Content Curator Identikit: 2) Communication Skills
key skills, character traits, attitudes and abilities of professional content curators
I have identified three groups of elements that characterize the profile of great digital content curators:
In this and in the following sections I will analyze each one of these three groups, by highlighting each key element in each group by defining what it means (DEF), why it is important for a curator to have (WHY) and how it can be nurtured, culled and be cultivated (HOW).
In this section I analyze the key Communication Skills that make up the profile of a professional content curator.
- Editorial Focus
- Effective Writing
- Presenting - Information Design
- Vetting and Verification
- Listening - Crowdsourcing
b1) Editorial Focus
DEF: Declared ongoing undivided and uncompromising attention to a specific topic, issue, event.
WHY: The editorial focus sets the mission and objective of a publishing project and the path to be taken to arrive at it.
Without it, there is no specific topic direction, and much of the editorial work is to inspiration/improvisation.
A well defined editorial strategy builds strong credibility and increases one’s own authority in a specific interest area, as it is a tangible demonstration of someone’s focus, competence and insight relative to it.
The greater the focus, the greater can be the value provided to the designated audience and the easier for the curator work to be found and appreciated.
The reasons why editorial focus is so important, are:
- Just like for light, the greater the focus, the greater the distance and the depth that can be reached. By focusing on a very specific topic, the curator can provide greater value as he can go into greater depth than someone who covers a broader spectrum of issues.
- The more specific the focus the easier it will be to be found by those interested in it.
- by working on defining / refining a personal USP/UVP
(unique value proposition)
- by defining with precision the target audience / tribe
- by identifying the tribe specific need, interest, issue that a curator wants to address
- by crafting an appropriate editorial strategy
- by identifying the type of content formats that will be utilized
- by identifying and publicly sharing content selection criteria
that will be used
- by periodically questioning and refining all these elements
b2) Effective Writing
DEF: Ability to communicate clearly through the written word.
WHY: A great part of the content curator work is done in writing. Specifically, the content curator needs to properly articulate a comprehensive description of the information items being curated, the context within which they are relevant, as well as his own personal viewpoint.
The curator is not just an information accountant. His ability to be synthetic, intelligible, as well as to be able to communicate clearly, to summarize and to distill complex ideas and concepts is critical in helping achieve his mandate.
- by daily writing practice
- by reading quality books systematically
- by following relevant curators in the same space
- by asking, obtaining feedback and criticism on his writing
- by exploring and experimenting with storytelling approaches.
DEF: Providing information about the circumstances, the reasons and motives determining something, with the goal of facilitating its understanding.
WHY: Contextualizing allows readers to rapidly understand and appreciate the value of an information artifact (news, story, collection), relative to their specific interest.
Without it, comprehension takes a step back and the information is presented at face value with no indication of how it connects to the overall topic and what makes it so valuable.
- by practicing the writing of “introductions” to articles, collections, reviews, that provide, within a short space, a comprehensive view of the context within which that content is actually relevant
- by practicing with storytelling approaches
- by writing for a specific audience in mind and explaining systematically the relevance of what is being presented relative to their interests / goals.
DEF: The ability to distill and communicate in fewer words the essence of a larger body of information.
WHY: Synthesis, within the context of writing and communication, helps to significantly reduce the amount of effort and time required to effectively pass complex ideas and concepts to others.
Synthesizing requires more time than normal writing for the author / curator wanting to distill the essence of something, but it significantly reduces the time needed to the reader to make sense of it.
Being able to synthesize key ideas from a larger body of information, succinctly and clearly, provides immediate and tangible demonstration of a curator knowledge and competence and as a consequence of his credibility and trustworthiness.
Typical examples of curatorial synthesis are often to be found in the titles, introductions and conclusions of many quality articles and journalistic reports.
- by practicing review and written summarization of what has been read / viewed (books, articles and movies are perfect opportunities)
- by learning to work within very tight word constraints
- by having to teach complex subjects to novice learners
- by enriching one’s own vocabulary and expressions
- by curating content
b5) Presenting — Information Design
DEF: The ability to effectively arrange, design, organize, present and display information items inside a collection in ways that facilitate understanding.
WHY: To be effective, curated content needs to be presented in ways that facilitate its scanning, legibility and understanding. Missing these, it will take more effort and time for any audience to fully appreciate and understand the value of the information being presented.
All types of curated collections, wether visual or textual, can communicate more effectively and be better understood when the display, arrangement and order of the items in the collection is not taken for granted but
a) is optimized for the audience being served
b) is utilized as an effective variable for improving communication effectiveness.
The arrangement and display of information items in a curated collection can significantly affect therefore not only the time it will take a person to read and understand the written information in it, but more importantly
his ability to see additional meaning beyond the basic, literal one.
While we take for granted existing, printed book-born formatting principles as our reference, the way people consult, read, browse and scan information online is completely different from what they do when they are reading a printed book.
Unless curated collections, guides, news streams, are formatted by taking into considerations online and digital reading habits and constrains, much of their value and usefulness may go lost.
For these reasons a professional curator should constantly question, study and refine its information design skills, with the goal of making the curated content as legible and navigable as possible.
