Think tanks are in the business of knowledge and evidence. But knowledge and evidence aren’t concrete things. They’re abstractions floating around in the ether. I can know something or have evidence for it, but until I share that through discourse or publication—and the modern world provides countless opportunities for discourse and publication—the knowledge or evidence is useless.
Part of our job as communicators is to mold those abstractions into some sort of concrete form, whether that be a video or an infographic or a straight research report. In this way, we turn knowledge into progress.
When we do our jobs well, the form we choose will cue our audience to certain behaviors—supporting a specific policy or adopting a specific frame in thinking about a topic.
A research report probably isn’t the right form most of the time. IMRAD just isn't a structure that lends itself to very many different uses. But a nonlinear, choose-your-own-adventure toolkit won’t be right most of the time, either.
The key is investing in the time and effort to marry the right form to the content. The REMINDER project dedicated around 20% of its budget to content strategy and design, then invested about 80% of staff time into writing, editing and approving the 60+ articles in the toolkit. That’s an 80/20 rule we might do well to copy in future.
Not every project will—or should—look like REMINDER. Or like the thing you're reading right now, for that matter. But if you’re serious about putting the right content in the right format in front of the right people, then you may want to consider making a serious investment in your content strategy before jumping straight into products.
Your digital content isn’t a format or a location or a type of document. It’s the information itself. And that information can be presented in a lot of different ways and accessed via a lot of different devices.
Those of us working in the digital space spend a lot of time talking about content. We have content strategists and content designers. We talk about content-first design.
By the time I was hired to help the U.S. Congressional Budget Office rebuild its website, I had learned about content strategy and attended a full-day workshop with Karen McGrane. There I converted to the Gospel of Structured Content and rejected the heresies of blobby WYSIWYG body fields.