Screens, Research and Hypertext

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On the Virtues of Content Strategy

Content is your story. Content strategy shapes the boundaries of those stories.

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.

For more context

Think tanks deal in information—in knowledge and ideas that make the world better.

What to read next

What does it mean to write a nonlinear essay?

Other items of interest

The words we write are only one part of the story we're telling.

What's wrong with traditional reports?

We all learned the same rules.