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Day 5 – Putting user questions at the heart of our writing

by , Content Strategist, GatherContent

Putting users first isn’t just a job for content strategists. On day five of our Content Strategy Advent Calendar User Experience Designer, Paul Boag, encourages us to start with the questions that users want answered.

Video transcript

Hello, and Happy Christmas. Well I say Happy Christmas, in fact I’m recording this at the end of October. But let’s not be picky. I guess I should have guessed that GatherContent are going to plan ahead when it comes to their own content.

Anyway, my name is Paul Boag and the lovely people at GatherContent have asked me to contribute to their content strategy advent calendar. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a hoax as I’m a user experience designer and not a content strategist. But you don’t say no to GatherContent, they’re like the mafia.

Anyway, because I’m not a content specialist I rarely am the person that actually sits down and writes content on projects. In fact, in many cases it’s my clients that are delivering content, which, let’s be honest, is never a good sign.

You see, the people who end up writing content in a lot of situations, may be great writers in other fields. They might be academics, or business writers, or marketers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be great at writing for the web. Sure we can send them on a course or attempt to bring them up to speed, but often there isn’t the budget or even the recognition that it needs to happen.

The result is I often find myself looking for quick and dirty shortcuts to help them improve their content that they post online. Some kind of simple hack or mantra that they can implement when they sit down to actually write.

“Start with the questions that users want answered. You see, the trouble is most inexperienced content creators start from entirely the wrong premise when they write.”

What I often settle on is to encourage them to start with the questions that users want answered. You see, the trouble is most inexperienced content creators start from entirely the wrong premise when they write. They start by asking ‘what do I want to say?’ rather than, ‘what does the user want to know?’. And that wrong starting point throws off the entire writing process and results in copy that fails to meet users’ needs.

So, that’s my tip. If you want to help your clients and colleagues to write better content, get them to start by listing all of the questions that users want answered. Heck, you might even want to go a step further and actually talk to some users to find out what questions they have. Talking to users. What madness! But you never know, it might just help and I promise you that even starting with a few questions that users might have will make an enormous difference to the usefulness of the content that they deliver.

About Paul

Paul Boag is a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancyspeakingwritingtraining and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

Paul is a prolific writer having written Digital AdaptationWebsite Owners ManualClient Centric Web Design and numerous articles for publications such as net magazineSmashing Magazine and Sitepoint.

Paul also speaks extensively on various aspects of digital both at conferences across the world and on his award winning podcast.

About the Author

Content Strategist, GatherContent

Rob is Content Strategist at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways, WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy at leading industry events.

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