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In technical writing the phrase "best practice" is often used to suggest that something is more accurate than other things. However, that's often very subjective, requires specific context, and suggested practices change over time. In the software development field, there have been some strong arguments against ever using the phrase. What's a good replacement?

  • Best practice typically reads as "under ideal circumstances", and basically is an allowance for some subjectivity when being "by the books" is not helpful (I.e. Best Practice is to not cool a Nuclear Reactor with Sea Water... however, when you got no fresh water and your Nuclear Reactor has a fever, you can't be salty about how salty the water is... cause its still better than not cooling it at all.). – hszmv Dec 19 '19 at 18:07
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The most common practice, or a common practice.

It may be instance specific: The "best practice" on one instance might be "the safest practice" or "a basic safety practice".

In some other instance, the "best practice" might be "the quickest practice" or "a good performing practice".

In yet another, "best practice" might be "the most expedient practice."

I'd suggest replacing "best" with something more specific and accurate to the context.

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  • Thanks. Replacing best with something more specific and accurate is a good suggestion. I'm also thinking that rephrasing may be appropriate, like instead of "what's the best practice" using "what's a good way to" or "what process do you use". – Tom Resing Dec 19 '19 at 18:20
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    I like "a common practice". "The most common practice" seems subject to the same issues as Tim B points out in his answer. – Tom Resing Dec 20 '19 at 18:15
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This might seem a little too simple a solution, but I tend to use the phrase 'Good Practice' in lieu of 'Best Practice' when I write technical documentation. Sometimes I even use 'Better Practice'.

Best Practice as a term is subjective primarily because it seeks to be objective; by that I mean that it implies that the writer knows all there is about all the possible combinations and permutations of a given process and knows what 'best' is. The subjectivity comes in however due to the fact that 'best' is a very imprecise term in that it depends on what your objectives are in order for something to be crowned as 'best'.

If you seek to reduce your costs, not providing services to the country where the infrastructure costs more to set up and maintain for a smaller set of the population might be 'best practice'. On the other hand, if you seek to be an inclusive service provider, best practice would be the exact opposite. Most people instinctively know this even if they can't articulate it.

Good practice, on the other hand, doesn't imply a definitive knowledge of the domain and is clearly a subjective term meaning that everyone knows what to expect when you say that. Also, because it is subjective, the use of the term is designed to force the writer to define the context along the way. The same can be said for Better Practice, which is a comparative term;

Good practice would be to ensure that you put the widgets together in advance to save time at point of sale in a custom assembly environment, unless you seek to impress your customers with how customiseable your product is in which case better practice would be to have the components all in easy reach at point of sale, laid out in an order which reflects the usual method of assembly.

A strong part of my thinking in using these terms is understanding that consultants are no longer hired (if they ever were) to solve problems that are already known and understood. People actually want someone who can design a bespoke process that reflects the specific problems that their business faces and as such, terms like 'Best Practice' are frowned upon because it implies that your business and its problems are the same as everyone else and that the business owner could have done a google search and saved themselves a lot of money. Even if that is the case, people don't like hearing that.

So, good practice implies a bespoke solution to your specific needs, and better practice implies incremental improvement in your practices. Of course, this advice only works if you seek to demonstrate and articulate your understanding of the business you're speaking to and it's 'unique' complex problems.

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  • Thanks for your detailed response! I like the context setting of this might be "a good practice [in this case]" and "this would be a better practice [in a different case]" – Tom Resing Dec 20 '19 at 18:29
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The term "best practice" means ideally, although the entire US has a baseless hatred of adverbs.

Depending on context you may replace the phrase with the word 'optimal'.

"For optimal performance speakers should be between 4-8 ohms".

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