Taxonomies make sense of the volume of information

Sometimes, your Twitter feed serves up just the exact right article that you need in your current work projects. I’m trying to carefully define and refine a reference taxonomy for the site that I work on. And, the article “Taxonomy-driven Content Publishing” by Stephanie Lemieux and Michele Ann Jenkins is exactly what I needed to read to keep me forging ahead with this behind-the-scenes, sometimes unloved task of building and enhancing a reference taxonomy.

Taxonomies help make sense of the sheer volume of information that we produce (and that our readers consume). Taxonomies can help automate or dynamically generate pages and related links, by curating or aggregating content for us. Taxonomies are categories and topics, not just a set of keywords, and the level of detail in the relationships is a critical aspect to the design of a good taxonomy. And, while taxonomies enable dynamically aggregated content, don’t forget to apply editorial control and highlight certain pieces of content on those automated pages.

This wonderful article has inspired me to read further (I have The Accidental Taxonomist by Heather Hedden sitting by my computer) and to delve into the crafting, designing, revising, and improving on our reference taxonomy. Do you have a favorite article or book about developing taxonomies?

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture | 2 Comments

Use strong headings to lead readers to your content

Listicles, articles or blog posts that include a numbered list of “things,” get more readers. People love lists. They are scannable, they are memorable, and they are sharable. Perhaps one reason people go to these listicles is because they often have strong headings.

The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) recently published the listicle, “Headings Are Pick-Up Lines: 5 Tips for Writing Headlines That Convert.” When my Twitter feed presented this article title itself (and its link) as the tweet, I quickly clicked to go read more.

I’ll let you go read this article to get the 5 tips, but I’ll summarize them in my own words here:

  1. Headings need to stand on their own. They should communicate something to the reader in and of themselves.
  2. Be specific, and use user-centric language.
  3. Avoid idioms, and limit jargon. Know your audience, so that you know what language will communicate easily with them. (Of course, the title of their article used “pick-up lines,” which seems idiomatic to me?)
  4. Be concise. SEO suggests less than 55 characters, including spaces!
  5. Put important keywords first.
Posted in Copy editing, Information Architecture

Video Production – From Concept to Publication — by Ken Cicero

I once again registered for an STC Webinar on video production. This one called “From Concept to Production.” This Webinar was a follow-on webinar by Ken Cicero to his prior webinar, “When is Video the Answer (and When Isn’t It)?

He covered 4 types of videos:

  1. live action (talking heads)
  2. screen capture (UI demo)
  3. animation (motion graphics)
  4. hybrid (combining the other 3)

He went through the pros, cons, and tools for the 3 different types, and these were the general takeaways from the webinar:

  • With live action video, by including real people, looking at the camera, you bring empathy into the mix. Empathy helps communicate your message more completely, more clearly.
  • With screen capture video, make sure that you set your screen resolution really high, so that you can zoom in on a part of that capture. You can load the image smaller, to show the big picture, the whole picture, but then zoom in on the area of interest.
  • Camtasia is good for newbies and solid basic video production. Try to use a headset mic or better still a standing mic, and not just the mic from your laptop, to get the best quality sound.
  • Content is still king. Don’t get wrapped up in the video effects and production. Make sure the video still communicates what it needs to.
  • Always start with a solid, concise script. Don’t just ramble to the images.
Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

Receiving editing…it’s like love

The title of this blog post is a partial quote from the article, “The Better Angels of Our Writing: Good copy editors can save us from ourselves” by Rachel Toor. Here is the full quote (paragraph):

My experience of receiving editing, both substantively and line by line, is that it’s like love. Good copy editors see me not just for who I am but for who I want to be, and they help me get there. They point out what I do well, but they also notice my tics and bad habits and try to break me of them.

Throughout this article, she extols the benefits of having a good copy editor, one who is not rigid in her application of style rules but passionate about helping the writer put out a great, accurate, and readable product. She provides great book reviews of books written by great copy editors, from whom she uses as models for all us copy editors. These copy editors are humble while taking great pride in their work; they admit that they make the same mistakes they often correct in the authors that they support.

In our Technical Editing Fundamentals course that Linda Oestreich and I teach, we encourage editors to be a “partner in crime” and provide editing comments that writers are happy to apply and learn from, because they know that we editors are on their side.

Have you hugged your editor today? Happy editing everyone!

Posted in Copy editing | 2 Comments

10 basics every communicator needs

I follow a large number of copy editors in my Twitter feed. So, I often see articles about journalism, as a majority (perceived, not actual) of copy editors work in a journalism field. I suppose the definition of journalism is changing, and so the field is also changing. In any event, I ran across this article, “10 basics today’s journalists need,” and found it to apply to most communicators today. Because most communicators publish their communications out on the Internet, it really can apply to more than just journalists.

