Technical communications and content strategy have a lot to say to each other. Bloggers have frequently related the two disciplines. Tech comm conferences run streams on content strategy, for example, tekom11 dedicated a whole day to the topic.
Content strategy for software development
Leave it to Scriptorium and their excellent webinars to shed some light on the situation. Recently, they invited Ray Gallon to present his “Content Strategy for Software Development“. (To learn more about Ray, read his recent interview over at the Firehead blog. Or you can check out the very similar presentation which Ray held at tekom.)
Ray’s presentation was very enlightening to me, because he applied content strategy to software development. I create documentation for software applications, so I can relate to creating content for them. In the following, I’ll mainly focus on the first half, but I recommend watching the entire webinar.
Software development as information-rich environment
For the sake of his argument, Ray set the stage by looking at (complex) software developments not as products or tools, but as information-rich interactive environments. Software could thus be an expert system that supports users to make an appropriate decision, e.g., a medical diagnosis.
The first question to content strategists is then: What does the user need from the software? There are several answers; the user may need to
- Know something (relating to concept topics)
- Do something (relating to task topics)
- Explore or understand something
- Integrate or combine the software with his other tasks and processes
Plan to help your users
Ray then presented several document types which help content strategists to plan how they can best support users in their tasks and decisions. Among them was the Content Requirements Worksheet:
This document was a real-eye opener for me. It represents a holistic view of all user-facing content in a software application:
- Informational, editorial content
- Structural software content, such as user interface messages
- User guidance, such as tool tips, help screens
- User decision support to help users do the right things for the right reasons
- Dynamic content, such as search results
- Live interactive content as preesented in forums and social networks
Content workers, unite!
The Content Requirements Worksheet can be very beneficial to future users of a software. But it presents a challenge to content strategists to get a wide variety of requirements right. That is the opportunity for technical communicators and user experience designers and information architects to pool their skills and join forces.
As Ray said in his comment to my previous post:
Many tech comms do a bit of, or a lot of, content strategy in their work, and if an organization has a content strategy then everyone, tech comms included, needs to understand it and be on board.
So let’s transcend the silos of our systems, their manifold features and the artefacts we’re used to creating. Let’s start with good, thoughtful design from which our users benefit.
Is this a good way to relate content strategy to technical communications? Or do you know better ways? Feel free to leave a comment.