Book Review: Nicely Said

Jake Keyes   October 2, 2014

Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose, a new manual of style, not only provides a process for creating good web writing, but makes a philosophical case for why writers need to set a higher standard for digital content. The book’s authors are Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. Fenton, an independent writer, has had a range of work experience in digital, from small design studios to such major operations as Facebook and Apple. Kiefer Lee is a writer at MailChimp, where she created the famous MailChimp style guide

Nicely Said is a friendly read, with a conversational style. It’s full of case studies from prominent digital writers, like Margot Bloomstein and Etsy’s Randy J. Hunt, and it features plenty of tactics ready for daily use, like “mission statement madlibs” and sample deliverables. At first glance, the book presents itself as a manual for relative beginners. The authors’ goal is “to unravel the mysteries of the writing process and help [writers] create useful and meaningful web content.” For many of us the ‘mystery’ of web content has probably long faded, and the rigorous preparation methods laid out in the next chapters may seem like a rare luxury. (Reader interviews, mission statement documents, and content success metrics, for example, seem like solid ideas, but oftentimes in practice these fall away given an aggressive project schedule. In other words, we end up just writing the damn thing.)

But in its later sections, as the book builds it case, the chapters turn to the serious business of creating written experiences.

UX for the Written Word

One of the central concepts of Nicely Said is to include empathy in your writing process — to inhabit the mind of your audience. There is a strong parallel here between writing and UX design. “Think about the situation your readers are in,” they write. “What did they come here for?” This is exactly the kind of get-in-your-users’-heads empathy that makes for good UX, and probably a good starting point for cross over between writing and design disciplines. For whatever reason, sometimes it seems ok to be dense, jargon-y, or ungenerous in writing. When it comes to creating content that embodies a brand, it’s especially important to have the kind of empathy that Nicely Said is insisting upon.

I especially like the authors’ approach to user flows. This is a process I’ve done many times informally, and I think would be beneficial for many projects. “Take an inventory of the flows on your site. Write down the most important actions people can take. Choose one flow to start with….Go through the flow, step by step, and make notes about the language you see…” In other words, put together a UX-style user flow, with an eye for the words along the way.

Showing your Work(flow)

A second, indirect use of the book is equally important: it’s helpful not just for doing written work, but for explaining it to clients and team members. This will be especially useful to people trying to establish editorial teams, pitch new business, or deal with a skeptical account manager.

The book goes into useful detail about the many writing and editorial roles that are necessary for a healthy content operation, gives an easy to understand vocabulary for the writing process, and generally demystifies what goes on in a writers’ head. It can be difficult to explain why good writing takes time, and in Nicely Said we’re given a capable set of tools for explaining and quantifying the people and steps involved.

What Makes Writing Good

Nicely Said is basically a style manual, but it’s also a kind of a manifesto. It addresses some of the most important threats facing modern writing – the simultaneous pressures of corporate-speak on the one side, and link bait on the other – which push the written word to a point where it loses its authenticity.

So what can writers do to fight back? We talk all the time about the best experience for our “users”, and really we should treat readers with the same amount of care. Good writing is honest and approachable. To hold yourself to these standards, the authors recommend a few simple questions. “is it useful / is it true / is it nice?”

This book isn’t just about how to write for websites. It’s a manual that will move UX practitioners toward good writing practices, and writers toward user-focused design thinking.

Book Review: Content Everywhere

Lisa Park   December 12, 2012

When I first opened Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content, my heart sank with the realization that I’d blindly signed up to review a veritable tome, against a tight deadline. The book weighs in at more than 220 pages, which trends a bit higher than other recently published content strategy books. I’d seen Sara talk about her upcoming book at a local content strategy meet-up earlier in the year and enjoyed her straight-shooting humor and insights; I’d assumed her book would exhibit the same lean, witty style.

It does. Kudos to Sara’s first effort, which in fact was a fast read full of visuals, stories, interviews, case studies and tips that helps get folks thinking about how to chunk up content in a meaningful way so that it can flex and flow across multiple platforms, channels and experiences in order for users to access it wherever and whenever they need it. Written not just for us content strategists but also for anyone involved in user experience design, online writers and editors, content managers, SEO specialists and everyone in between, Content Everywhere is intended to make our jobs easier, by showing us how to organize and prepare content just once as well as build systems that will enable the reuse of said content in multiple places for multiple purposes.

Let Go, Let It Flow

Organized into four sections, Part I starts by unpacking the problems with fixed, inflexible content. Content fixed to its webpages—that is, not chunked up and tagged appropriately based on its meaning and purpose as well as the relationship it has with other content items—makes for a lot of manual updating and poses a problem for how content gets displayed on devices other than the original format that content was intended for (typically desktop).

Sara shares a couple of case studies to illuminate the problems and then in contrast points to the success of the NPR content model, which has seen its overall page views increase by 80 percent in 2010. NPR’s approach called COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) involves creating a single set of content for each story that is then entered into its CMS with structured attributes and accessed by NPR’s API by member stations and NPR’s suite of products. Though by no means perfect, NPR’s COPE approach has reaped multiple benefits including “better content in more places, less duplication of editorial efforts, higher consistency, more control over quality, and easier story updates.”

The Content Modeling Nitty Gritty

Part II gets into the nitty gritty of content modeling, and how identifying content’s meaning, purpose, goals and priorities are paramount in developing a content ecosystem actually worth developing. Here’s where performing a content audit is key—to evaluate the types of content you have and decide what to keep vs. cut based on your users’ needs and company’s objectives. These content types then get broken down into elements—distinct units of information such as a byline, summary or pull quote.

In addition to developing these labels for your content chunks or elements, Sara stresses the importance of developing metatags and taxonomies that define and describe your content, so that when your users—or folks accessing your CMS for that matter—search and sort, they’ll get returned relevant content. Even as you restructure your content to become more flexible, you’ll likely rehaul CMS author workflows to ensure content is tagged and uploaded in the right way.

The rest of the section covers off on what responsive design is, using Starbucks as an example; explains the basics of markup and why it matters (read: it allows content to keep its shape and form, along with its metadata, when it flows from your CMS to wherever it needs to go); and the rise of APIs, which Sara says speaks to a future filled with “even more connected devices: Internet-enabled televisions, cars, refrigerators and thermostats.”

Change Is Good

In an increasingly interconnected world, where multiple devices are talking to each other, organizing and developing content so that it’s more findable, adaptable, reusable and transportable will certainly make life easier for content authors not to mention give users what they want, when they want it. In Part III, Sara works her way through a number of examples—from the BBC’s Wildlife Finder and Zappos to Amazon’s API and to demonstrate how well-structured and stored content frees that content, allowing it to get accessed in a multitude of useful—and in some cases revenue-building—ways.

Of course, all of the work you’ve done to free your content will be for naught if your company doesn’t change with it. In the fourth and final section, Sara describes the three ingredients—a clear vision, customer focus and collaboration—that will help drive change in your organization. Writes Sara, “The Internet is going to change. The business world is going to change. And it’s all going to happen very quickly, without a lot of time for big bumbling slowpoke organizations to catch up.”

Acting as an agent of change, encouraging your organization to adopt practices that put the audience at the center and make content sustainable, is a must, says Sara. Though I agree with her, I would add that there’s probably a lot more involved in this process—from getting leadership buy-in to training and educating the people in your company. After all, change management is a business unto itself.

Be that as it may, it’s time to get cracking—adapt, embrace new ideas and rally your peers around a fluid strategy and flexible structure that will allow your content to retain its message and meaning even as it travels out of your control and to the true owners of your content: your users. And whether you’re just starting out or well on your way, Content Everywhere will serve as a great thought-starter and reference.

Book Review: Content Strategy for Mobile

Ian Waugh   November 19, 2012

The Breakdown: We hope you enjoy this review of Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile by one of our London colleagues, Ian Waugh.

Full disclosure – I love Karen McGrane.

If you’ve ever seen her speak you’ll know she is an honest and compelling advocate for all the good things in content strategy. (If you haven’t seen her speak, watch this).

With A Book Apart I think Karen has found the perfect publisher for her first book. The series has built up a strong following – one which should allow Karen’s message to reach beyond the content strategy world and have an impact on anyone who works in digital.

This little volume is small but deceptively powerful. You’ll find inspiration and instruction on making content truly adaptable. It might even permanently change the way you think about your work in content.

