Book Review: Content Strategy 101 by Sarah O’Keefe and Alan Pringle

Editor’s Note:  Thanks to Ryan Minaker for coordinating and editing this review.


Sarah S. O’Keefe and Alan S. Pringle of Scriptorium Publishing tried a fascinating experiment in putting together their latest book, “Content Strategy 101.”  They crowd-sourced the development, seeking commentary, feedback on the structure and content,  and reviews from a wide range of content and technical communication professionals via the contentstrategy101.com website.  Jacquie Samuels, a content strategy veteran, and Roger Renteria, a graduate of tech comm studies read the book at the website and offer their perspectives in this “mini-crowd-sourced” review. The hard copy book made its debut in November at LavaCon, and and can be purchased for download from scriptorium.com.


The Target Audience for Content Strategy 101

Jacquie: The book provides a good grounding in all the things you need to consider when thinking about content strategy.

The catch-22 is that not everyone realizes that they need to think about content strategy. It’s possible that the target audience (technical communicators) might overlook this book based on the title (i.e., “We don’t need to think about content strategy yet or/at all”, or “this isn’t for me.”). Perhaps a more fitting title for the book would be “What Every Technical Writer Should Understand before Writing Another Word.”

This book also doesn’t quite bridge the gap between what we, technical writers and managers, know needs to be done and how to convince upper management to embrace the value proposition, such as:

  • Cost savings
  • Reliability of content
  • Efficiency is so many areas
  • Streamlining processes

It all seems to fall on deaf ears. We need to ignite and guide the “information as an asset” revolution and while this book convinces you that content should be valued, it doesn’t provide you with the tools to light the fire and convince the CEO; however, maybe that subject is more suited to a more advanced text.

Roger: The book provides an overview of the field of technical communication geared towards those who are trying to make the business case for their supervisors. From the standpoint of having to convince supervisors that “my idea” is great for the company’s bottom-line, it’s a quick read and at least has the basics from which you can move forward with forming the business case.

Now, frame that for higher education — we try to make our work capabilities stretch as much as possible without spending any money. I wish I could understand it from management’s perspective, but it gives a nice insight on how we operate and our perspective for those interested in what a technical communicator may do.

Structure and Flow

Jacquie: I have a mixed opinion on this. Ideally, I think the first part of the book should have dealt with how to convince upper management to take content strategy seriously; however, it wasn’t until the case studies that this issue was addressed.

Was the structure of the book still useful and easy to follow? Overall, yes, it was.

Roger: I understand that this book’s organization is for the business-oriented. Coming from higher education and not the corporate world, I can see that the section on Business Goals is slightly confusing because we have annual budgets and we stick to it. Instead, this book can be used for small-scale projects in which we can use parts of this book to make a business case for changing how we operate.

Jacquie: The content occasionally meanders into different subject matter under the same section titles.
As a DITA proponent/practitioner, I’d prefer that the content to be more focused (perhaps I am too steeped in DITA). Otherwise, it was well written and occasionally humorous.

Roger: The first chapter is a quick read. What is mentioned here is what we [technical communicators] preach, but sometimes what we may not be able to practice. This chapter sets us up to understand the basic underlying concepts of content strategy and historical perspective. Toward the end of the chapter, there’s an overview of content delivery options, yet the last section on Modern Content was slightly disjointed.

While reading about wikis and documentation, I felt that it only focused on gaming wikis as the example of user-contributed content. There are other forms, such as wikis or knowledge bases, where users contribute content. I think that sites like Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, WikiHow, or IFixIt.com are more relevant and suitable examples of user-moderated and user-contributed content.

Covering the Bases from Entry-level to Advanced Topics

Jacquie: The chapter on Legal and Regulatory Requirements, although important, didn’t really fit with the rest of the content. It presented an overview of the different legal and regulatory requirements that technical communicators might be confronted with. There was some valuable strategic information, but I was hoping it would dig a bit deeper into strategy.

Otherwise, yes, it is a very good entry-level book and covers all bases, while also simultaneously going deep enough in each topic to let you advance on your own (or hire a consultant).

I also agree with Roger that including information on building a pilot project would be valuable.

Roger: The legal chapter is important to include. I agree with Jacquie that the legal aspect is difficult to pinpoint. What I enjoy about this chapter, is that it covers the basics of legal and regulatory issues. The book gives consideration to a variety of topics, including safety, patents, trademarks, and copyrights, which are topics most books I’ve read mention very little about.

I would have liked this book include some guidance on creating a pilot project, as part of the business case process. I felt that it came up short here, because having this information before jumping into a business case for making a full-scale implementation with content strategy would be very useful.

Valuable and Realistic Case Studies

Jacquie: These are real case studies. I’ve dealt with very similar ones. I think they are the best part of the book, but the level of detail included is (necessarily) limited. We’re only seeing the very tip of the iceberg on each case study. You have to read the case studies thinking about the 100 pages of content and months of analysis that they’ve been distilled from. If you just try to read and follow those case studies to apply to your own content, you’re going to miss crucial analytical steps and lead your company down a very bad path. Those case studies are a guide to understanding the rest of the book in real-world situations and should not be read on their own or followed blindly.

Roger: While I understand that names of people and businesses are changed to protect the innocent, these case studies are pretty neat to follow. They don’t go into too much detail, but each one offers a nice overview of each business situation, estimated costs, and solutions in the business case. The positive element I gained from these case studies is they follow a straightforward path of problem, solution, and business case.

Bottom Line:  Two Thumbs Up for Content Strategy 101

Jacquie: Yes. It is very much geared towards providing technical writers and technical managers with the tools they’ll need to start developing a content strategy.

It is too detailed and specific to technical communications for people outside of this field to find an interest in it.

Roger: Yes. The book is a great introduction for those entering the field of technical communication and the book can be easily understood by college students majoring in technical communication or have a focus of studies within the field. Also, this book would be useful for individuals who need a quick understanding of the concepts applicable to this field.

I might not recommend this book to managers or leaders as a definitive guide, but it is definitely an easy read and a quick primer into content strategy, if required.

Jacquie Samuels

Jacquie Samuels is the owner of Writing Wise and a consultant at Publishing Smarter, sharing business solutions in technical communication. She endeavors to help everyone create documentation that is stronger, faster, and smarter. You can connect with Jacquie through her Google Plus page.

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Roger is relatively new to the technical communication field; however, he works extremely hard to network and develop professional relationships among colleagues. He also posts articles regarding technical communication on his blog at WriteTechie.com. If you are interested in hiring Roger, feel free to view his resume on LinkedIn.

Read more articles from Roger Renteria Twitter and Facebook.

Ryan Minaker

Ryan Minaker is a professional technical communicator. With over 10 years experience in the field, he has played the role of technical writer, information architect, usability specialist, and content strategist.

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