Posts

Latest news in content: Summer 2017

A round-up of the best advice, thinking, tools and news in content. This has all appeared in the fortnightly Scroll newsletter. (Sign up on the right, never miss out again…) Enjoy your summer!

News, thought pieces, advice

Content and emotions
Rule #1 for emotion-driven content: never assume you know how your user is feeling. Rather, focus on what you can do for them.

Mailchimp wins again
This is still the best tone guide around. That’s partly because they have focused on content types, so people know where they can vary tone as well as how to vary tone. That means this is more actionable than most. Annoyingly good.

Required reading for accessibility
Excellent, detailed advice and tools to help you meet AA compliance for accessibility. Good on the balance between font size, colour and contrast.

Government is service design
A classic by @mattedgar. Expresses why anyone who works in government, not just in digital, needs to develop design thinking capability. Required reading.

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

How to get hired – advice for contractors
Top advice on getting hired, from an expert. Hetty Meyric Hughes is the Scroll partner in charge of matching contractors with jobs.

Voice and tone tables
Nice, simple way to explain tone and voice. Conveys a lot of information in an easy format.

How to SEO your video content
Excellent best practice advice, updated for 2017.

Tools

Distraction-free writing app
Of the many distraction-free writing apps around, we like Focus Writer the best. Good for working when it’s sunny outside.

And finally…

The Cat in the Hat style guide
The Bank of England uses Dr Seuss to train staff in the art of clear writing.

 

Trust toolkit – how to build trust with subject matter experts

One of the most important skills for a content designer is the ability to manage relationships with subject matter experts (SMEs) and other stakeholders.

That’s because content designers are at the sharp end of digital transformation. It might be the CEO who sets the grand digital strategy but it’s up to us to implement it – to go and in change the way that people in an organisation communicate online.

We must be able to advocate for content, create consensus and build trust and credibility with stakeholders. If we build good relationships, we get better content, we publish faster and we do a better job for the user.

This ‘trust toolkit’ is a set of practical ways you can build trust with stakeholders. It’s drawn from Scroll’s experience and the experience of the wider community of content designers.

1. We’re not at war

You know the feeling when the product manager ignores all the evidence and keeps the content the same? Or the head of legal insists that your plain English draft can’t be published?

It’s an ugly truth but it’s easy for content designers to get stuck in an us-and-them attitude – where we’re so sick of having our work ignored or belittled that we can get a bit too defensive. And it’s not helpful.

Sure, you can go in all guns blazing and tell people that you’ve trashed all their rubbish changes to your content, but that kind of slash-and-burn attitude means next time you work with them it will be a nightmare. So, remember we’re all on the same side.

2. Explain the process

Don’t assume that people in an organisation know how publishing works. Explain your role (will develop and publish content) and their role (will check facts.) Make sure expectations are crystal clear. Then it won’t come as such a shock when you do your job.

“Explain what fact check is. Explain the first draft of the document they see will have factual errors in it, will look stylistically different to what they’re used to, and their role in the process will be to correct the facts. Empower them with this.” Ronan Fitzgerald, Defra

 

3. Explain digital, share the benefits

Digital content is your world, and you need to be able to confidently explain it. Demystify, myth-bust, share the benefits and your approach will look less scary.

“I’ve often found that fear of the unknown is a factor. So, I explain a little bit about why GOV.UK exists, how it works (including things like sub-topic pages, latest feeds, alerts, collection pages etc.). This helps them to see the positives of working with you to make their content more accessible to their users.” James Low, HMRC

 

3. Don’t be afraid of ignorance

When you first start working on something, you won’t understand the subject matter. That narrow window of ignorance is a gift – grab it with both hands! This is your one chance to see through the eyes of your users, who also won’t know they’re reading about. So – take the chance to learn from the experts. Question everything. Listen to the answers.

“I don’t understand this” is a powerful thing to say. Because if you can’t understand it, neither will users. (And maybe neither do the SMEs.)

4. Prove it works for users

If you can prove what you’re doing is what works best for users, it’s easier get people onside. (A shout-out to DVLA’s great use of guerrilla user research here.)

“Evidence is helpful. People like graphs and numbers, it takes the subjectivity out of the equation.” Alan Maddrell, Government Digital Services

5. Prove you know what you’re talking about

As well as showing evidence of how the content is used, you need to be able to show evidence for your decisions. Why do you use plain English? What is cognitive load? Why use the words your users use? Why use that piece of information here and not there? Why? ‘Because the style guide says so’ is not an answer. So, do your research. Be able to explain why. It’s much easier to trust someone who clearly knows why they are doing what they do.

6. Be credible

Acknowledge what you can and can’t do. Be straight with people. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

“Be honest about what you can and can’t do, ie you won’t be able to let subject matter experts make style changes, but you will let them make factual changes.” Ronan Fitzgerald, Defra

 

7. Workshop your content

This can work brilliantly. Use for complex pieces of content – for example, if several different organisations or departments are working on it. It’s also a good way to boost a relationship, or solve issues if you’re in deadlock.

