When I work on a project as a content designer, a lot of research, thinking and planning is needed before I start to create the content. In this article I'll share my template for how I make sure the content I design is user-focused and considers all of the work that happens before the writing.
By the time I'm ready to write, some or all of the following activities will have happened during the project:
auditing of existing content
subject expert interviews
user journey mapping
fact finding about workflow, roles and content types
getting to know the style guide
There may have been other work I've been invovled with or aware of too such as defining workflows, working on ways to prioritise content and creating website propositions. This too can be a long list.
That means when I need to focus on the content creation part of my role, there is a lot of information that I've become aware of. Sometimes, the more you know, the harder your job can be. In the case of content design, I find the more work that is done upfront, as per the lists already included in this article, the easier the content creation part is. That said, it is important to take all of the relevant bits of information from everything shared and focus on those to be sure the content you're creating is meeting the needs of the users and of the business publishing that content.
My process for doing this is based around my own template that allows me to bring all the information and data I need into one place (usually a Google Doc) that is structured and makes sure I stay focused on users, their needs and the purpose of the content.
A structure to guide your content creation
Template may be a little fancy for what it is. Really it is a list of headings in a doc. Sometimes I create content in Figma but usually it is a standard doc file so to avoid having blank page syndrome, my structure gives me something to start with. This means I don't forget anything whenever I start a new piece of content. There are sections for:
call to action(s)
notes and links
Here's why I include each of these sections, with examples where necessary.
This is the guiding star of the content. The content is being created to meet a user need so it is important I keep that front of mind, which is why I have this at the start of the template.
User needs are written in this structure:
As a ...
I need to ...
So that ...
A good place to see user needs in practice is on GOV.UK. You can add /info to a URL and that will show you the user need for that page. An example is the page to apply online for a UK passport. The URL is https://www.gov.uk/apply-renew-passport but if you add info to it, like this, https://www.gov.uk/info/apply-renew-passport you can see the user need, acceptance criteria and how the need is in proposition.
I always include the acceptance criteria because this tells me the details of what the content needs to include based on what the user needs to know in order for their need to be met.
Already at this stage I am getting a good picture of what the content will look like and starting to think about the structure.
At this point I will have already been part of the user research process, such as giving input to the discussion guide, or at the very least have seen the outcomes of the research. So I'll have a solid understanding of who the users are. But I find it helpful to write my own description of who the audience is for the content.
An example of what I might write is:
Landowners who are searching for benefits to tree planting
Landowners with an understanding of some benefits of tree planting that may become aware of additional benefits
Schools and not for profits searching for information about how tree planting can benefit their local community
That tells me if my understanding is clear enough. If I can't articulate it in my own way then I need more details, context or clarification before I write the content.
I go back through all of the outputs from user research and pull out anything specific to the content I am creating. This includes transcripts, write-ups, presentation decks, Miro boards, Trello boards - whatever the user researcher has used to share the outcomes.
I will add to the template under this section verbatim quotes from users, notes from the user researcher, and stats and data.
It's at this point that I can confidently write the purpose, or purposes, for the content. In relation to a page on a website, I may write things like:
if people are searching for [insert topic] it can be an entry point to their journey with [insert organisation] and lead them to [insert title] content
this page will serve to share the [insert organisation] commitment to carbon reduction.
content that can be repurposed for other content types and channels such as blog posts and social media content
As with the users, if I cannot write a purpose for the content here then either I'm not ready to write the content or the content isn't needed. Due to all of the work that has happened prior to getting to this point, it should be true that a purpose can be defined.
A natural follow on from the purpose of the content is to think more specifically about the goal of the content. Sometimes a goal can be really specific such as getting a user to subscribe to a newsletter, create an account, buy a product, download gated content, and so on.
Other times the goal is more broad such as:
inform users of all benefits related to planting trees, with links to additional stages of the defined user journey.
The less specific the goal, the harder they can be to measure. More on that shortly.
Call to action(s)
All call to actions must be clear, based on what users need to do next. To make an informed decision for this part I really need to understand the wider customer journey, along with the purpose and goal of the page. In many cases I find I am linking to an additional piece of content and so I need to know why that is and how best to frame that for the user.
I always like to consider at the content creation stage how I will measure the success of the content I am designing. If the purpose, goal and call to action are specific, it can be easier to determine how success can be measured. An example would be number of downloads, number of new subscribers, how far into an onboarding journey people reached before dropping off.
When the goal is less specific, such as the example above about informing users and encouraging them to the next step of the user journey (the next piece of content), success may be measured using trackable URLs, heat maps, analytics and other data that will show you the journey users have taken. It's also important to have any data available for the existing content, if relevant, as this can be a benchmark.
Notes and links
In the final section of the template I add anything else that may help me with the content. This can include:
contact details of subject experts and content owners
where the content needs to be translated
This is where I also add any questions I may still have so that I don't forget to get the answers I need.
Three ways this template can help with your content
This template keeps the focus on the user and gives the content a clear purpose with a measurable goal. The template also:
Provides a structure that helps to pull out the relevant parts of all information, research and data available.
Quickly surfaces gaps in knowledge, or lack of clarity, that need to be resolved before content is created.
Is a useful reference point for showing the thinking behind the content and discussing the draft content with others (subject experts, stakeholders).
Best of all, it's a template that you can start to use right away. Open a blank doc, put in the headings, and short descriptions if helpful, and it's ready to be added to when you next design some content.