Spivey’s Hierarchy of Good Publishable Content


This week featured an unprecedented flurry of changes–edits, links, unlinks, reversions–in an unceasing wave. It got to the point that I waited to look at the changes until the end of each day, because all the contributors were contradicting themselves left, right, and center. One author would make an edit; the next would query it; the third would revert to the original.

Tiresome for any editor; tooth-numbingly boring for a web editor. The changes–smaller and smaller–were going to make less and less of a difference. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”–especially when you can update it in the future.

You see, people discover the web’s huge advantage over print: it’s easy to make changes. However, with over 15 years of experience in web content, I now think we’re just enabling people. One trick I’ve used is to gradually reduce people’s ability to edit: I change their status to review or suggest, not edit.

But I get it. Web content exists in a real world, not a perfect one. And sometimes good work processes get overruled, lawyers prevail, and deadlines drive actions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 3.42.49 PMHierarchy of Publishable Content

In the interests of saving someone else’s sanity, here are my rules of good (publishable) content:

  1. Accuracy. This is the baseline. If it’s not accurate, it doesn’t matter what else it is. This isn’t a question of typos or style issues. They should definitely be fixed, but it’s not an emergency.
  2. Useful. Can your reader/user do something–perform a task, download a document, email someone–or is it just informational text? Don’t have your goal be “read the page.” People come to a webpage to do something. Make it easy for them to do so.
  3. Interesting. Is there anything interesting about your product/service/thing? Often, there isn’t. Sometimes things are just functional. But if you can include something, do–as long as you don’t sacrifice useful or accurate. But avoid clickbait. Don’t put lipstick on your webpig.
  4. Persuasive. Show the benefits of your program/product/service/solution, whatever it is. Don’t talk about the technology; few people care. Explain what your users can do with it, and how they’ll be able to do their jobs more easily.
  5. Reader focus. You’ve reached the most important point: reader focused. If you’re not organizing your content for your readers, you’re wasting your time–and theirs. Once you’ve reached this point, refine your content using the plain language techniques.

Katherine Spivey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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