Tag Archives: content strategy

Is “soup to nuts” what we need?

For almost as long as I can remember, pitchmen (especially on late-night TV) have been selling all-in-one gadgets that slice, dice, puree, and do pretty much everything.

In our world of technical communication we have something similar: “soup to nuts” authoring systems that combine all the major steps of the content workflow under one banner:

  • Creating content
  • Managing content
  • Reviewing
  • Publishing
breakfast_gadget

This is actually a thing — but are you using it in your kitchen? (Source: Nostalgic Electrics)

Vendors have been offering systems like this for several years. The sales pitch is alluring: unify all of your content under the banner of one integrated toolset. Lots of content, a multi-step workflow, and one brand to rule them all.

Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company, or even a decent-sized organization within a company, use one of these single-vendor systems for its entire content workflow.

I’ve used parts of these systems. For example, I’ve used easyDITA for content management and publishing, but not for content creation and reviewing. I’ve used XMetaL, but only for creating and publishing content.

In fact I’ve never used these systems for reviewing. All of my SMEs have said the same thing: “Give me a Word document or a PDF that I can mark up. Don’t make me learn a new tool.”

Do any of you use a single, soup-to-nuts system to create, manage, review, and publish content? If so, I’d like to hear from you. Is it working well for you? How easy was it to set up, get buy-in from content producers and SMEs, and train everyone? Continue reading

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The watery state of content

lakeCherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt wrote this week about the content lake. Picking up on the concept of a data lake, a repository that holds “a vast amount of raw data in its native format,” Ellis explained that content can exist in much the same fashion: a big bunch of content that can be organized and processed by a smart piece of software.

I’d never heard of a data lake until I read Ellis’s article, and I’d never heard of a content lake until Ellis coined the term.

It reminds me of Alan Porter’s content pool: the total body of content than a given organization possesses, from every part of the organization.

Maybe the difference between a content lake and a content pool is that the pool’s boundaries are a little better defined. And usually there’s a lifeguard to rescue you when you’re in over your head.

With all due respect to my colleagues Ellis and Alan, I find that the best description of today’s content is an ocean.

No matter which watery metaphor you prefer, our containers for holding content are filling up fast. Content comes to us from every direction, in a multitude of forms.

  • In the business world, seemingly every company is publishing how-to documentation, marketing and promotional literature, forum posts, and images. Look at the company’s organizational chart, and it’s hard to find an area that isn’t publishing content.
  • Anyone with a computer or a phone can churn out articles, posts, messages, tweets, and images — from self-published manuscripts to cat photos. From
    thought pieces to birthday greetings.
  • Content has begun flowing from the Internet of Things: an endless array of surveillance cameras, household appliances, and, well, things.

surferEllis writes about storing, querying, and retrieving the content for instantaneous use. Here’s a question for those of us who call ourselves content professionals: Are we ready to do that?

I think we’re taking steps in that direction. But a lot of us, and a lot of the companies we work for, are at risk of getting swamped with all of the content that’s coming.

In any case, as we approach the 2020s, the winning content professionals will be those who can not only stay afloat in the content ocean but who can ride on top of the waves.

Surf’s up!

What do you think? Do you see an ocean of content coming our way? Are we ready?

We’re in DITA – now what?

Every year my talented friends at Scriptorium roll out a list of trends in content strategy and technical communication. This year’s list is thought-provoking as always: it contains some trends that are spot-on and some that I wasn’t expecting.

And one that’s flat-out brilliant: We’re in DITA – now what?

musclecar

Muscle car (1969 Pontiac GTO – source: Wikimedia Commons, Gtoman)

During the webinar in which Scriptorium unveiled its trends for 2016, Gretyl Kinsey described a “second wave” of DITA adoption: a technical writing team has decided to switch to DITA  — either for the right reasons (as part of a carefully planned strategy) or for the wrong reasons (DITA sounded cool and trendy, or they had some extra money in the budget).

