It’s only words30 nov
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away.
The Bee Gees, 1966
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of words ever since I came back from the Content Strategy Forum in early September. (I’ve also had this song as a soundtrack I can’t seem to get rid of, thanks for Forum speaker Eric Reiss.) But in fact, that’s all I’ve been doing: thinking about it, mulling it through.
Then, this weekend, I came across a post in my twitter feed: On writing simply and saving the world economy (sub-head: Is corporate gobbledygook the cause of the economic apocalypse?). Two hours later, on public transport, I came across an older post by @krismausser on the Business value of words, where gobbledygook is once more singled out, maybe not for the economic crisis, but for undermining our ability to communicate with our customers.
It struck me that this was a recurring theme at conferences and seminars I’ve attended recently – regardless of the subject. It started with the CS Forum, where raconteur extraordinaire Gerry McGovern made his case: it’s not content, not even sentences, but words—individual, single words– that make or break our websites or our apps.
Web editors often get defensive when content strategists say that no, they are not web editors. (Read posts by content strategist Rachel Lovinger and digital content editor Lauren Pope, as well the ensuing comments, to get the gist of this ongoing discussion.)
Why such defensiveness?
For starters, there’s a lot of overlap between the two functions in many enterprises. In addition to their daily responsibilities of creating, managing and publishing actual content, many web editors also handle many of the tasks now associated with content strategy: managing taxonomies and controlled vocabularies; defining workflows and content models; specifying business and metadata requirements; overseeing editorial calendars; undertaking user research; ensuring content meets business objectives.
Clearly, this is a lot of work for a single person. As a result, these web editors often work long hours under difficult circumstances, and while their managers and colleagues see the results of their work (the actual content), they get little recognition for the back-office work they do carry out. (In fact, I think it’s one reason so many people are excited that content strategy is gaining traction: at last, there’s a full-blown practice that defines, structures and provides a framework for much of the work that has gone unnoticed and unrecognized by so many for so long.)