Know your purpose before you start writing

I’ve been reviewing and editing a lot of web content lately, produced by staff who are not professional writers. Lack of planning has been a key problem. This results in content that lacks a focus or clear purpose.

Poor planning means poor focus

The first problem I usually notice is poor focus. It’s not clear what the content is trying to do.  It rambles, covering every aspect or detail that a user would (probably n)ever want. There’s no key message, or if there is, it’s buried.  Clearly, the author has not done enough planning.

Good content starts with purpose

Good planning identifies the main purpose of the page.  Without this, it’s easy for content to take up space without providing anything useful.

One of my clients uses a planning template to help web writers. It asks content owner to state the purpose of the page. I’ve sometimes found this blank.  When it’s not, it’s often vague or just restates the topic.

In my writing workshops, participants always tell me that a key part of planning content is knowing the page purpose. But when I ask them how they work this out, often they can’t say.

Questions to help you identify the purpose

  • Why are you publishing this content? What must it achieve?
  • What information need does it address? What content gap does it fill?
  • What do users want to know? What do they want to do? What do you want them to know or be able to do?
  • Are you responding to customer enquiries or feedback by creating this information? What are they asking or telling you?
  • Does this content have several purposes? Which is most important?
  • Is there similar content already on your site? How will you avoid repetition or overlap? What must this content do that’s unique?
  • Have you published similar content elsewhere (in a brochure, for instance)?  How should your online content relate to the content published elsewhere?

Other things you can do

  • Plan content in brainstorming sessions with your colleagues
  • Talk to people who have contact with your customers
  • Gather customer feedback from your call centre and email enquiries
  • Talk to your web team. Can they share reports on search queries or other data related to this topic?