What is Content?

The word content is an old Middle English word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s Web 2.0 world. There isn’t broad agreement on what it means, and some people argue that the new use of the word is so broad as to be meaningless. Why use content writing, they say, when you mean copywriting?

Content is More than Copy

One answer to this question is that content, as it is used today, encompasses more territory than copy. It is not just about publishing the written word. The new meaning of content has to do with the stuff contained in Web sites as well as in documents, books, magazines, technical manuals, etc. This stuff – content – conveys information not only through text, but also diagrams, tables, illustrations, music, and video.

Another answer to opponents of the new content is a practical one. The word is now used widely. It has spawned fields such as content development, content strategy, and content management. An application designed to manage content – a content management system or CMS – is familiar to anyone who has a personal Web site or WordPress blog. CMSs are also used by companies that need to manage large numbers of documents and other media, that is, content. So it seems we’re stuck with the word whether we like it or not.

The Art of Content Development

This issue is important to me because I am a content developer – a writer who includes information architecture and visual design in my strategy for communicating with the reader. While I strive for good, clear writing, I also use and design formatting and graphics to convey the message to the reader as quickly and clearly as possible. In addition, for Web marketing material, I research keywords and integrate them judiciously in the content. While the text I write is intended to appeal to real, live people, the metadata I create connects with search engines.

For me, the visual aspect of Web content development carries over to other types of writing I do, whether technical manuals, project documentation, or business proposals. The typical reader of these documents is very busy. Visual design is essential in all documentation to display information clearly and quickly, and to instantly reach the reader with the main points.

Content and Journaling

Recently, I realized that my involvement in content development had made inroads into another area of my life. Looking at my personal journal for the past year, I saw that it really needed more than words, though the words are vital. The journal is just for me, and I enjoy reading it as well as writing in it. Why not sketch an old oak in winter to focus the theme of my January entry about snowy woods? Why not insert a photo of a Phoebe on a pea trellis to illustrate my mid-summer reflection on gardening as the birds watch me, listen to me sing, and sing back to me as I work. Why not record the songs? Why not, indeed?