There is no primary channel

McGrane gets it out of the way on the first page: this book is not just about mobile. Mobile is the wedge that we will use to force open the door to structured, user-centered and nimble content.

Before the mobile revolution, it was easy to deny that we really need to make our content lean and structured, but the proliferation of new devices is now making that impossible. We can only design so many stand-alone apps and mobile websites, and create so many maintenance headaches, before we realise the importance of a clean content base for everything.

The first chapter makes an excellent case for why we should get our content ready for the multichannel world. And it goes further – we are short-changing our users if we only present them with a cut-down experience or one which we guess is “appropriate for the mobile context”.

Maybe the need to make every item of content available on mobile will still be a hard sell with clients in the medium term. It can seem tempting to only consider simple tasks and those which are clearly done “on the move”, but Karen McGrane makes a strong case for why this just will not cut it.

We’ve all experienced it intuitively. Yes, our mobile users want to find their nearest store and check stock levels, but what about the student looking for careers information or the shareholder looking up the annual report on the train?

Forking hell

The rest of the first half of the book talks frankly about the problems of “forking” – splitting our content across different channels – and the nightmare of making changes multiple times across sites and mobile applications.

McGrane is also interested in the limitations of our current web CMS systems and how they tie us to design templates and limit our productivity through bad user experience.

I think every content strategist needs to focus more on this aspect of great content. Choosing the right CMS and implementing it as a usability project is a missing link in many content chains.

Last week, Rachel touched on this in her post Strategy on the Inside. Content Strategy will only be successful if we deal with the internal problems that prevent organisations from producing the best experiences for their external users.

Adaptive content

So the solution to managing in the multichannel world? Adaptive content of course.

Karen outlines what makes adaptive content and how it can be achieved. She goes on to explain the strategy and planning required, the importance of thinking ahead and the danger of relying on imperfect data.

It seems obvious really – of course we shouldn’t rely on our measurements of current mobile experiences to learn what users would ideally like to do. But we often do just that. Karen McGrane to the rescue again, saying what needs to be said.

Architecture, people and processes

The second half of the book is a great practical outline of how we can make adaptable content happen. By this point you will be thoroughly convinced. I know I was.

Karen covers writing and editing, information architecture and analytics through the lense of structured content. She encourages us to focus on the content “package” instead of the page.

I think this is a challenging but liberating concept for everyone from content managers and producers to web designers. Finally separating content from presentation is good news for everyone. Writers can focus on the message, designers have clear content components to work with.


Karen McGrane has written a very important book, at a time when structured content is gathering momentum.

The challenge is a big one, but if you weren’t convinced before you will be after reading this book. And not only that, you will be armed with evidence and techniques to move things forward in your organisation.


[Editor’s Note: You can read the first chapter of Content Strategy for Mobile at A List Apart]

Book Review: Managing Enterprise Content (2nd Edition)

Sarah Beckley   June 4, 2012

Ten years after the publication of Ann Rockley’s guide to managing enterprise content, she has once again produced a book I will keep with me almost daily. No joke—I carry this book with me to the client site and refer to it often. Co-authored with Charles Cooper, with a forward by Kristina Halvorson, the second edition promises to become as indispensable as the first.

Managing Enterprise Content was one of the first, if not the first, books on the subject, and is considered an industry standard. Content management was just beginning to take off ten years ago, and Rockley’s publications and work in the industry have been instrumental in its development. In fact, MindTouch and LavaCon named Rockley the 5th most influential content strategist of 2010 based on her reach and sphere of influence.

If you haven’t read the first edition, I give you permission to skip it only because the second version is timelier. I should also let you know what the book is all about in case the title didn’t give it away. It is the essential reference guide to designing, developing, and implementing an enterprise content management system based on a unified content strategy. It details Rockley’s methodology step-by-step for anyone to port or adapt.

It should be the first book you read on the subject, but not the last. The book distills each topic to its core, and includes helpful checklists and charts. Some topics, like XML, publishing models, and writing for mobile, have dozens of books devoted to them. That, however, doesn’t mean MES is shallow or lacks for useful information. The authors have taken a (relatively) short book about an enormous topic and made it shorter, yet more relevant and streamlined.

