Content Strategy, Content Writing, Web Writing, and Technical Writing explained
(No, they are not the same!)
The world of content is rather complex. There is a lot of thought that goes behind stringing words together in a sophisticated way. There are elaborate and ongoing roles within organizations wholly dedicated to content solutions.
If you are a writer who writes copy for social media posts, publishes blogs for a website or produces plain language technical documents, you are definitely part of the ecosystem. But what exactly does the content ecosystem look like? Is it about generating ideas for content or executing them? Is it about creating ownership or pushing content one after the other? Is it just about creativity or does it also entail usability of content?
I often use the set theory to make sense of the content ecosystem. This analogy helps me visualize the skills I have already and the ones that I wish to gain.
In one line, a content strategy is a blueprint to plan, create and manage content. This means not only producing content but also coordination between all channels of communication, stakeholders from different business units and technology that supports this process.
As Kristina Halverson explains in her book, Content Strategy for the web, it defines the use of content from a business standpoint to meet the needs of users. Content Strategy is the bigger picture which carves out how to generate content, who will generate content and what purpose will it have. They collaborate with marketing folks to ensure words are consistent with brand message and style guide, user experience specialists to ensure the content is in sync with user needs, legal teams to make sure no content obligated by law is missed and technologists who finally enable the content for the audience. They manage the entire content life-cycle, its relevance and purpose that it serves.
A content strategist may or may not be producing content, but is responsible for making decisions about the content. In fact, they could work with writers or editors to oversee the development of content. But doing the content isn’t same as copy writing.
A content strategist wears the hat of a writer (to produce content), an information architect (designs the navigation to organize information), an SEO specialist (makes the content relevant) or a content manager (coordinates, implements and executes content projects) but is definitely not limited to writing copy. They analyze, deliver ideas and manage projects to ensure that content serves to the business objectives. And so, there may be a few people in the organization focusing on content strategy.
In other words, content strategy states the goal and content writing is the outcome.
So then what does content writing entail?
Content Writing can be broadly seen under two streams — creative writing and web writing. When we talk about written content, it could mean anything. A blog piece on how to cook Mediterranean food, a fictional bedtime story, a newspaper article, a social media post, a book review, a step-by-step instruction manual to downloading a software, a detailed analysis compiled into a report, an error message on your screen. From technical to useful to creative, a written word is a piece of content and it must align with the content strategy devised for the brand.
A content writer cannot afford to work in silos without an understanding of web anatomy. It is a craft that weaves creative storytelling, understanding of the user, technological know-how and a business approach in a project. As a content writer, it is also important to hone your research skills. Especially for inspiration, ideation and producing quality content.
Traditionally, a content writer gathers source of content, compiles, writes and edits it, takes the approval and adds it to the design. However, the scope of work for a content writer is wider than just writing. It is also researching on the relevance of content, using the right keywords (right for both; users and the business), referring and linking to sources, writing effective metadata, using the right platform to publish content and making it shareable.
And how is content writing different from web writing?
Web writing is the practice of writing a content which is useful, usable and accessible. It is not only writing creatively, but effectively. To do just that, the writer has to be mindful of the user for whom the piece of content is being produced. When a user comes to a website, they always have a goal in mind. It could be search for an information, place an order or make a donation. It is important that the words written on the website (or app) help the user accomplish that task. As a part of a team which includes writing as one of the primary requirements, it is important to understand elements that add value to writing, such as user experience design (or information architecture), search techniques (or writing metadata) and user research (or knowing the user in-depth). The official website for usability emphasizes on using plain language when writing for the web, to make the entire experience seamless and straightforward for user.
Did you also say technical writing?
Coming to the last segment, technical writing. Though it is associated with web writing quite often because it also involves writing for solving a user problem, it has a very specific use. A technical writer writes about either a software or a product giving detailed instructions to the user on how to access it. It is always a plain language document such as an instruction manual whose purpose is to establish instructions to get started. A good example could be Shopify help center which can explain how to open an e-commerce store. This document defines all the features of Shopify that you would need to build an e-commerce store.
If you are aiming to be a part of a content ecosystem, ask yourself these questions –
Do I want to write to communicate a message? (I’m a copywriter)
Do I want to tell a story which serves a purpose and easy to find on the internet? (I’m a content writer)
Do I want to write to help users accomplish a task? (I’m a web writer)
Do I want to write instructions for a task? (I’m a technical writer)
Do I also get to decide on what to write and why is it needed for the brand? (I’m a content strategist)
Do I manage the content for the brand? (I’m a content ninja!)
It will help you find your spot, focus on the skills you have and identify areas that needs improvement to grow as a content specialist.