Having gone through the process of converting its content. the team is now finding that DITA isn’t a panacea. The 400-horsepower DITA muscle car is parked in the driveway. Now what do we do with it?

This is when some teams throw up their hands, or when buyer’s remorse sets in. The team, especially if they didn’t have sound reasons for switching to DITA in the first place, might want to return to its old tool set. Or, realizing that they’ve sunk a lot of treasure and talent into the DITA implementation, they’re inclined to limp along — driving the car but never getting out of second gear.

Even when the team made the switch for the right reasons, they might feel overwhelmed. All of the reasons for switching, like cost savings through reuse and greater efficiency in translation, didn’t just magically fall into place. A lot of work is still needed. In this situation, again, some teams content themselves with driving the car to the grocery store and back, never taking it out on the freeway.

What’s the right thing to do? Continue reading

Good writing adds value: here’s proof

We’ve all heard it. We all believe it in our hearts. Good writing adds value.

But maybe you still don’t have a ready answer when someone says Prove it!

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonHere’s something for you: Marcia Riefer Johnston’s weekly Tighten This! game. (If you’re not already playing , you should be. In fact, why don’t you go over there right now, and then come back. I’ll wait.)

Each week Marcia supplies a challenge sentence that’s bloated with hot air and/or gobbledygook. The sentences are real, coming from corporate or governmental communications. Many of them are contributed by the game’s participants; Marcia finds the rest herself.

Players are asked to “tighten” the challenge sentence into something less wordy and more lucid. After the judges — Marcia, her husband Ray Johnston, and me — select a winner, Marcia compares the winning entry with the original sentence and calculates a cost savings based on translating the content into 25 languages at 25 cents a word, times 10,000 sentences (about the length of a Harry Potter novel, or a set of hardware setup guides).

In half a year, using Marcia’s formula, the Tighten This! writers have cut bloat to the tune of $29,812,500.

Nearly $30 million in savings, just by turning bad writing into good. That’s value!

Last week’s game brought one of the most dramatic examples of adding value. The winning entry trimmed a sentence from 51 words to 6:

Before:
The line manager or a mentor should be allocated to each new employee to act as a guide and counsellor during the induction process so that new members of staff learn about the company and are given the necessary support and opportunity to put their learning into practice in the workplace.

After:
Assign each new employee a mentor.

That’s fine, you might be saying. But my stuff isn’t translated into 25 languages. In fact, it’s not translated at all.

That’s OK. There are other ways in which good writing adds value.

Sarah O’Keefe’s and Alan Pringle’s Content Strategy 101 contains several sample case studies that demonstrate how good content can support both sides of a business case — cost savings and revenue enhancement — through things like reduced support calls to increased sales. I encourage you to buy the book: you’ll find it to be good value for your money.

So, yes, you can prove that good writing adds value. And adding value is what technical communication is all about.

Cam you share other case studies — especially ones in which you were personally involved — to show that good writing adds value?

The impulse to do it now

I’m doing a content inventory and I notice that some white papers have the client’s old logo on them. My first impulse is to fix them — “I’ll just apply the new template. Won’t take 5 minutes.” — even though I know full well that a content inventory has nothing to do with evaluating or fixing the content.

Person editing

This is a stock photo. But I really did look like this about 20 years ago. OK, 30.

I’m handed a 50-page book to edit. Midway through page 1, my right hand begins twitching as I resist the impulse to grab a red pen and start making corrections — even though I know full well that a good editor reads the document through, learning about the author’s style and the conventions followed, before making corrections.

It probably has a name, this impulse to tackle a big job by whacking away at little bits of it. But I don’t know what it is. I must not be the only person who’s afflicted by it. But only recently have I begun thinking about why I’m afflicted. Continue reading

Your guide to content strategy maturity models

I can tell that the science of content strategy is maturing. Why? Because I’m seeing more and more maturity models.

This week’s inbox contains a link to Suite Solutions’ Knowledge Value Maturity Model, which  describes levels of Lagging, Performing, and World Class for 10 aspects, or “tracks,” of content.

Click any image to see a larger version.