- by understanding and mastering “information design” concepts and ideas
- by mastering the use of key information design variables such as:
- highlight / emphasis
- data-ink ratio
- captions and callouts
- by allowing scanning of the content through chunking, lists, use of bold, indexes and summaries
- by formatting curated content with microscopic precision
- by not leaving anything to chance
- by reading the books and writings of Edward Tufte and Jakob Nielsen, as well as “Dynamics in Document Design” by Karen Schriver.
DEF: The ability to communicate a concept, idea or issue through visual representations such as symbols, illustrations, photographs, charts, diagrams and info-graphics.
WHY: A picture is worth a thousand words. Visual communication is much faster and more effective than text-only communication.
Visual communication helps to synthesize long and complex ideas into something that can be grasped almost instantly.
In the context of learning and education, images help students more easily memorize and retain information they are interested into.
In the context of journalism, visuals help to communicate faster key concepts, statistical data as well as the relationships between different elements in a complex system.
Learning how to instantly communicate an idea, a concept or an emotion through visual elements is a required, must-have skill for any serious communicator.
- by learning how to find, identify and select relevant images to convey any idea, concept or emotion
- by learning how to use simple real-world objects to communicate concepts and ideas
- by mastering the use of simple data-visualization tools
- by practicing sketching
- by reading all of Edward Tufte’s books.
b7) Vetting and Verification
DEF: The ability to inspect, check and question in order to verify if something is accurate, precise, reliable.
WHY: As a selector, cherry-picker of quality information, the curator must be a fanatical checker of whatever information he decides to curate.
Curators are trusted content filters and guides. This is why people eagerly rely on them, on their advice and recommendations.
The huge quantity of shallow, fluff-filled content published online, makes vetting and verification key essential skills in any effort targeted at filtering noise and extracting quality gems from it.
A curator’s authority is highly influenced by his reputation as a credible and trustworthy source of information.
Sharing content that has not been vetted and verified opens up the opportunity for easily losing credibility. It only takes one bad item, one passed on without having thoroughly verified it, to lose a big chunk of credibility in the eye of the reader.
- by not leaving things to approximation or luck
- by acting like a detective, an investigator
- by being skeptical, even in presence of established trusted sources
- by double-checking sources
- by using trust to facilitate investigation, not to avoid it or bypass it
- by exercising an active critical role in deciding what to publish
- by being thorough in evaluating content
- by double-checking information before it gets published
DEF: The ability to rapidly and reliably assess key differences and similarities between two or more similar items.
WHY: The ability to compare has double value for those curating content.
On one hand it is critical in helping the curator pick and select what to curate, publish and share.
On the other it is useful as a communication device to identify a solution by placing different alternatives side by side and comparing their key traits, pros and cons.
- by reviewing and comparing competing/similar tools/products/books
- by writing comparative reviews
- by critically analyzing and comparing cultural artifacts
- by exercising critical thinking
DEF: The ability to document and enrich content by way of integrating information and links to relevant complementary articles, to original sources, and to other relevant opinions and tools.
WHY: Referencing compounds facts.
When communicating an idea, the use of trustworthy references can help the readers gain a broader, more comprehensive idea of the subject at hand.
Referencing provides additional relevant facts from other sources, expanding the ways at which something can be looked, verified and analyzed.
Referencing augments the perceived trustworthiness and credibility of any content.
- by integrating relevant links to help readers:
- explore more of the topics they are interested
- clarify and define new concepts and terms
- extend-expand the scope of the article.
- by providing explanatory links for new and technical terms which may not be easily understood, as well as for people, places, technologies and events which may not be immediately familiar to the reader.
- by being always on the lookout for quality references, quotes, citations or whatever else can be used to better communicate the essence of an information item.
DEF: Giving due public credit to authors and sources.
WHY: Attributing due credit to all sources, references, authors and contributors utilized in curating specific content is always a win-win choice.
Properly crediting all authors and direct/indirect contributors to a curated collection is not just a moral duty, but in many cases it is also a legal requirement.
Thus, a good content curator goes out of his way to systematically reference and cite sources. These include direct contributors, indirect sources and tippers, as well as anyone else who has contributed in some tangible way to a curated collection being published.
Good crediting involves citing original source name / brand / publication, source of discovery, and linking back to it.
Providing due credit and links back to sources offers additional value and extra opportunities for exploration to the reader, while publicly contributing in informally certifying the curator as a trusted and credible source.
Proper, systematic crediting of sources and contributors has also some tangible benefits in terms of “online visibility”. This is because:
a) the curator’s content can now be found in Google searches also when mentioning your sources and contributors,
b) referenced authors and sources who use popular tools to be alerted of mentions, link and citations of their work, will be alerted of the curator newly published content crediting them.
- by crediting and providing full attribution to all sources used
- by paying greater attention to how and from whom you discover sources
- by mastering the use of citations and bibliographies and of the tools to manage them.
b11) Listening — Crowdsourcing
DEF: The ability to actively listen and motivate feedback, suggestions, ideas, comments and criticism from one’s own audience.
WHY: The curator is a trusted guide for a group of people having a common interest.
To remain trusted and useful a good curator needs to keep wide open ears to his readers comments, suggestions and ideas while answering, providing advice and acknowledging their contributions.
- by asking direct questions, running polls and open discussions
- by stimulating recommendations, tips and suggestions from readers
- by always acknowledging and rewarding their contributions.
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