I’ve been reading Karen McGrane’s book Content Strategy for Mobile which is full of great advice for anyone trying to address the challenges of content publishing, to any platform, not just mobile. I strongly recommend it, as it’s a great read.
I don’t want to give away the ending (!) but one of the tips Karen returns to in her concluding section is this:
Don’t encode meaning in visual styling
That’s really good advice, and it has some far-reaching implications.
Ever since the arrival of WYSIWYG desktop publishing we have been captivated by the ability to create visually interesting documents. Many popular word processing and productivity packages (you all know which ones I am talking about) allow document creators to make text bold, or italic, or larger, or smaller, or have a different colour or a different typeface, or whatever. It’s a simple and obvious way to signify the relative importance of an item of text. It’s easy and it’s fun and sometimes it looks great, while at other times – many other times – it can just look like a badly organised ransom note. But the generally accepted understanding seems to be that if it’s bigger or bolder (or both) it must be more important.
The problem is that this sort of visual styling is neither scalable nor sustainable the minute you move away from producing single documents to producing reusable packages of content. These DTP-based ideas need to be unlearned, and instead we need to learn about the power of metadata. Metadata simply means additional information about your data, or in this case, about your text. Document description fields such as Author, Title and Date are all metadata, but you may also want to mark parts of your document as Headline, Abstract, or Conclusion.
Karen explains that content publishers must learn to exploit all the metadata options supported by whichever Content Management System (CMS) they are using and that they probably need to expand the number of metadata categories available. The topic of metadata is closely related to the use of markup languages, which is the subject of an exclusive article in the May 2013 edition of the Marginal Notes Newsletter. (You can subscribe by entering your email in the form in the right-hand column of this blog.)
Using metadata to support the meaning of your content is a powerful way to make your work scalable, accessible, and relevant to your readers.