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model by Suite Solutions (source: Center for Information-Development Management)

For me the Suite Solutions model falls short because it doesn’t crisply differentiate between content and corporate knowledge. Content refers to published matter, for both internal and external consumption; knowledge is (or ought to be) much broader, encompassing processes, business intelligence, and so forth.

Also, some of the tracks are way less relevant than others. Display format, for example, defines the World Class maturity level as “wearables and glasses” — where, in fact, the best display format is simply the one that best meets the needs of the audience.

I can’t help comparing the Knowledge Value Maturity Model with the Content Maturity Model published last month by Kathy Wagner of Content Strategy, Inc. I think this one is closer to the mark — for starters, because it focuses on content rather than on the broader knowledge.

Content Maturity Model

Content Maturity Model (source: Content Strategy, Inc.)

Continue reading

Halfway there: Technical communication trends in the 2010s

In a couple of weeks we’ll have reached the midpoint of a decade. Five years ago we turned our calendars to 2010, and five years from now we’ll stand at the threshold of 2020.

crystal ballIt’s fun to look back five years (which is, of course, an eternity in Internet time) and see what people were predicting for the new decade. What changes, and what new opportunities, would the 2010s bring for technical communicators?

One pundit predicted that we’d see credentialing or certification: “As technical communicators vie to prove their value, I expect increased interest in finding ways to differentiate ourselves in the job market….Perhaps there’ll be a PMP-like course for content strategists or information architects.”

Oops. While STC did launch a certification program a couple of years ago, they put it on ice when demand didn’t match expectations. Now nobody is talking about certification, as far as I can tell.

So what knucklehead made that prediction? That would be me.

Fortunately, I did better at spotting some other trends. Continue reading

Tell me why I should buy

Today’s post is about content marketing — specifically, the lowest form of content marketing: political advertising.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, from the original edition of Through the Looking GlassOn three different days in the past two weeks the snail mail box has brought flyers from both candidates who are vying for a seat in our state legislature. Tweedledum’s ads all say that Tweedledee is unfit for election because he’s wrong about everything. Tweedledee’s ads say that Tweedledum is unfit because he once worked as (gasp) a lobbyist.

Here’s the thing: each candidate is so busy tearing down the other that he never says a word about why he himself might be the better choice. Continue reading

Time to Dethrone the King

file4361250458421This week brought a thought-provoking article — The Content Marketing Myths We’ve Left Behind: Do You Still Believe? — in which industry leaders challenge some long-held beliefs about content marketing.

I especially like the contribution from Scott Abel, who many of you know as the Content Wrangler. Here it is, in its entirety:
————————
Dethrone the king and put him to work

Content isn’t “king.” It’s a product. And, it’s about time we started managing it the same way we do physical products we manufacture and sell.
————————
Amen. Content isn’t, and never was, an end in itself. If you thought it was, you were setting yourself up for failure. Content is, as Scott says, a product.

So who, or what, is king? It’s our customer, our reader — the person who consumes our content. We craft our content so that we can inform, persuade, reassure, or entertain our customer. So that our customer, at the end of the transaction, feels like they’ve received something of value.

The king (content) is dead. Long live the king (our customer).

Are you ready for the future of content?

Guess what’s become a hot topic in the content strategy blogs? Good writing.

Brittany Huber laments that there’s so much bad writing out there, and offers some keys for finding the “really good stuff.” For Brittany, the good stuff is clear, scannable, accurate, and inventive.

Meanwhile Kathy Wagner sounds a call for well-written content, saying that good content engages, persuades, and just plain feels good. Kathy points out that “[a]udiences are typically affected in a positive way by one of two things: a truly compelling story, or well-crafted writing.”

quill penAs a writer I’m thrilled. This is right in my sweet spot. Despite what I’ve said about “good enough” being the new measure of quality, I’m delighted to hear content professionals reassure me that craftsmanship still has value.

So if everyone’s in favor of good writing, why aren’t there oceans and oceans of good content out there?

Continue reading