I “save” almost $750. But I know that the remainder of the fence will eventually fall down. But when will it fall–next winter? The winter after? Maybe, if I’m lucky, it won’t fall at all while I still own the house. But the fence is 12 years old, and shabby, and constant patching will eventually cost more than replacing the whole thing right now. And if I “constantly patch,” some portions of the fence will be old, some not so old, some new…

Oh me oh my, what to do…

This is a decision doc managers need to make all the time: balance savings today against expenses tomorrow; balance constantly patching a doc with tearing the whole thing down and starting anew. My solution to fixing my fence was the exact same I would have taken to patching a doc.

There comes a time in the life of a doc when the manager needs to take the position that the doc in its current form—with patch upon patch and even patches being patched–is no longer serving the needs of the reader and is serving only the needs of the company producing it. I have docs in my possession that thankfully no longer refer to the name of the company that we were before being acquired, but they still retain multiple forms of the name of the products that were acquired. And multiple forms of the names of the other docs in the suite. And this shabbiness is all because we are tasked with adding content.

Let me return to my fence. Did I mention that my sink has a leak? Or that my car has a “slight” oil leak? I could opt to patch all three, but I dare say that a patched leak in my sink will eventually rot the wood that supports it, resulting in an even bigger repair bill. And the “slight” oil leak will become a big one requiring a new motor. But for today, I will save money. And I will forget about the problem because so many other little issues require patches.

I fixed the entire fence. I’ll miss seeing Abby in her full glory, and I’m sure she’ll miss coming by and getting an easy rub on her nose. But I have unburdened myself patching the fence’s patches. At least for the next 10 years.

BTW, this is Abby, and then, there’s the broken fence….


About the author:

Robert Raymond works as the Sr. Editor with the Oracle Communications group at Oracle Corporation.

About the illustration:

The illustration is used by permission from Aditi Barve.
The photograph of the horse and fence are used by permission from Robert Raymond.


  1. Excellent write-up.

    Nice way of saying that it is better to consider fixing the whole document than slices of text here and there.

    Thank you,

  2. Robert, I love the analogy you have drawn between fence and doc. And I equally love the way you end your article. 🙂

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