Restructured and stripped of outdated material, this playbook for unified content strategy is itself a perfect example of the processes Rockley and Cooper recommend. For example, in the section on content audits, the book lists all the things to consider while auditing. One of them is gaps. In the first edition, a notable gap was mobile content, which made only a tiny appearance under “wireless devices.” Now, mobile content merits expanded coverage under its new name.

The second edition also sports an entirely new section entitled “Where does a unified content strategy fit?” which puts UCS in context and details how and why an enterprise should consider this approach. The authors use the following analogy: “We have to create content the same way manufacturers do: considering each component not only as an individual piece of information that has value, but also as a part of a larger information product, or ideally, part of more than one information product.” While there is a part of me that balks at comparing word-smithing to machining bicycle parts, they do have a valid point. When dealing with enterprise-level quantities of content, which easily range into the tens or hundreds of thousands of pages, you have to start thinking in terms of unification and reuse. Otherwise your organization will drown in the cost and confusion of managing (or not managing) their content.

What else has changed in the new edition? Later sections have been renamed and revised to be more current. Out are the Vendors and Tools appendixes, which are unlikely to be missed, as well as small outdated bits and pieces, culled from the remaining chapters. The previous appendixes, oddly arranged in a sideways layout, have been refurbished. The new checklist is very easy to read, with outdated information condensed or removed, and can probably be ported to many a project plan, as-is. I’m a huge fan of checklists in general, and this is one of the most useful I’ve seen. Other changes include seven more case studies, a cleaner design, and a leaner text.

Overall, it’s a much needed upgrade of a foundational text in the field from one of the “rock stars” of content strategy. Rockley and Cooper say it succinctly: “The processes and best practices to create and manage content at an organizational level are undergoing a dramatic shift as content creators adapt to the increasing demands of a volatile content world.” The second edition responds to this shift well, and belongs in your toolkit.

Book Review: Content Strategy at Work

Elizabeth S. Bennett   April 3, 2012

Content strategy is having a moment. I know, people have been saying that for the last two years. I’m not talking about the moment where the average person knows what content strategy is, or the moment where most companies have dedicated content strategists on staff, or even that the term content strategy is on the lips of seemingly every marketer in the land.

The moment I’m referring to – the one that Margot Bloomstein hits on time and again in her new book Content Strategy at Work  –  is that even if someone up top in an organization is willing to overlook content as a strategic asset, everyone on a digital project is now on the hook for raising their hand and saying, “Hey! What about the content?”  Be they designer, project manager, information architect, account manager, SEO specialist or CMS developer, the success of so many digital projects hinges on a thoughtful and multifaceted approach to working with content. And each one of the professionals mentioned above will and probably should be collaborating with a content strategist, or at least someone who is wearing that sexy hat.

Bloomstein’s work is filled with well-drawn content-oriented case studies and should be considered required reading for anyone whose work overlaps with content, and any content strategist who is looking for meaty in-the-trenches examples of how content strategy is grappled with and applied to projects big and small. The diverse set of examples, which she pulls from practitioners at several consultancies and digital agencies*, highlights just how deeply content is embedded in digital work today. From communications strategy, to qualitative and quantitative content analysis, to editorial design, content creation, management, governance, SEO and social media strategy and more, content strategy, is shot through digital project work.

In the Moo case study, we learn how a message architecture can help focus content and drive design decisions. In the Johns Hopkins Medicine case, we are pulled into the challenges of scoping for content strategy, a conundrum many of us face. In the Bows N’ Ties case, we witness the tension between content strategy and search engine optimization. The case studies are informative and fun, skillfully demonstrating the intersection and interdependencies of content strategy with other disciplines. Bloomstein peppers the book with solid and often difficult questions that we should all have written on our whiteboards, perhaps the most urgent one being, “What does the content need to accomplish?”

Bloomstein is at her most thought provoking when she shines the light on complex projects that present a host of strategic, editorial, design, organizational and technical challenges.  For example, the case of the television network that wanted to comingle its programming content with encyclopedic information, a goal that required the active use of nearly every wrench and screwdriver in the CS toolkit. It demonstrates the highly strategic and supremely tactical nature of content strategy in a single project, including a healthy portion of organizational challenge, a common byproduct of smart content choices.

