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The Intersection of Content Strategy and TechComm

Different facets of the same problem

coin_janus_225-212Content strategy and technical communication are different facets of the same problem. Content strategy means that you use information to achieve business goals. Technical communication is information that enables people to use a product or service.

The content strategy comes first. After you establish a content strategy for a particular business, technical communicators (and other writers) are needed to actually execute on that strategy.

There is a lot of interest in the various writing communities—tech comm, marcomm, and so on—in the question of content strategy. Many writers wonder, “Should I become a content strategist?” (and some gutsier ones simply have rebranded themselves).

Different skills for different tasks

Technical communication and content strategy, though, are not the same thing, and they require different skill sets. Technical communicators need the following:

  • pen-typwriterWriting ability
  • Domain knowledge about the product they need to explain
  • Understanding of publishing tools and technologies

Content strategists, by contrast, need the following, according to Rahel Bailie:

  • Requirements analysis (identifying business needs and goals)
  • User analysis
  • Content analysis
  • Content design and production
  • Content and technology

Technical communicators tend to have the most difficulty with the requirements and business analysis.

A specialized version of management consulting

Another way of looking at content strategy is that it is a specialized version of management consulting. Here are some of the skills that the Institute of Management Consultants USA lists for a successful management consultant:

  • Change management skills (the first item on the list!!)
  • Technical and business knowledge
  • Business understanding
  • Ownership, management and delivery of solutions to clients
  • Project delivery and risk management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to transfer skills to others
  • Creative and analytical thinking
  • Adherence to a code of conduct and ethical guidelines

This list of skills deviates quite significantly from a typical job description in tech comm.

Does it make sense for a technical communicator to shift toward content strategy?

shift keyIt depends on your interests. For example:

  • Are you more interested in learning the ins and outs of a new tool (tech comm) or in assessing three different tools to determine which one is the best choice (content strategy)?
  • Is the thought of writing a business case to justify a $1M investment interesting (content strategy) or horrifying (not content strategy)?
  • Do you want to spend your day in meetings with executives (content strategy) or with subject matter experts (tech comm)?
  • What is more satisfying: writing a 25-page document and accompanying slide presentation that describes a big-picture strategy (content strategy) or writing content that is clear, concise, and jargon-free to streamline localization efforts (tech comm)?

Generally, content strategy requires a more holistic view of information and tech comm requires a more tactical perspective.

As a content strategist, you will be asked to look beyond your core area of competency (for example, tech comm or marcomm writing) and think about how you can align content development efforts across the organization to support business goals.

This is not a good fit for the “You’ll pry Favorite Software from my cold, dead hands” contingent because if your favorite tool doesn’t meet the business’s goals, it is your job to identify a better alternative.


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Sarah O'Keefe

Sarah O'Keefe is the founder and principal of Scriptorium Publishing, a content strategy consultancy based in North Carolina. She is the co-author of many books like Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11, Content Strategy 101: A Real-World Guide to Planning and Writing Technical Content, Content Strategy 101: Transform Technical Content into a Business Asset and Technical Writing 101: A Real-World Guide to Planning and Writing Technical Documentation. Sarah is a popular speaker on many TechComm conferences around the world and regarded as a thought leader and one of the most important voices in the industry.

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