UIEtips Article: Time for Content to Become More Scientific

Jared Spool

September 18th, 2007

UIEtips 9/18/07: Time for Content to Become More Scientific

Time and time again in usability testing, I watch users struggle with web sites. I’d like to say that the problems I see in testing are always unique and novel, but they aren’t. We’ve been seeing very similar problems with all of the sites we’ve tested.

What problems did the designs have? Well, first, users couldn’t find the most valuable content on the site. Every user knew exactly what they wanted and all of the information they were looking for was available – they just had no idea how to find it.

Second, once users make it to the page with their content, they still often struggle. One main reason for user failure is because the content was written so poorly that users weren’t even sure they were on the right page. They had to work very hard just to identify the critical portions of the descriptions, let alone understand what they were trying to say.

Many of the sites we test are disorganized and confusing. Fortunately, we know exactly who to turn to fix these content challenges. In this week’s issue of our email newsletter, UIEtips, Gerry McGovern, one of the world’s experts on delivering successful content, wrote an excellent article dealing with how to develop a systematic formula for publishing content successfully.

Read today’s UIEtips article.

Also, to help our clients tackle their content issues, we’ve asked Gerry to present at the User Interface 12 Conference this November. We’re really excited about Gerry’s seminar. Gerry is the expert we turn to about content management issues. In just one day, Gerry will show you how to simplify your site’s organization.

What content management approaches do you use in your organization? How has it affected your design process? I would love to hear
about your adventures. Join the discussion below.

6 Responses to “UIEtips Article: Time for Content to Become More Scientific”

  1. Julius M. Says:

    I agree with your assertion that the quality of UI or documentation content is often overlooked and undervalued. I’d love to see a followup article that describes in more detail how to ensure that this content is written the ‘right’ way. For example, how can this type of content be “mass produced, tested, and measured”?

  2. Stacia Says:

    I love how you specifically talk about poor writing in your third paragraph, but then “writing” turns into the mysterious and vague, not to mention trendy, “content”. Mr McGovern’s article even focuses on writing.

    Jared, I thought maybe you were going to take back your tech writers are a dying breed comment (http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2007/05/16/where-did-technical-writing-go/); but alas, you must think tech writers are not content providers.

    What is a content expert if not a technical writer? Heck, anyone can call themselves a content expert because just about anything is content. If you’re talking about words, then please use the correct, more specific, one: *writing*. Leave the buzz words for the Web 2.0 subjects.

    Also, if “many of the sites we test are disorganized and confusing”, that sounds like a design issue, not even a content issue.

  3. Donna Maurer Says:

    OK, so this might come back and bite me as being a grumpy cow, but sometimes I just have to (and Jared, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to comment on something Gerry has written – after many years he has only just started to allow discussion on his site ;)…

    It surprises me that Gerry’s article, from someone who really pitches themself as a professional writer, has so little internal coherence and flow of ideas.

    It starts off as a discussion about how management don’t value good content (something, btw, is not at all my experience at all), then skips to an unconnected point about managers needing to measure (but doesn’t mention how that may happen).

    Then he discusses classification and hierarchies – while structure is important to writing, it is not classification, nor is it necessarily hierarchical. And there is no ‘right’ way to classify things – unless you are Aristotle and trying to determine the ‘correct’ classification according to the mind of god, of course.

    Then he tries to put classification, hierarchies, Shakespear and Joyce together. Huh?

    And after all that, he offers no assistance on what the ‘right’ way to write content is.

    I’m an information architect and writer, and thought there might be something useful for me in this article. Oh well ;)

  4. Brendan Ryan Says:

    Even Shakespeare or Joyce would have difficulty writing lively copy about industrial supplies. True, writing “content” is sometimes scientific, but it will always be an art. If what I do is “formulaic” enough for a “production line,” then how come so very few people—even among the most highly educated and hard working—can do it?

  5. Katya Says:

    I agree with Donna, that the article is rather useless. Yes, we all know that content is overlooked by upper management, but we would like some ideas on how to make them pay more attention to this issue and devote resources either on training or hiring professional writers. I am IA for University Business Office and units know the content very well, but putting it into digestible form is a challenge for them, because they are not writers. Overall measuring informational resources usefulness is a challenge.

  6. Mike Unwalla Says:

    Gerry makes some valid points, but his sweeping generalisations are just not true.

    Structured writing methodologies, terminology management systems, DITA, content management systems, ASD-STE100 (ASD Simplified Technical English), and controlled vocabularies are examples of tools and methods that technical writers use to engineer content.

    To state, “It may not be the way Shakespeare or Joyce would have written it, but it’ll do,” indicates that Gerry makes no distinction between artistic writing and technical writing. He doesn’t seem to understand that although the two genres both use words, they are polar opposites, as I discuss in ‘Technical writers: artists or language engineers?’ on http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/sic-codes-tech-writers.htm (this article is in the context of new SIC codes that take effect in 2008).

Add a Comment