In Content Strategy at Work, Bloomstein frames the cases with meaningful context, crisp approaches to problem solving (I will definitely be cribbing from her message architecture client exercise, which she generously shares) and genuine curiosity. In tackling so much, however, she misses out on a couple of hot spots.  I wish, for example, that Bloomstein had done more exploration of how user research can drive and influence content strategy and how companies are measuring the success of content efforts. Both areas are top of mind for many of us in the field and I hope Bloomstein tackles them in her next work.

Those who practice content strategy and as Bloomstein likes to say, FOCS (Friends of Content Strategy), should revel in this moment, linger over the accomplishments and take pride in the acknowledgement of our discipline.

So now what? Our next challenge, should we choose to accept it, says Bloomstein:

“The goal is to engage in a project or process that will result in a better user experience, one that transcends channel, campaign, or budget cycle. The goal is to establish a sustainable publishing model for your clients and their customers. The goal is to facilitate better, more useful communication, and that cannot happen without content strategy.”

Now get to work.


*Full disclosure: While my Razorfish colleagues Rachel Lovinger and Erin Scime are quoted in this book, I do not have a direct connection with Content Strategy at Work nor did I have any knowledge of its contents prior to publication.

Q&A with Colleen Jones

Rachel Lovinger   May 4, 2011

Plato and Aristotle… getting back to the roots of rhetoric (image via image editor – Painting is Scuola di Atene by  Raphael Sanzio)

A few months ago Colleen Jones, principal of Content Science, released Clout, another great book that should be on every content professional’s bookshelf. Colleen has provided an excellent exploration of how to create influential content for the web. The book starts by discussing the foundational principles of influence. The rest focuses on putting these principles into practice: how to plan, follow through, evaluate, and adjust your approach to influential content. It wraps up with a discussion of the ethics of influential content, and a look towards future digital content developments that will make you glad you started developing that competitive edge now.

We grabbed a bit of Colleen’s time to ask her some questions about how she draws on other disciplines for the ideas in the book, why we should learn to love rhetoric again, what mistakes people tend to make, and some of the ways that influential content inspires her and drives her forward.

S/G: The subtitle of your book is “The Art and Science of Influential Web Content” and that’s not just a turn of phrase. In the book you explore the principles of influential content via two disciplines: rhetoric, as the art aspect, and psychology, as the science. How did you come to think of influential content in this way?

Colleen: Two big reasons. One was I studied rhetoric in grad school. I kept using rhetorical principles in my work successfully. But, if I tried to explain to people what I did as rhetoric, they had no idea what I was talking about. So, I saw an opportunity to make those principles practical and usable.

The other big reason was over the past few years, I’ve seen persuasive marketing and design use pushy tactics in the name of cognitive and social psychology. Psychology principles focus more on form than on substance. Psychology, as a simple example, would tell you to have logos and quotes that endorse your product or service. Rhetoric would tell you to have those endorsements be from brands and people that your audience identifies with. For example, has a brilliant endorsement from Good Housekeeping. To me, psychology helps with form, while rhetoric helps with substance. They complement each other well.

S/G: The discipline of rhetoric has gotten a little bit of a bad reputation because of its misuse by people who want to manipulate others, and you’re trying to reclaim it by going back to its roots. What would you like people to know about the art of rhetoric to help them appreciate it again?

Colleen: I’d like people to know that they don’t hate rhetoric but the manipulation, and rightly so. We notice rhetoric more when the words don’t match the action behind them, when the promise laid out isn’t fulfilled, when there’s a contrast between what was said and what is really happening. When manipulation happens, it’s the fault of the person doing it, not rhetoric.

And, I want people to know that rhetoric is practical. You don’t have to get into all the depths of theory to get immediate value from it.

S/G: What is the most common mistake people make in the realm of influential content?

Colleen: Going too extreme. Trying to be too pushy or trying to be completely objective in your content are opposite extremes that will fail more often than not. For example of too pushy, I get at least one email from Banana Republic with a discount every day. (I haven’t unsubscribed because I like to observe what companies do.) Although the wording of the emails isn’t too pushy, the frequency is. And, it backfires. I pay little attention to BR email discounts because I know another one is probably on the way.

CDC, on the other hand, at times tries so hard to sound so objective they sound cold. While it’s appropriate for CDC to make their voice credible and professional, it doesn’t have to be inhuman. It’s possible to be scientifically accurate yet personable.

