By Michelle Corbin | STC Fellow
In Editing Matters, Michelle Corbin covers matters (topics) about editing that matter (are of consequence) to communicators of all kinds. Watch this space to understand more about editing and what you can do to improve the quality of your content. To suggest a topic or ask a question, contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I’m not geeking out over the rules of grammar, style, and punctuation, I’m geeking out over the latest Euro-style board game that I learned. These tabletop board games emphasize strategy and downplay luck. A strategy is nothing more than “a plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal” (Wiktionary). In board games, you build a plan of action based on the rules of the game, then execute the plan in an attempt to win (of course, not everyone’s definition of winning is the same, but I digress).
So, let’s get back on point. In the game of information development, you need to have a content strategy. What is a content strategy? Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach define content strategy in their book, Content Strategy for the Web, this way: A guide for “your plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content” (2012). They define content components of a content strategy (substance and structure) as well as people components of a content strategy (workflow and governance). At the center is a core content strategy that “defines how an organization (or project) will use content to achieve its objectives and meet its user needs” (2012). The goal of technical editing is to ensure that content meets the user’s needs and adheres to the standards and guidelines for the content. So, technical editors should definitely seek to understand their project’s content strategy.
Because technical editors are all about the content, let’s break down the content components of substance and structure. Substance involves knowing your users, knowing the subject matter, and knowing your company’s messaging, voice, and tone. Structure involves how you will deliver your content, which forms of navigation you will use, and the underlying metadata that helps define and deliver your content. If the content strategy clearly documents all of these components, then it becomes a fundamental resource for technical editors to use as they edit all of the content.
Please bear (pun intended!) with me as I digress to talk a bit about an overlap between content strategy and information architecture. When Halvorson and Rach mention navigation and metadata, I immediately put on my information architect hat, and pull out “the polar bear book” (there’s my pun reference) on the topic, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. Rosenfeld and Morville define information architecture in the context of what an information architect does: “clarifies the mission and vision for the site … determines what content and functionality the site will contain … [defines] its organization, navigation, labeling and searching systems … [and] maps out how the site will accommodate change and growth over time” (1998). I digressed here because technical editors are definitely involved in editing the organization, navigation, labeling, and searchability of the content.
Let’s get back to the other component of content strategy, the people component, or workflow and governance. Really, these components are the people and processes components, covering the creation, maintenance, and review of the content. In addition to the content strategists, you need an army of folks—technical editors included—to ensure that the content strategy is successful. Technical editors, as the arbiters of quality, play a critical role in helping to define guidelines and templates, and in editing and reviewing the content during content creation and content maintenance. If the content strategy represents the plan (and the rules, to tie it back to my board game analogy), then the technical editors are the ones who validate that the plan is followed, and that the rules are adhered to along the way.
I hope you can see that a documented content strategy is a fundamental resource that technical editors require to be successful. What’s the other resource, which my column title hinted at? The style guide, of course.
(The title of my column is a play on the often quoted “I want my two dollars” from the movie, Better Off Dead.) Better Off Dead (film). Wikipedia. Retrieved on 13 January 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Off_Dead_(film).
“Strategy.” Wiktionary. Retrieved on 13 January 2019, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/strategy.
Halvorson, Kristina, and Melissa Rach. Content Strategy for the Web (2d ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders Press, 2012.
Rosenfeld, Louis, and Peter Morville. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (1st ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 1998.