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Last updated on 1/15/19

Identify content types

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Content done right is something that users hardly notice because it seems to fit naturally and seamlessly into the experience. However, many teams underestimate the amount of content that they need to manage. This chapter will explore various types of content you may encounter.

Break down content types

From the product to communication around it, you'll encounter all types of content. Whether it's front- facing for the user, or backend for those with admin access, there are many different aspects regarding content to consider.

Interface copy is the text that appears on buttons, links, navigation, forms, and flows. This includes general UX writing, as well as microcopy. Interface copy also includes pop-up messages, warnings, alerts, notifications, error messages, transactional messages, un/subscribe confirmation messages, forms, and more. It can be tempting to be creative and clever with interface copy, but ultimately you need to make sure the user knows what's going on. Go for clear copy so the user always knows what to do next.

Release notes are often written by product managers when announcing new features. It's important to consider how the company talks about the product and the language they use. Some communication will be internal updates, while other times it will be published in the app store with new updates.

Marketing copy includes writing for promotional materials, newsletters, product descriptions, blog posts (which may also be considered editorial copy), social media, and press materials. It's important to consider the content from the user's point of view for each context. For instance, is it aimed at someone who is already a paying customer, or are you targeting a new potential user who isn't familiar with what you offer? It's also important to consider what aspects of marketing and promotion may be integrated within the product or user experience. There will also be other initiatives that are parts of larger campaigns, which may run across various channels and platforms, or integrate a hashtag.

User generated content refers to content produced by users. This may include reviews, comments, and testimonials. You also may want to consider recruiting top users to create content for the site, or republish an article they've written for their own blog. Building relationships with users can be very beneficial when you want to integrate user-generated content.

Curated content is when brands invite bloggers to curate articles and content to help engage their audience. By bringing in high profile names, the goal is to attract new users to the site as well. Name recognition gives the perception of legitimacy, which is particularly beneficial when a brand is just starting out.

Aggregated content is automatically pulled from other websites through methods such as RSS feeds. While it saves time and happens automatically, it lacks the personalization of other methods for creating content.

Licensed content is using content (articles, video, audio, etc.) from other sources such as Creative Commons. This still requires research on whether it's a good fit for your project, as well as any licensing limitations.

Support content is content that can be used by service teams to respond to requests, including content forms, canned responses (there's no need to start from scratch each time!), help center information, and technical documentation. While support and customer service teams aren't directly linked to UX, anyone who is in direct contact with users or customers will be highlight valuable to know, as they will be able to provide you insights into your audience you may not have considered. Support teams will likely have their own guidelines for how they respond to questions and frequently asked questions.

Terms of service and policies tend to be the fine print at the bottom of a page which should be reviewed by the legal team. As a writer, you want to help make this as accessible to users as possible by writing "in plain English" but ultimately legal will have the final say.

 Internal communications can be useful for communicating within a team, onboarding new employees, or training others on a tool. Style guides can be very useful for teams, as well as handbooks, or guides for writing product briefs, or guidelines for using brand assets. 

Frame your content

Now that we've explored the breadth of different types of content you may encounter, let's zoom in again to consider how content of any sort fits together. Don't worry, you don't have to think about every bit of content in each scenario—just use what is relevant.

In the book Nicely Said: writing for the web with style and purpose, Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee recommend sketching your content needs. These hand drawn sketches resemble wireframes, but the real goal of them is to determine the hierarchy of content and what content is most important [for the user], as well as to figure out your priorities. This also helps you think modularly, where you write using different building blocks, which you can reshuffle and move around as needed. (Remember, these building blocks may shift around a bit when moving from desktop to tablet or mobile). 

Hand drawn sketch with headline, tagline, three offerings, mission, and a footer.
Content sketches are reminiscent of wireframes, but focus on the content more than layout.

Sketching is a good way to consider how you will approach and structure your writing. It also is far less intimidating than a blank screen! As you work through your content, you may discover that your original plan isn't working. It's much easier to draw another sketch than to completely redesign an already complete website! Keep in mind that these content sketches are more to serve as a writing plan, and don't necessarily reflect the actual page layout.

The Nielsen Norman Group has a similar plan of attack they refer to as content frames, which help ensure that you're not waiting until the end of the design process to incorporate (real) content.

Using content frames in the design process [2:53 min]

There's a five step process for content frames:

  1. State the purpose and desired outcomes of the page or flow in order to evaluate the most important content.

  2. Think through what users will need from the content and any questions they may have.

  3. Collaborate with your team to determine the real subject matter and topics you need to address.

  4. Use the topics to determine the actual content and place the most important ones at the top. (Start with sticky notes and discuss each topic as you work.)

  5. Create the real editorial, design direction, and specifications and get feedback from users and stakeholders to validate the content.

Once you have it set, keep referring back to your content frame throughout the process to ensure that content is no longer an afterthought.

Let's recap!

  • Content done right often is invisible to users.

  • More content is not necessarily better. Think critically about your needs, and resources available.

  • Interface copy is the copy that makes up the content of a digital product.

  • Sketching content needs and creating content frames can help ensure you're focusing your attention on the right content, with your user's needs in mind.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement