If you are a communicator of technical, marketing, business, and other information, at least one of your projects today likely involves organizing content. You might be wondering, “What should I consider when deciding on an effective organizational pattern to use? What’s a good way to structure topics into a logical, orderly flow? How can I combine multiple topics into fewer topics? What are some of my options for organizing content?”
In the previous webinar I presented to the Society for Technical Communication, Patterns for Organizing Content—Many More than A to Z, participants had activities to work through independently. Let’s look at one activity together as preparation for the second webinar on the subject of organizing content, Upside Down, Inside Out, and Other Acrobatics for Organizing Your Content.
Organize Our Content Deliverables for your employer.
Your department is developing a promotional piece, Our Content Deliverables, for your employer or your client. How would you organize the following content deliverables?
case studies, catalogs, courseware, diagnostics and troubleshooting, instructions, marketing collateral, online help, operations and maintenance, parts lists, proposals, reports, scripts, service manuals, software instructions, specifications and requirements, speeches, standard operating procedures, strategic plans, style guides, theory of operations, training material, user guides, and website content
You might agree that this alphabetical listing is one option for organizing a list, but it is not particularly effective. There is no logical flow to assist the reader. Consider how your employer is accustomed to thinking about content. Perhaps your employer organizes work according to lifecycles, in which a product progresses through various phases. To be in step with your employer, try organizing your promotional piece according to where each content deliverable belongs in the product lifecycle. For example:
- Developing and testing the product might include reports, specifications and requirements, standard operating procedures, strategic plans, and style guides.
- Marketing and selling the product might include case studies, catalogs, marketing collateral, parts lists, proposals, speeches, and website content.
- Servicing the product might include diagnostics and troubleshooting, operations and maintenance, service manuals, and a theory of operations.
- Training the end user of the product might include courseware, instructions, online help, scripts, software instructions, training material, and user guides.
Of course, the placement of the content deliverables is somewhat arbitrary. Different writers have different ideas, but grouping the content deliverables into categories that have a common heading (in this case the phase in the product lifecycle) helps the reader to see relationships among various content deliverables, similarities with content deliverables in the same phase of the lifecycle, and differences from deliverables listed in another phase of the lifecycle. Reading a promotional piece that organizes your content deliverables by their placement in the product lifecycle may just prompt your employer to use your services when developing and testing a product, marketing and selling, servicing it, and training end users. It can open opportunities for you—just what you hoped your promotional piece would accomplish!
Organize Our Content Deliverables for your client.
Now, let’s assume your promotional piece that describes your many content deliverables is intended for your client who organizes his business according to internal and external offerings. You might organize your list the same way. For example:
- Internal content deliverables—those that never leave the company—might include diagnostics and troubleshooting, service manuals, specifications and requirements, standard operating procedures, strategic plans, and style guides.
- External content deliverables—those that the world outside the company sees—might include case studies, catalogs, courseware, instructions, marketing collateral, online help, operations and maintenance, parts lists, proposals, reports, scripts, software instructions, speeches, theory of operations, training material, user guides, and website content.
Again, you’re thinking like your client and organizing your promotional piece in a way that is familiar, comfortable, and easy to digest.
There’s more to do.
Now, revisit the four items for the employer and the two items for the client. Currently the content deliverables within each item are organized alphabetically. You can do better than that! Give it a try and use an organizational pattern that you consider most effective. Upside Down, Inside Out, and Other Acrobatics for Organizing Your Content is no joke! Being agile, nimble, and quick means being open to ways of organizing content that make sense to you and resonate with your readers. What organizing patterns do you like to use? Do you have favorites? We’d love to hear about them.