Today I attended my second webinar by Information Mapping, and it dealt with content standards, templates, and models.
A corporate content standard is a set of guidelines for everyone in an organization to follow to ensure content is written, formatted, and stored in ways that make it easy to retrieve, understand, and repurpose. Content standards facilitate team authoring, updates and revisions, compliance (particularly if the content will have to be audited), and migration to content management systems.
A content standard forms the basis for templates and model documents. Templates outline the format and content requirements for a specific type of document (fill-in-the blank kinds of documents, good for simpler content), whereas models are basically prototype documents that serve as a standard for creating subsequent documents (good for more complex content, like engineering reports).
To create a content standard, you need to understand
- your users (e.g., Who are they? What do they know? What do they need to know? How do they access information?),
- your content (e.g., How complex is the content? Are there graphics involved? Do you need to include special warnings?), and
- the technologies used to access the content (e.g., Will it be paper based or online?).
Once you’ve created the content standard, you need to deploy it. Training will be involved, at all levels of your organization, and you may have to overcome an institutional resistance to change. Encouraging the shift in mindset among writers from creating full manuals, say, to topic-based authoring will be key.
In the Information Mapping content standard, the content is modularized into blocks, which are separated visually with lines and white space. On paper, a two-column grid is used, where labels are set off to the left, allowing users to easily scan and find what they need. As a result, the lines of text are short, resulting in reduced eye fatigue. The standard makes use of bullets to highlight important information and tables to present structured information. Information Mapping’s FS Pro software is a Microsoft Word plug-in that helps authors create content to the Information Mapping standard.
We were shown some examples of documents using the Information Mapping standard—or some modification thereof. A major advantage of the standard is its flexibility and adaptability for different types of content and presentations. One example I particular liked was a set of job aid cards used to help workers troubleshoot problems on a light rail transit system. Each card guides the user through solving one problem and features an illustration and clear instructions. The cards are colour-coded for easy recognition and retrieval, and should a procedure change, a single card can be revised without having to replace the whole set.
This webinar reinforced many of the topics introduced in the last one I attended, and again, although it was essentially an infomercial, it offered a lot of solid suggestions for content creators and editors. What I appreciated about the notion of a content standard is that it’s more than a style guide for how to write text—it emphasizes the importance of uniformity in formatting and file naming and hierarchy for easy information retrieval. These are areas that have the capacity to vastly reduce redundancy in content creation, regardless of the size of your organization.
This webinar, along with others in the Information Mapping series, are archived on the company’s website.