Book Review: The Language of Content Strategy

The Language of Content StrategyThe Language of Content Strategy, edited by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie, is an important book in the development of a common language for content strategy. Making sure we’re all using the same words to mean the same thing is a vital step in the development of this profession.

This book has 52 contributors and 52 terms designed to give us a common lexicon for discussing, planning, and sharing content strategy. The book presents each term in a standard format including its definition, why it’s important, and why a content strategist needs to understand it.

New terms are available each week for free on and, as of August 25, 2014, we’re at week 26 already. You can also comment (thank you Scott Abel!) on individual terms.

There’s no denying that this is an important book, although it’s not enough for a new or aspiring content strategist to get started. The terms they cover is a comprehensive list—for now. I hope they have plans to keep growing, because if nothing else, content strategy is an impressively growing profession.

My favorite part of the whole book is in the Foreword, where Marcia Riefer Johnson introduces the point of the exercise:

The language of content strategy is as big as they come. Governance. Taxonomy. Content audit. Words like these straighten your spine, square your shoulders, and steel your gaze. Words like these call for unifying, boundary-busting, big-picture vision. At the enterprise level, words like these touch on every department in the company and every phase of the content lifecycle.

            -Marcia Riefer Johnson

What I think this book lacks is an appeal to a larger, enterprise-type audience, which as Marcia pointed out, is very much a major stakeholder in the effects of content strategy. The book is so full of technical communications industry terms that a typical business person can’t pick it up and understand it. Even an aspiring content strategist would likely have to start doing a lot of research while reading this book.

Although the book covers many terms, the result is that you never really get an understanding the job, the industry, or any of the deeper discussions around some of the issues. Also, because 52 different authors have 52 widely divergent experiences to draw on, sometimes terms trample all over each other, such in the descriptions of Content Type and Content Model, or when comparing the descriptions of Structured Content and XML, and Reuse and Transclusion. You may find yourself flipping back and forth or wondering if they were just trying to get enough terms to make up 52 (one per week for a year).

There’s also sometimes a Marketing perspective on a term that has a different meaning in technical communications. Ideally, this book should be helping the two industries by using one lexicon but Talia Eisen’s Content Audit is written purely from a published content perspective, which as we all know is only the tip of the iceberg, and completely ignores source files. Editorial Calendar is the other definition that sticks out like a sore thumb because, as written, it applies only to the world of Web Marketing.

The Language of Content Strategy often appears to be an awkwardly transparent way for 52 people to market their brand or business. On the other hand, you’ll get introduced to some of the key players in the industry, which some people will find very useful. It’s all about your tolerance level for blatant self-marketing.

I made a note of some highlights as I read the book:

  • Most useful terms: Adaptive Content, Intelligent Content, Augmented Reality
  • Least useful terms: Content QA, Content Brief
  • Most ironic term: Information Visualization (delivered all in text)
  • Term I learned something new from: Transactional Content Map
  • Term that will be most overlooked: Governance Model (but it’s important!)
  • Term that is only peripherally important: Folksonomy
  • Term that was not adequately captured in 1.5 pages: Taxonomy


I recommend that content strategists read this book and weigh in, but you may want to do so by using the website rather than by buying the book (which will likely be out of date in five years when the terms have grown and evolved). If you’re an aspiring content strategist, then really take your time and do peripheral research until these terms start meaning something concrete to you. If you’re not directly involved in technical communications, you may need a translator.

Title: The Language of Content Strategy

Editors: Scott Abel, Rahel Anne Bailie

Publisher: XML Press,  February 26, 2014

ISBN-10: 1937434346

ISBN-13: 978-1937434342

Also available for free online (a new term each week):

Category: TechWhirl Reviews - Tag (s): Book Reviews

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