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Effective Digital Content training – what is it and why?

Renaming our Writing for the Web course has thrown some interesting light on people’s perception of the course.

We’re moving one of our central courses, currently known as Writing for the Web, online, and as part of that we want to give it a name that better reflects the course content.

Bringing ‘Writing for the Web’ onto the web – earlier blog post

Asking for feedback on the name has been an interesting exercise, and has highlighted a few misconceptions about the course – underlining why the name change is important.

Let’s look at some of these comments, and what they reveal about the course. (Comments have been amalgamated or reworded for anonymity – it’s about picking on themes, not people!)

University content

One of the suggested taglines included the word ‘University’, and several people weren’t sure this was necessary:

It’s about more than UoE content.

While this is true, the key thing that makes this course different from any other generic web writing course is its reference to both the HE sector and the University in particular. It covers things like:

  • University of Edinburgh web style
  • legislation we are bound to – data management and accessibility
  • online behaviour research done here at the University and within the wider sector

So, while ‘University’ didn’t make it into the final tagline (we can’t fit it all in!), it is a crucial part of the course, and of the reasons we make the training mandatory.

Writing text

Many people who answered the survey were confused as to why we wanted to get rid of ‘writing’ at all.

It’s about creating text. The course isn’t about images, videos and links.

I’ll admit to being slightly depressed at this kind of comment; the course is absolutely about all elements of creating digital content!

Of course, a large part of it does focus on writing skills – helping people to understand how to cut down waffle and express their needs through well written copy, and how to maximize the small pieces of text, like headings, page titles and links.

But it’s about much broader things than just writing content. Key points from the training include:

  • how to get more people to watch your videos
  • what kind of images work, and why
  • when content should open in a new tab
  • what data protection measures you need to take

So we ditch ‘writing’ in favour of a broader aim to ‘create content’.

What is this content for?

One of the options for a title was ‘Digital Content that Works’, but some people weren’t sure what we really mean by ‘working’.

The word “work” seems too focused on achieving tasks.

There’s no such thing as being ‘too focused’ on task completion when creating digital content. This is the number one lesson of this course and any other similar offering you might come across.

Web users are on your site to complete a task. If your web content works, they can complete this task. They’re not going to ring you up and ask you to do it for them; they’re not going to do it wrong and have you sort out the ensuing mess; they’re not going to be frustrated with the University before ever stepping a foot inside.

If you don’t have content that works, you have content that doesn’t work. The points we cover in the course should help you publish effective content. For example:

  • ditch ‘happy talk’ in favour of a clear and straighforward user journey
  • find out whether the news or blog content you spend so much of your time on is actually supporting your unit’s aims
  • cut through long Word documents, to get together the content you need more quickly

Digital v web

I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the term ‘web’ as it’s too narrow and doesn’t fully reflect what the course is about.

This one hits the nail on the head. Although there’s nuance as to exactly what’s meant by each term, ‘web’ is generally interpreted to be a subset of ‘digital’.

Web Digital
Websites (beginning www.) Yes Yes
Social media Only as delivered over the main website Yes – may include mobile sites, apps etc
Mobile-specific sites (beginning m.) No Yes
Email/newsletters No Yes
Apps No Yes

This table shows that ‘digital’ covers a lot more than ‘web’ or even ‘online’ – someone might be using an app without being connected to the internet. The key thing is that it’s being consumed using some sort of computer – anything from a Windows installation on an office computer to a tracking device worn round your wrist.

Get your content ready to go anywhere, because it’s going to go everywhere.

This quote from UX consultant Brad Frost underpins the learning objectives of the course, in its old and new versions. We can’t just write copy for websites anymore. We have to create digital content that is robust and thought through, that will work on whatever kind of digital platform tomorrow’s news might bring.

The new name

This brings us to the new title:

Effective digital content: Engaging your online users

Effective - Works with you to meet your users’ needs Digital - May be consumed through a variety of platforms Content - Video, audio, images, infographics, and text

We’re hoping to release a pilot version of the new course later this month.

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