S/G: What influential content inspires you?

Colleen: I like, especially as an example of bringing together data and content, then giving it meaning. It’s a fantastic example of helping people make decisions. It’s a deeper and more useful influence than a pithy ad.

S/G: If you could pull some organization aside and make a recommendation for how they could better use influential content, what would you advise ?

Colleen: I’m inspired by the possibilities of electronic health records. They could be like for your health, bringing together your personal health data, quality health content, and communications with clinicians. Content strategists can turn that data and content into “meaningfulness,” as you call it. I’m deeply concerned that IT is driving that bus alone. Content strategists need to be brought on board, or else the possibilities for EHRs (and the applications that use them) won’t become reality.

Improving the health care experience through EHRs is deeply important to me. Growing up, I watched my younger brother, Parker, go through the worst possible ordeal. He had a brain tumor that was misdiagnosed for many years as separate conditions, such as migraine headaches. No system was tracking all the signs and symptoms that, together, pointed to a brain tumor. When it was finally diagnosed, surgeons couldn’t operate on it. Parker underwent months of radiation and other treatments. None of them worked. Along the way, there were countless appointments and bills to track. Talking to doctors happened mostly at appointments. There were constant miscommunications among clinicians and between doctors, hospitals, and insurance. All while treatments to help Parker were not working. I’ve never felt so helpless. No one should ever experience that. Ever. If electronic health records reach their potential, no one ever will.

So, I feel an extra sense of urgency to make EHRs work. When EHRs turn data into influential content, they will help patients, clinicians, and other parties in the health system 1. communicate better and 2. make better decisions about diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care.

If you’re going to Confab next week, come see Colleen at the closing panel, and pick up a copy of Clout.

Book Review: Content Strategy for the Web

Rachel Lovinger   November 16, 2009

kh-bookcoverKristina Halvorson, founder and president of Brain Traffic, has done more to raise awareness of Content Strategy than any person in the world of web design. She’s well known for her dynamic, clear presentations about web content at many of the industry’s most celebrated conferences. And now she’s written a book on the subject, Content Strategy for the Web.

(Full disclosure: Kristina Halvorson is a friend and colleague. She quotes me in her book and thanks me in the acknowledgements. I still feel comfortable saying: It’s a great book.)

Halvorson’s book is written in an easy, conversational style. It addresses both the reasoning behind the concepts, and the practical application of the discipline. Its broad approach will make it useful for a wide range of web professionals. Here’s what I think different groups of people will get out of it.

  • Project Stakeholders: The book makes a great case for Content Strategy. If you have clients or bosses that are hesitant to invest the time or resources it takes to make sure the project has great content, if they think it can be done at the last minute, or they just want to buy cheap content, have them read Halvorson’s book to understand how much better, smarter, and more effective their content could be with a reasonable amount of time and attention.
  • Project Planners/Project Managers: If you’re trying to scope, schedule or assign resources to a project, you’ll gain a much better understanding of what’s needed to make sure that content is ready at the same time as the rest of a web project.
  • Web Design Generalists: You may be muddling through with the content part of your projects without any real guidance or methodology. This book describes the tasks that should be performed, provides a wealth of practical tips, and poses the questions that need to be answered at each stage of the design process.
  • Web Design Specialists: If your organization is large enough for different people to focus just on IA, visual design, functional requirements or content strategy, there’s a need to identify what each person is going to contribute and who’s responsible for which tasks and deliverables. Whichever role you’re in, Halvorson’s book will show you how content touches all parts of a project. Even if you’re not primarily responsible for the content, it’s valuable to understand how the pieces will come together to make a more successful final product.
  • Aspiring Content Strategists: If you’re looking to transition into the field of Content Strategy you’ll learn how your experience maps to the responsibilities of a CS, how to speak the language of the practice, and what skills you need to build to be well rounded in your new role. At 172 pages, the book can’t provide every detail to turn you into a Content Strategy expert, but Halvorson includes references to other resources that will be helpful for diving deeper into specific practices.
  • Practicing Content Strategists: If you’re a specialist you’ll learn about aspects of the discipline that you might not practice on a regular basis, and you may reassess your strengths and areas of growth. If you’re a generalist you’ll learn which skills you need to build upon to become fully versed in all areas of the practice.

