WRD 532: Content Strategy (Winter 2023)

In WRD 532, we will explore content strategy, a set of practices that guide the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content in professional settings. Through readings, exercises, and situated work with a nonprofit partner organization, you will learn and try core content strategy practices, such as auditing content, conducting user and stakeholder research, mapping experiences, structuring content, and developing content templates, samples, and governance documents.  Additionally, given the fast-evolving and ethically fraught ways that digital content now circulates, we will discuss how content has historically connected and empowered people—for good and ill—and what lessons this history can teach today’s content professionals.

  • Conduct and report actionable findings from key types of content-strategy research, including user, stakeholder, and competitor research
  • Deploy the genres commonly used to evaluate and govern digital content in organizations, such as content audit reports, personas, user experience maps, content templates and mockups, and communication timelines and calendars
  • Design content types and create sample content that meet users’ needs and organizational goals
  • Describe strategies that make content recognizable to machines and impactful for people, as well as the common pragmatic and ethical tensions faced by content strategists, managers, and creators

Readings

Aalen, I. (2015, Jan. 6). The core model: Designing inside out for better results.

Beckerman, G. (2022). The quiet before: On the unexpected origins of radical ideas. Crown.

Bloomstein, M. (2014). How does message architecture drive the content and design? In Content strategy at work: Real-world stories to strengthen every interactive project (pp. 27-37). Elsevier.

Caldwell, J. (2020). Excerpts from Voice and tone strategy: Connecting with people through content.

Hall, E. (2019). Just enough research, 2nd edition. A Book Apart.

Halvorson, K., and Rach, M. (2012). Content strategy for the web, 2nd ed. New Riders.

Halvorson, K. (2019, Jan. 22). “Laura Trujillo and Ashlee Harris, City of Austin – User research and creating empathy” . In The content strategy podcast. Brain Traffic.

Halvorson, K. (2022, Nov. 23). “David Dylan Thomas – Understanding design, content, and bias” . In The content strategy podcast. Brain Traffic.

Halvorson, K. (2021, Jul. 13). “Helen Lawson, Co-op Funeral – The importance of empathetic language, voice and tone” . In The content strategy podcast. Brain Traffic.

Kalbach, J. (2021). Excerpts from Mapping experiences: A complete guide to customer alignment through journeys, blueprints, and diagrams (2nd edition). O’Reilly Media.

Land, P. (2014). Excerpts from Content audits and inventories: A handbook. XML Press.

Miller, K.L. (2013). Mapping it out: Sketching out your big picture communications timeline. In Content marketing for nonprofits (pp. 139–158). Jossey-Bass.

Redish, J. (2012). Planning: Purposes, personas, conversations. In Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works, 2nd edition (pp. 17–36). Morgan Kaufmann.

Rockley, A. (2016). Why you need two types of content strategist.

Rockley, A., Cooper, C., and Abel, S. (2015). Excerpts from Intelligent content: A primer. XML Press.

Wachter-Boettcher, S. (2017). Normal people. In Technically wrong: Sexist apps, biased algorithms, and other threats of toxic tech (pp. 27–48). WW Norton & Company.

Assignments

  1. Content Critique: Using principles and practices from content strategy, you will analyze several samples of online content from an organization of your choice and write a report that identifies key strengths and weaknesses of that content, makes prioritized suggestions for improvement, and presents some concrete revisions. The report will be designed for a busy workplace audience, and therefore should make use of screenshots, lists, tables, and other visual design techniques.
  2. User- or Stakeholder-Research and Report: To practice some of the fundamental techniques for engaging with users and stakeholders during the content-strategy process, you will conduct a remote or in-person interview and competitive usability evaluation with a potential user of or stakeholder in our NPO partner’s content. You will document these activities, then write an approximately 2-3-page report that both summarizes your key insights and reflects on the interview experience.
  3. Contributions to Nonprofit Partner Portfolio and Report + Informal Presentation: You will produce at least two deliverables for our nonprofit partner (independently or in collaboration with a classmate), which might include personas for key audiences, a message architecture, a core strategy statement, voice and tone guidelines, visual style guidelines, a big-picture communications timeline, a peer/competitor audit report, content templates and illustrative samples, website wireframes, or workflow and governance documents. We will determine an appropriate set of deliverables near the midpoint of the course, from which you can choose those that interest you. You will also help craft overall recommendations and write material introducing your deliverables for a final portfolio and report to be presented to our nonprofit partner on the final exam day.
  4. Engagement, Reflection Tasks, & Participation: This category of work is ongoing and includes 1) your engagement with individual and group in-class practice tasks and discussions, 2) your thoughtful completion of weekly D2L discussion posts 3) a brief, culminating Point of Interest Paper, in which you synthesize ideas around an intersection between your interests and one or more of the course texts, 4) your completion of self-assessment activities, and 5) your compliance with deadlines.