Using Content Strategy to Improve Your Technical Writing

At first glance, the term “content strategy” might seem a bit ambiguous. Content strategy is a broad term, one that could be filled with numerous meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. In the webinar What Every Technical Communicator Should Know About Content Strategy, speaker Guiseppe Getto described this concept as twofold, where content describes the information that people actually see, and strategy describes the means for achieving a goal.

From a technical communication perspective, content strategy might then be interpreted as designing, developing, and communicating information with a specific purpose and intended outcome. If you’re a technical writer or communicator, you might wonder, “Isn’t this what I already do?” and you’re right! However, in his presentation, Getto broke down the common skill sets used in tech comm and compared them with those that are used in content strategy. Although there is much overlap, according to Getto, there are some fundamental distinctions that differentiate the fields.

As a technical writer, you might perform some of the following tasks:

  • Write
  • Edit
  • Verify content for usability and user experience
  • Collaborate with cross-functioning teams
  • Utilize various authoring tools

Whereas a content strategist might perform the tasks listed above, as well as the following:

  • Develop strategies for developing and deploying content
  • Promote and increase audience awareness
  • Develop methods for managing content

So, how can we use content strategy methods to improve our content?

As technical writers and communicators, there are many things that we can undertake right away to better strategize our content, such as:

  • Employ strategies for developing content
  • Employ strategies for deploying content
  • Perform frequent content audits
  • Increase audience awareness
  • Improve content management

Let’s explore some of these options.

Creating strategies to improve content development and deployment

To better develop our content and improve its deployment, Getto suggests using content models to guide our content creation. Content models are frameworks for “formalizing the structure of your content in guidelines, templates, and structured frameworks” (Rockley & Cooper, p. 133).

Getto suggests a four-step process to successfully create and use content models to improve our deliverables:

  1. Create content rules
  2. Deploy content rules
  3. Measure the effects of the rules on our audiences
  4. Continue refining the rules and repeat

In other words, create a solid structure for your content by using tools such as style guides and pre-designed templates, and use these guides to author your content. Then, continuously verify the effects of the content on your audiences to further refine your style guides and templates.

Performing audits to analyze and evaluate our content

Another way you can learn to strategize your content is by performing frequent content audits. During a content audit, you might analyze the quality of your content according to a predefined set of components (similar to a rubric). The rules you use to assess your content may vary depending on your business’s needs and technical writing principles. Getto provided a set of components he typically uses to breakdown content for a website, but most, if not all, can also be used to survey the state of other technical writing deliverables.

Getto’s components for website content include:

  • Visual design
  • Typography
  • General content
  • Interaction design

Getto stressed the importance of frequently performing content audits. Doing them once every five years is simply not enough. If your time allows, you should be performing a holistic content audit at least once per year (at a minimum). In doing so, the overall quality of your content will improve exponentially, as well as the satisfaction of your audiences.

Why is content strategy important?

As technical writers and communicators, we can strive to perfect our grammar, writing style and voice, and adherence to a specific style guide, but unless we take a step back and look at our content from a greater distance we will be unable to view all of the documents and deliverables as a whole. We require this birds-eye-view to fully assess whether we are providing a useful and valuable learning experience for our audiences. Whether you’re an instructional designer, policy and procedure writer, software writer, or trainer, we must continuously reassess whether what we are producing is beneficial and helpful, and content strategy allows us to do this.

Many thanks to Guiseppe Getto for presenting to the STC-SM chapter!

Reference

Rockley, A., &  Cooper, C. (2012). Managing enterprise content: a unified content strategy. (2 ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.