Starter kit for content strategists, content designers, and UX writers
If you’re looking to become a web/digital content practitioner, or just brush up on your content knowledge and skills, I hope you find this list of podcasts, blogs, and books useful.
The idea for this list came to me at the Melbourne ‘We Are Content Strategy’ Meetup, where I meet lots of people just starting out as or wanting to become a content practitioner.
As an aside, if you are new to digital content, I’ve found Meetups to be a great way of meeting friendly, like-minded people who are happy to share experiences and make contacts. Many of the Meetup talks I’ve seen are as good as what I’d expect to find at paid conferences.
Podcasts are so hot right now, and these two are best in (content) show.
The Content Strategy Podcast — Kristina Halvorson
As well as being a content strategy guru, Kristina is a natural, engaging host who interviews the best content minds in the game.
Content Design Podcast — Vanessa Barlow
Vanessa has a wealth of commercial and not-for-profit content design experience. She also has a knack of asking her guests the most pertinent and nitty gritty practitioner questions.
Many of the authors of the books listed on this page have blogs — you should look them up — but here are a few of the best.
New Thinking (Insights) — Gerry McGovern
If you haven’t read Gerry’s stuff before, you’re in for a treat. No-one cuts through about doing content right better than this passionate, gregarious Irishman. Gerry also distributes his blog as a weekly newsletter — essential!
Style, content and design — Government Digital Service
The originators of content design as a discipline, the Government Digital Service (GDS) blog is a must read for all government digital practitioners, but is no less useful for non-public sector content folks.
Content Strategy — GatherContent
A great mix of content strategy/design/management topics from guest and in-house contributors.
Blog — Content Company (Hilary Marsh)
Hilary is one of the worlds’ most experienced and accomplished content practitioners and teachers. Her long-standing and routinely updated blog is a goldmine for content strategists.
Blog — Elle Geraghty
Elle is a leading light in the Australian digital content industry, who founded the wildly popular Sydney Content Strategy Meetup. A former journalist and radio producer, Elle’s blog posts deliver detailed advice on all aspects of web content in an engaging, human style.
Medium blog — Rachael Mullins
Rachael is the content strategist for OpenCities. A technical writer by trade, it shows in her ability to explain content concepts and approaches clearly and succinctly. There’s no better example than her brilliant post Bring out your inner UX writer.
The list is by no means exhaustive. I haven’t included books on the broader UX field or neighbouring disciplines, such as user research, user interface design, front-end development, or performance analysis. Knowledge of these aspects of UX is important, but you’ll find yourself absorbing a lot of it naturally as your content career develops.
Instead, I’ve tried to cover what I consider the key texts for the fundamental aspects of creating and maintaining findable, accessible, and usable digital content.
Content strategy planning/projects
Content Strategy for the Web — Kristina Halvorson, Melissa Rach
The book that crystallised content strategy. It explains the importance of content strategy to the success of modern organisations, as well as the key concepts of core content, structure, substance, governance, and workflow.
The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right — Meghan Casey
This book is the flipside of ‘Content Strategy for the Web’. That is, it provides all the practical tools to successfully implement the theory behind that book. The resources contained within are so comprehensive that with the right in-house team, you’ll soon realise you can do this content stuff with little external help.
Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond — Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, Jorge Arango
Now in its fourth edition, ‘the polar bear book’ is the [insert religious text of preference] for ensuring users can find and navigate your content.
Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow — Carrie Hane, Mike Atherton
Covers possibly the most important (and interesting) development in digital content this decade: how to model your content so that it scales across the ever-expanding list of visual and audio interfaces.
Content Design — Sarah Richards
Sarah coined the term ‘content design’ when head of content at the UK Government Digital Service. She understood that traditional job titles like writer, copywriter, and editor did not describe adequately the breadth of skills and methods today’s digital content creators need. This book covers them brilliantly. And if you’re still not convinced of this new job title, I’ll leave you with this quote from content designer James Reith in an excellent interview in the WhatUsersDo blog:
Frustratingly, everyone thinks they’re a writer. I’ve spent hours, locked in a room with stakeholders, arguing over one sentence. Not everyone, thankfully, thinks they’re a content designer. Names are powerful.
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works — Janice (Ginny) Redish
As the name suggests, this book shows you how to get your content to the point. Web users are impatient and needs-oriented; Ginny’s guidance will help you understand why they are and how to meet their needs. Plain language and brevity for the win!
Resources for web writers — Dey Alexander (4 Syllables)
Not a book, but just as valuable. Dey is one of Australia’s longest-serving and best-regarded digital content practitioners and trainers. With a particular focus on accessibility, her free content tips, templates, checklists, and exercises are a credit to her knowledge as well as her commitment to educating the content community.
Accessibility for Everyone — Laura Kalbag
Making the web accessible isn’t just about technology or interface design. In fact, most of the risk and reward is in content. Remember the hard work your team did to make your website accessible before launch? Well, all that effort can go out the window as soon as you begin adding content. This superb book provides guidance for content creators on using clear copywriting, well-structured IA, and meaningful HTML to deliver inclusive content.
Conversational Design — Erika Hall
Erika shows you how to make your product interfaces less robotic and detached, and more human and conversational, ultimately making your products and services more effective.
Designing UX: Forms — Jessica Enders
There’s no point creating the most compelling, usable content on your web pages if your sign-up and transactional content confuses and frustrates users. Jessica’s book covers all aspects of form design, but emphasises that words have the biggest impact on a form’s success. If this outstanding book piques your interest in forms, the earlier text — Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney — is another great read.
Web content management systems
Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices — Deane Barker
And finally, once you’ve gotten your head around how to create findable, accessible, and usable content that works across any interface, only then should you start thinking about the technology solution that can help deliver it — the web content management system. This book takes you through evaluating, selecting, configuring, and evolving web content management systems to meet your user and organisational needs.