Articles / Lean content authoring

Consider these scenarios:

  • You’re writing a long document, and need to make sure that paragraphs, headings and bullets have a consistent design.
  • Your company has rebranded, and now it’s your job to change the logos, fonts and colours in all your training materials.
  • You need to create materials for a programme that combines face-to-face and online learning. There’s a lot of duplication across the many documents and SCORM packages you create. But then a key piece of information changes, and you have to change it everywhere.
  • Your team is building online learning materials. During the review process you end up with multiple versions floating around by email - causing massive headaches for the people trying to collate review comments.

Each of these scenarios are usually much easier to manage if a little thought takes place before starting to create the materials.

Whenever you are creating something that is going to be more than a one-off, unique piece of work, consider how you will deal with changes later on.

This includes:

  • Documents such as letters, reports, proposals, training manuals & workbooks
  • Presentation materials such as sales or training slides
  • Web-based materials such as elearning packages

Principles of lean content authoring

The over-riding principle to bear in mind is Don’t Repeat Yourself. If you need to use the same formatting style in more than one place, or the same document structure, or the same chunk of text, then think about how you can reuse it without redoing it.

Working in this way will almost always result in significant time-savings.

Reuse formatting styles within a document

This is a real, and huge, time-saver - both when you initially create materials, but also when you need to make changes later.

And you don’t need any special systems to be able to do this. Styles are built into almost every word processing, desktop publishing and presentation application.

What you’re doing is separating your words and pictures from the way they are presented (the styles).

In practice, this means that each time y

You just need to think about the types of presentation you’re going to need. Like headings, bullets, paragraphs, callouts etc.

Define what each of those types looks like, and then apply that type to the appropriate bits of content.

You should only apply direct formatting (ie. outside of a style) in very exceptional circumstances.

You can also see the same thing happening in most web pages:

In the HTML you’ll see something like:

<p>This is a paragraph</p>

And in the separate stylesheet, you’ll see something like:

p {font-size: 10px; font-family: arial;}

If you later decide to change the font and/or the size, you change them once, for all paragraphs, in the stylesheet:

p {font-size: 12px; font-family: helvetica;}

Use templates where possible

Lean manufacturing has the concept of “standardized work”. Similarly, when creating materials, I have the concept of “templates” - where a template contains a standardized structure and presentation that can be used as the starting point for any new document, web page or even a whole new elearning package. It’s like a pattern or a blueprint for new documents.

What does this mean in practice?

In MS Office, Google Docs and the like, templates allow you to quickly create a document that has a standard, basic structure, along with all the styles you need to present it properly.

Work with reusable content chunks

Posted: 10 October 2017

Tags: Content management Learning