Start by sending out a draft. Then book your workshop – in person is best, but phone is better than nothing. Try and get all the SMEs you can into the room, including legal teams. Ideally you need 2 content designers – one to make changes and one to do the talking. Gather all the proposed amends into one document, and then work through them and agree the changes you will make. Top tip: If anyone suggests a change that is purely editorial (or anything else that is your job, not their job, to do) say, “That’s a style change – we’ll consider it” and move on.

Cons: it takes a lot of time and you’ll need to say no if SMEs start wanting to workshop everything you publish.

8. Do pair writing

This works well for building trust and developing content that you and the SME both understand and support. But – use with care. If you’re working with someone who has not been exposed to user-focused design, or is a bit antagonistic, go carefully. Pick something small and easy to work on. Prepare to explain everything you’re doing and trying to achieve as you go along. Read how to do pair writing.

9. If there’s still a problem, find out why

Understand their reasons for resisting or changing what you’re doing. Ask more questions. Get them to describe their thought processes. Understand their requirements – what they want the content to do.

“Understand what the team’s measures of success are… it can help you understand why they might be pushing a particular message or agenda.” Roz Strachan, Government Digital Services.

You have to get to the bottom of what they think and why their perspective is different to yours.

“It’s all a matter of where you’re standing…” Helen Challinor, Department for Education

 

10. Make one small change

If things are getting difficult, start with the quick wins. There is always something that is so self-evidently in need of fixing that everyone agrees you can do it. Make a few quick wins. Then come back again the next day…

 

Want more?

How to collaborate with subject matter experts – some good ideas for starting with bullets and getting SMEs to chunk; also mind-mapping.

Resolving differences of opinion about content – some useful questions to help you work out what someone else’s perspective is based on.

Working with SMEs to improve content – a great success story from the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Must-read only: what’s new in content

Too much internet to wade through before you find the worthwhile stuff? Never fear – we read it for you, cut the dross and keep the best. Then we put it all together in this round-up of the latest thinking, advice, tools and events in content strategy and content design. (Hint: you can get this straight to your inbox if you sign up for the Digital Content Academy newsletter. Never miss out again…)

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

How hashtags work
Hashtags have different effects on different social media. This explains how they work and how to get the best out of them.

Run a user journey mapping workshop
Brilliant post on how (and why) to run a user journey mapping workshop. Sample takeaway: you really don’t need a fancy template to create a user journey map. Digital agencies make these to justify their fees…

Make your content live longer
Publishing brilliant content is one thing. Sustaining its life is another. Here’s some good advice.

Tools, tools, glorious tools

Clever tools for UI writers
Some useful ways to mock up designs to help you test your UI copy, or explain it to developers or designers.

Trello for Slack
We’re one step closer to achieving mind-meld.

News, thinking, advice

It doesn’t matter what you call it
Struggling to explain what content strategists do? Put the work before the words. Client panics at the sound of a ‘content audit’? Call it a ‘content check’.

Cognitive pyschology and content design
Content designers need to be able to explain their decisions – it’s not enough to say ‘because it’s in the style guide’. What we do is based on sound evidence, and you can learn about some of that here.

A content designer is not just a web editor
Here’s how our friend Beck moved from writing words for websites to designing content based on user needs. (Take our content design bootcamp to get these skills.)

Forgotten your password?
So have 82% of other people. Here’s the latest thinking on design patterns for log in pages.

And finally…

“We’re going digital!”
Sigh.

Get the best bits! The latest thinking in content design and content strategy

Here’s what you might have missed while you had your ‘Out of Office’ on (metaphorically or not) for a sunny, summery August.

This blog is a round-up of the best of the Digital Content Academy newsletter in August. The newsletter is itself a round-up of the best advice, thinking, news and events in content strategy and content design. Sign up, don’t miss out…

News, thought pieces, advice

Agile is for everyone
New to/terrified of agile? Think a sprint is something to do with Usain Bolt? Here is some excellent advice on how to find your feet as a content person on an agile project.

Pandas, penguins and hummingbirds
Penguin 4.0 is launching ‘soon’, says Google. If that means nothing to you, maybe read this cheatsheet.

Content strategy at non-profits
Content strategy work at non-profits has some specific issues – budgets are tiny, resources are tight, and there is generally a huge content / tech debt to sort out. Here’s how Josh Tong did it.

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

Are you sure?
How to write a confirmation dialogue. Brilliant.

Writing a style guide? How to explain tone
It’s insanely hard to pin down tone in a style guide – to explain it in a way that makes sense to senior management and is actionable by content creators. This Nielsen article gives a good example of a tone scale (and quantifies customer reaction to changes in tone.)

Do better UX for video
We watch 4 billion YouTube videos every day. Mark Zuckerberg says that soon the majority of content we consume will be video. So let’s start learning what good video content looks like for users.

Tools

Canva
Best. Graphic design tool for dummies. Ever.

And finally…

No more postcodes
Mongolia is changing all its addresses to 3-word phrases. (I know, I also thought it was a hoax, but it’s definitely a thing – look at what3words.) Developed because 75% of the world’s population have no mailing address.

 

Image copyright: Chris Blakely, Flickr CC