I’m willing to bet most people will think differently about their web content after reading this book. And I’m certain that everyone who reads it will gain new ways of explaining the practice and value of Content Strategy to other people who aren’t familiar with it.

As an added bonus, if you’re in the New York area, the Content Strategy New York City Meetup Group will be hosting a book launch party for Kristina on Tuesday, November 17th. Come meet the author and a bunch of local content strategists. If you bring your copy of the book, Kristina will sign it for you (but she won’t be selling copies there, so make sure you get it in advance).

Have Books, Will Strategize

Melissa Joulwan   September 21, 2009


Food for the content strategist’s soul. (image via gadl)

The Breakdown: Melissa Joulwan, Senior Content Strategist from Austin, tells us what she’s been reading to keep inspired and maintain her CS edge.

A few months ago, Rachel Lovinger answered the question “What Makes A Content Strategist?”

It got me thinking about the experiences, conversations, and books that shaped my approach to putting the right content in the right places.

I’ve been a writer since my dad hung my first story on his office wall (one-sentence, illustrated in crayon, written at Blue Mountain kindergarten). As content needs have evolved, my thinking has also expanded to embrace interactive content, video, graphics, photography, and social interactions, in addition to the storytelling and wordplay I love.

In no particular order, here’s the list of books that helped me grow from writer to content strategist and are still within arm’s reach for inspiration.

Random House Webster’s Word Menu
What it is:
It’s like a mash-up of a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an almanac, with more than 75,000 entries categorized around 800 subjects. Need to understand electronics terminology? Searching for international synonyms for “house” to describe a conceptual model? The Word Menu can probably help.

Why I like it:
Its relevant for both its content and its structure. For word nerds, it’s an easy-to-use resource to become an instant expert on just about any subject, complete with jargon and related terminology. I once used the Word Menu to pretend to master the language of electronics for a Radio Shack pitch. I schooled the whole team on transducers and circuits; the client was duly impressed. (Ask me about the Data Transducer conceptual model!)

From a structure perspective, it demonstrates the ways people search for and understand information. This single reference acts as a dictionary, thesaurus, reverse dictionary, almanac, and a collection of glossaries, allowing the reader (user) to consume the content from within their individual mental construct.

Rapid Viz
What it is:
It’s a quick-read instruction manual and workbook to help non-drawers share ideas visually. Emphasizing speed and simplicity over technique, it requires only pen and paper and good ideas for the artistically-challenged to hold their own with more visually-oriented thinkers.

Why I like it:
My drawing skills? Mostly nonexistent. But in our work, much of what we do needs to be communicated quickly on a whiteboard with a group that could include designers, illustrators, animators, technologists, account people, and more. The easiest way to make sure everyone is visualizing the same thing is to draw it. Rapid Viz provides a hands-on class in just 150 fun-to-consume pages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Razorfish Blogs


  • SXSW Interactive

    March 7 – 11, Austin, TX
    Several of our contributors will be speaking this year. If you’re going, say hi to Rachel, Robert, & Hawk.

  • Confab Minneapolis

    May 7-9, Minneapolis, MN
    The original Confab Event. Rachel will be there doing her Content Modelling workshop with Cleve Gibbon. Get details and we’ll see you there!

  • Intelligent Content Conference Life Sciences & Healthcare

    May 8-9, San Francisco, CA
    Call for Presenters, now open:

  • Confab for Nonprofits

    Jun 16, Chicago, IL
    Another new Confab Event! Early Bird pricing until March 7:

  • Content Strategy Forum

    July 1-3, Frankfurt, Germany
    International Content Strategy workshops & conference: Call for speakers now open!

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What is this site, exactly?

Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.

This blog reflects the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of Razorfish.

What is content strategy?

Oooh, the elevator pitch. Here we go: There is content on the web. You love it. Or you do not love it. Either way, it is out there, and it is growing. Content strategy encompasses the discovery, ideation, implementation and maintenance of all types of digital content—links, tags, metadata, video, whatever. Ultimately, we work closely with information architects and creative types to craft delicious, usable web experiences for our clients.

Why "scatter/gather"?

It’s an iterative data clustering operation that’s designed to enable rich browsing capabilities. “Data clustering” seems rather awesome and relevant to our quest, plus we thought the phrase just sounded really cool.

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