Often, web writers tell us they don’t know how or where to start. Here are the main steps you need to take, and a template to help you.
If you’re updating existing content, we think it’s worth going through these steps again. A lot of existing content is in poor shape and that may be because it wasn’t planned well.
Do some research
Create a list of topics and questions to guide your research. Here are some examples that might help you get started.
- Are there existing publications (brochures, documents, reports or web pages) that provide information for this content?
- Is there a subject matter expert within our organisation? Is there someone external?
- Does another organisation publish similar content? How have they approached it?
Reason for publishing the content
- Why are we publishing this? Does this content support a product, service, process, policy or program? Are we responding to customer feedback? Is there a legal/compliance reason for publishing? Have there been changes in the business, policy or legal environment?
- Do we have a good reason to publish this content, or should we reconsider? Is this part of our core business? Should we just link to content published elsewhere?
- What happens if we don’t publish this?
Purpose and focus of the content
- What is the main purpose or key message of the content? Are there secondary purposes or messages? Where should the focus be?
- What does the content need to achieve?
- What do we want our audience to know or do after they’ve read this?
Target audience analysis
- Who is this content for? Is there more than one audience? If so, are some groups more important than others? Will some rely on this information more? Who isn’t it for?
- What information are they looking for? What questions are they trying to answer? What tasks are they doing?
- What do they know already? Will different audiences have different levels of existing knowledge?
- What situation are they in when they read this? What challenges or problems are they trying to sort out?
- What terms will our audience be familiar with? Is there any jargon we should avoid? Are there program, policy or service names that might be new or confusing? Are there acronyms or abbreviations we should avoid using?
- What keywords (topic terms) will our audience use when searching for this content? What words will they recognise in search results? Do we have any data (search analytics, call centre logs, marketing/keyword research) that will help us identify the best keywords to use?
- Where on the site should we publish this content? Where is our audience likely to look?
- Do we have similar content online already? How similar? Should this be merged with the existing content, or should that be reworked or removed?
- Is there related content we should link to? Should this content be linked from related content? Is the cross-linking necessary?
- Who needs to review or approved this content?
- Are any legal checks required?
- Who is going to maintain this content?
- How often will this content need to be checked or updated? When should it be removed and archived?
Updating existing content
If you’re updating existing content, consider:
- Relevant, needed – do you still need to have this content online?
- Usage statistics – are they higher or lower than you expected?
- Audience feedback – what can you improve on?
- Keyword searches – what led people to this content?
Talk to your colleagues
Always talk to anyone who will review, approve or publish the content you’re working on. Many writers don’t do this and end up wasting time making changes or doing a complete re-write later.
The more important, difficult or controversial the content, the more people you may need to consult.
Make a list of people with a stake in the content. It may include:
- Subject matter experts
- Reviewers or editor
- Web publisher
- Content owner or approver
- Your manager, or managers of areas related to the content
- Content or website manager.
Prepare a list of issues to discuss with them. Use your research topics and questions as a starting point.
To work through your questions, you might only need an informal discussion, make a couple of phone calls or email someone. Or you might need to consider a short planning meeting. A meeting is a good idea where opinions vary and you need to reach agreement.
Make notes as you work through your discussions.
Analyse the information you’ve collected
Review and summarise the information you’ve collected from your content sources and discussions.
Write a list of items the content needs to cover; dot points will do at this stage.
Make a note of any graphics or multimedia you need to use, or any forms or tables a developer may need to create for you.
Produce an outline
A written outline can help you organise your material before you start writing.
Start by reviewing and grouping your list of content items.
The consider the order of the groups of items. Is there a natural or obvious order (for example, a sequence of steps in a process, or geographical order)? How can you bring the most important or frequently used items to the top? Do you need to split the content across multiple pages for different audiences or tasks?
Review your outline. Remove items that aren’t needed. Add missing items. Review your grouping of items. Review the order of grouped items.
Seek feedback if appropriate
When your brief is simple and the approach you discussed with everyone was agreed, you’ll be able to skip this step. But where opinion was divided or the topic is complex, getting feedback on a detailed outline is a good idea.
Now you’re ready to start writing.
If you use this method, you’ll save time drafting and rewriting, and content review and approval should be much more straightforward.