This article starts with the following graphic image of the 10 basics:

I have mentioned, quite incessantly actually, that communicators must know their audience. Levin presented this list “in no particular order” but I would put “know your audience” right up top. As a matter of fact, I think I will present these 10 basics in the order of importance (all of them are important, don’t forget) that I feel is needed for communicators today. I will make my own comment after the basics.

  1. “Know your audience.” Always, always, always.
  2. “Stay adaptable.” Technology changes every day; you have to be able to keep up!
  3. “Clean your copy.” You can’t be so fast that your content is low-quality; poor quality content will put you out of work.
  4. “Produce content on multiple platforms.” We no longer communicate with just words – our audience wants info-graphics, videos, or info embedded in apps.
  5. “Learn basic coding.” Knowing a little bit of the down and dirty will help you work and play well with others on your team. In the age of mobile apps, your message needs to be part of the app, or needs to take advantage of how it all gets coded to be presented.
  6. “Keep it under 140.” Concise and precise is the mantra here. Blurbs become tweets, and tweets include URLs, so knowing how to summarize your content in fewer than 100 characters (including spaces!) is key these days.
  7. “Engage on social media.” I resisted this for the longest time, but now I love being out on LinkedIn and Twitter, and writing these blog posts to keep me adaptable (see #2) and to keep me involved with other experts in my fields of interest.
  8. “Master math.” Yes, it’s true, we all use math every day. (That’s a quote from a TV show called Numbers.) With big data comes data analysis, or what’s the point of collecting all the data in the first place. Also, the author mentions spreadsheets, and spreadsheets are often all about the math. Make math your friend. (I love spreadsheets, and use them every day in my job.)
  9. “Understand the economics.” To keep your job, and prove your value, you have to understand the business and economics of your company.
  10. “Build your brand.” This is all about “having a following” and bringing traffic to your company. I think this is really just old fashioned networking, and getting your name and your work out there. I put it last because if you do good work and get yourself out there even just a little, your “brand” just happens organically.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I really enjoyed writing it. I took the past few months off (due to a series of summer vacations close together), and I hope to get back into the swing of writing blog posts once a week. I had managed to post twice a week for awhile at the start of the year, but I think I’ll aim for once a week from now on.

Posted in Content Strategy, Copy editing, Writing

Design Thinking… a few principles from 3 stories

I watched 3 different videos about design thinking last week. Here are the key ideas or principles that I took away from these videos:

  • Keep it simple (John Maeda, Josh Reich)
  • Be honest (John Maeda)
  • Embrace the audacity of hope (John Maeda)
  • Collaborate wildly and build on the ideas of others (David Kelley, pioneer in the Design Thinking field)
  • It’s all about having empathy for our users (David Kelley)
  • Must really listen to our users (Josh Reich)
  • Keep asking why (the 5 whys) – (Josh Reich)
Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

When is Video the Answer (and When Isn’t It)? by Ken Circeo

Yesterday, I attended the STC Technical Editing SIG sponsored Webinar titled “When is Video the Answer (and When Isn’t It)?” given by Ken Circeo, a senior video producer at Microsoft.

Here are my notes, which my team found rather useful, so I thought I’d share them all with you, my faithful blog readers. I present them as my general takeaways and my golden nuggets, of which I only had one golden nugget.

General takeaways:

  • Video is not always the answer.
  • Video appeals to multiple learning styles (see, hear, & do)
  • Video almost always scores higher than text; it delights them more… but only if it answers their question
  • Video has come to be expected; much higher demand for it as it becomes more ubiquitous (thanks, YouTube!)
  • More low quality video out there, because anyone can shoot and upload video; must distinguish ourselves by producing high-quality video
  • Ask this one question: what problem are you trying to solve? it is the only question that matters; audience does not matter!
  • Developers want a different kind of video than administrators do, and that managers do, etc. (see, audience does matter!)
  • The context matters, too; where you embed it or include it (such as in an installation process, as an animation of where to find a feature)
  • When should you NOT use video? when procedures are short & simple, or when procedures are long & complex; Goldilocks anyone?
  • Level of detail is important
  • Shorter the better; ideal time? 2 mins, 48 secs (he said that time as a joke, before he said: “as short as possible”)
  • Never “force” a video; no video for video sake
  • Skip the background music; most users don’t notice it
  • Try to solve the problem with other ways first (redesign the UI, write a procedure, etc), and only after other avenues explored do they create a video
  • Deliver video alongside of other docs; video doesn’t replace other docs, but supplements it
  • Uses .mp4 format, standardizes on it for its reduced file size
  • Spend the most time on the script, and get that right before you start on the actual animations, graphics, and video production.

Golden nugget:

His final concluding slide provided the golden nugget of the 1-hour session.

Here are the 5 types of videos that he’s found most useful:

  1. First run — the hook — like our author intro videos?
  2. Getting started — introduce —
  3. What’s new — reveal
  4. Overview — simplify something complex, simplify complex concepts
  5. How to — show or demonstrate how to do something
Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture