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Learning Styles: The Cognitive Side of Content

Nice post by Tyler Tate on how to approach content from the perspective of “learning styles”.

We learn through our verbal, visual, and kinesthetic senses, and our memories are encoded in these different formats. Each of us likely favors one style of learning over the others, but pithy, concrete text coupled with informative images is a potent content cocktail for people of all learning styles.

Testing Content

A good article on how to test the content of a website. Angela Colter lists few methods to test the decoding and comprehension of content. Seems like her preferred method is moderated usability testing.

To find out whether people understand your content, have them read it and apply their new knowledge. In other words, do a usability test! Here’s how to create task scenarios where participants interpret and use what they read:

  • Identify the issues that are critical to users and the business.
  • Create tasks that test user knowledge of these issues.
  • Tell participants that they’re not being tested; the content is.

 

Making common content work on the intranet

Simon Goh has written a thought-provoking piece on managing common content on the intranet.

The intranet comprises broadly of corporate and business common content. Corporate content are stuff such as backoffice processes, policies, templates, news, corporate events and employee benefits. Business content are stuff such as standard contract clauses, services & solutions offerings, project references, document deliverable templates, delivery samples and methodologies.

Regardless of the category, 5 things need to happen for an intranet to be a trusted place for staff to get common content. Common content needs to be:

  • available as soon as they are
  • at the right place
  • well-written
  • accurate, current and comprehensive
  • rid of Redundant, Obsolete and Trivial (ROT) content

Content strategy is a plan

From Kristiana Halvorson:

“The most important thing to understand is this: Content strategy isn’t a bunch of tactics. It’s a plan.”
“It’s a well-founded plan, fueled by your business objectives and user goals. An achievable plan, created with your current business reality, content assets, and limited resources in mind. A future plan, for what’s going to happen to your content once you send it off into the world. And, most importantly, a profitable plan, where your measures of success ultimately have impact on your organization’s bottom line.”

Web project team roles

Kristina Halvorson has put up an interesting diagram that shows how the different roles in a we project team relate to one another.

7 principles for decentralized publishing

Jane McConnell writes about 7 principles for decentralised publishing on the intranet.

“If you are a large, global organization, you will have many different types of content with varying degrees of ownership depending on the source: business unit, country, function, etc. Ask the different business units and functions to define their own guidelines for what type of content require approval by what level or role.”

Large documents: PDF it?

Ginny Redish explores when to PDF large documents, and more importantly when not to.

“However, realize that, with most PDF files, you are providing a paper document on the web rather than web-based information. If the document looks like a paper document or if it is large, people are likely to print it rather than read it on the screen. You have distributed the document; you have saved the printing and shipping cost; you have shifted the cost and effort of printing to your audiences – but have you really met their needs?”

3 types of page headings

This is a good article on how to write the 3 types of page headings:

  1. Question heading: A heading in the form of a question
  2. Statement heading: A heading that uses a noun and a verb
  3. Topic heading: A heading that is a word or short phrase

Here is another article on headings by Ginny Redish where she provides many more examples.

Content strategy articles galore

Content strategy is really picking up steam. InfoDesign links to 2 articles on this emerging discipline.

I just finished reading Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, which I think should be a must-read for designers. She makes a very good case for content strategy but does not build enough of a case to sell the discipline to the likes of busy managers and the IT department. The case for content lifecycle management will be a tough idea to get across to these folks. This nevertheless must be done. We designers should just be persistent about it.

DITA 101

The Rockley Group has published DITA 101, a guide for authors and managers to understand and use DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). I’m reading it now and so far its been simple and easy to understand.

“DITA 101 is designed for authors and managers. We’ve taken our years’ of experience helping organizations to move to DITA and training our clients in creating DITA content and distilled it into an easy to read and understand format. Combined with our expertise in developing effective reuse strategies and adopting content management, this book covers everything you need to know to understand DITA from an authors or managers viewpoint.”

Content Strategy for the Web: Why You Must Do a Content Audit

This is a sample chapter from Kristina Halvorson's upcoming book, Content Strategy. In this chapter Kristina discusses the value of doing an content audit.
"Do not—repeat, DO NOT—skip the content audit. This process is not just about listing URLs and page titles. It can provide an extraordinary amount of useful, enlightening information that’s surprisingly valuable, especially when you’re fighting for project support and funding."

Developing a Departmental Style Guide

Jean Hollis Weber wrote this article in 2007 but it's still relevant today given the recent focus on content strategy.

"This article provides information that will help you in planning and developing a style guide. You’ll find information about the purposes of a style guide and guidelines for what should (and should not) be included, whether to develop one or more style guides, and how detailed the style guide should be. At the end of the article, you’ll find a sample style guide outline (in PDF format) that illustrates many of the details discussed in this article."

Better Practice Checklists & Guides

I stumbled upon this site by the Australian Government's Department of Finance & Deregulation. They have a comprehensive collection of guides and checklists for managing their online properties. The collection covers IA to content strategy to intranets to KM. Cool!

Content Templates to the Rescue

A very nicely written article on using content templates to elicit content from one or many subject matter experts. These templates are used depend on the publishing model used for site development.

"One tool I’ve found extremely helpful whenever more than a handful of people will touch the content on a new site is the content template. A content template is a simple document that serves two purposes: it’s a paragraph-level companion to your website’s wireframes (or other IA blueprints), and it’s a simple, effective means of getting useful information from your experts to your writers. (It is not the same thing as an HTML template you feed to your content management system.)"

Content strategy- content is king

The field of Content Strategy (CS) is galloping forward. Here is a presentation by Karen McGrane where she provides a good framework (slide 80,81) to focus on content strategy.

Why content strategy matters (and size doesn’t)

Craig Bromberg writes about the recent blog entries on Content Strategy (CS) and tries to make sense of one angle: big and little CS.

As far as I can see, this is the real differentiator between CS and most other content work: Unlike traditional editorial work, content strategy isn’t steeped in grand narratives so much as in bits, in data. “CS big” isn’t custom publishing (although there are definitely narrative and brand strategies one wants to be aware of). And “CS little” isn’t just those deliverables: content without context, from the container to the brand, is all essential if you want to sell in the Googlesphere.

Toward Content Quality

Continuing on the content strategy thread, here is a bunch of checklists that can be used to evaluate the quality of content on the website or intranet.

"In my experience, a common misperception of the evaluation of content quality is that its scope is limited to the correction of typos and grammatical errors. Correcting spelling and grammar only scratches the surface. To truly consider content quality, we need to examine its quality along several dimensions."

Content strategy articles

Business week has put up a useful list of content strategy links. Good starting points to the growing awareness of content strategy. In addition here is a link to content strategy presentations made during the last IA Summit.

Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy

Jakob Nielsen on when to use short articles and when to use long articles. As expected the answer "depends" on your users "dietary" preferences.

Better Writing Through Design

When building websites, information architecture is not the only structure there is. There is also the visual structure and then the most important of them all: the structure of the copy or the written text. A good IA may support a bad visual structure but it surely can't support a bad copy.

Good copywriting takes time. It is a design process. And like all design processes it requires one to do the research and build a strategy. This is why a copywriter should be involved right from the start, and not as an last-minute add-on when everything is complete. I still believe the it is much better to teach subject matter experts good copywriting skills than hire an external copywriter for short durations to fix broken content.

This article got me thinking on the role of the IA in supporting the visual language:

Ideally, you should work with a writer from day one to design the voice of the copy in conjunction with the visual language of the site. And getting a writer involved early can help you solve lots of other problems—from content strategy issues to information architecture snags. Remember that writers are creatives too, and they are, in many cases, the keepers of the content your design ultimately serves.

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