Defining editorial themes to guide content creation

When I started Fourth Wall Content I wanted it to have clear values, principles and editorial standards. This article summarises how I defined my editorial themes and shares what they are. I'll also cover what the themes mean for the work I do and the content I create.

My first intention for having a blog was to write about the stuff that interested me. That’s a good motivation. You have to care about what you’re saying. As the blog became part of a bigger thing I still wanted to focus on the topics that I had an interest in. Now though, I wanted to approach it with more structure, guidance and meaning.


Reasons for defining editorial themes


I want to ensure any articles I publish align with my content strategy. Here's a great article from Brain Traffic explaining content strategy. I also wanted to be clear on the principles that form the foundations for the work I do and the content I publish. Both for Fourth Wall Content and the teams and organisations I’ll be working with. It was also important that I took time to think about my own values as a person. They will also be guiding the sort of work I take on.


Defining editorial themes was important for ensuring all articles published have:

  • Focus - a central point based on or around a particular theme

  • Purpose - each article has to serve a purpose (inform, inspire, educate). This will be the reason for writing the article

The themes would also ensure some degree of consistency across all articles published. This would help establish and build myself and the blog as a trusted source of information on the topics I write about.


How to define editorial themes


Fourth Wall Content is in its infancy so some of the activites outlined below have been fairly low-touch compared to if I was doing the same work in a much bigger company with more content. That said, whether a company of one person or 1,000, no harm can come from applying content strategy principles and tasks to whatever work you do.


I will write about each one in more detail for future articles but here’s a summary of my process for creating editorial themes.


Create a content strategy


I created a content strategy for Fourth Wall Content around the goals I’ve set for the business. I also defined principles for the content I publish. My editorial strategy is a component of the content strategy.


Understand the target audiences


I wanted to formalise and write down my target audiences for Fourth Wall Content. The audience segments I will be writing for include:

  • Clients (prospective and current)

  • Peers in content and UX

  • Those with an interest in film and media studies

There are lots of details behind those groups (for example, clients will vary significantly) and understanding my audience is a process that will never stop because audience understanding isn't a project with an end point. It's about always listening, measuring, engaging and continually asking questions.


Define the purpose of the blog


Once I knew who I was writing for and what my goals were, I could then write a reason, or purpose statement, for my content. This is a summary of why the blog exists and is specific to editorial content. The five editorial themes I have ended up with all feed into the purpose of the blog.


Review existing content


As I'm publishing articles from my older blog which no longer exists, I had a small inventory of content to start with. I read through the articles and noted down the key messages and topics they conveyed. It was a classic case of writing it all down on sticky notes and grouping them. By the end of this exercise I had a short list of themes stuck to the wall of my home office (a log cabin).

Sticky notes on a wooden wall showing content themes, grouped under five headings.

Given how little content there is, this was a fairly quick and straightforward process and nothing like doing a detailed audit after publishing a lot more content. That will follow after more time has passed. If you've already got a lot of content yourself, Animalz have published a helpful article about how to do a content audit the strategic way.


List new content ideas


I wrote down a list of ideas I had for articles. Following the same process as I did for existing content, I listed topics, grouped ideas and assigned themes to each.


Five editorial themes to guide content creation


By the end of this process I saw patterns in my content (existing and ideas) and had a list of five themes. I spent more time than I intended deciding how I wanted to describe the themes and settled on two words for each. I wanted them to be broad enough that they would represent all my ideas and plans for the articles. I also wanted them to be specific enough to be meaningful and helpful in guiding content creation.


My five editorial themes are:


1. Process sharing


I learn so much from the work and experiences of others. I want to share my own processes for two reasons.

  1. Writing about how I work will help me better explain that to others. When you write about how you do something, you’re reviewing it too.

  2. To help others. If one person reads an article about how I work and it helps with their own process - that's a win.

The articles planned for this theme relate to my writing and editing work and may focus on a really specific part of one process or something more broad. An example is my recent article about improving the quality of your writing by reading it aloud.


2. Audience focused


This theme ensures I write about audience research methods and considerations and techniques to target specific audiences. It’ll draw on my time as an Audience Research Executive at the BBC and the audience and user-focused work I have completed since then. It is also where I'll categorise articles about the fourth wall.


3. Telling stories


This is the broadest of all themes as storytelling itself is vast. I'll cover narrative devices, codes and conventions. An example is the article about narrative codes in Hitchcock’s Psycho. These articles will focus on traditional media studies and my love for film. This was the original idea for the blog that became the focus for a business.


4. Content parameters


This theme will include articles about the considerations and constraints we work within. Some of those are self imposed and others are placed upon us. An example of topics covered here are 'subjectivity' and 'context'. I'll focus more on the content strategy side of the work I have done and continue to do.


5. Communication skills


So much of what I do as a content practitioner comes down to communication. Being a good communicator is an essential skill. Articles lined-up for this theme include active listening, giving feedback, effective dissemination and asking the right questions.


Guiding themes and a work in progress


These themes will guide my content creation as any article published on the Fourth Wall Content blog must have a primary editorial theme. Articles can have secondary themes too.


These themes are a work in progress. I also need to consider categories and tags as the content inventory grows and before it becomes too unwieldy. The content parameters title still needs work too, but I don’t want semantics to hold me back from writing and publishing at this stage. I will be continually reviewing the articles I plan and publish with the five editorial themes in mind. So far, they have provided focus, purpose and guidance in my content creation, as intended.

Need help defining your own editorial themes? Find out how I can help

Article attributions and references:


Typewriter and goals cover photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Brain Traffic: What is content strategy?

Animalz: How to do a content audit (the strategic way)

Post it notes on a wall image by Robert Mills