Friday, January 13, 2006

Training intranet content providers

With the increasing implementation of distributed publishing throughout organisations there is an increasing need to train content providers to help develop a more consistent approach and style for their online content, not just train people on how to use the software.

While there are many agencies that provide specialised ‘Writing for online’ workshops it is possible to develop an effective training programme (and I believe in-house provides far longer lasting benefits).

What you need to start

Essential things to have before developing and running intranet content workshops:

  • Management and stakeholder support for the idea of content standards and guidelines and the need to train content providers in these areas.
  • Staff members who already edit and write online content to run and develop the workshops.
  • Published content standards and guidelines and/or writing/communication style guides.

7 points to consider for an effective intranet content workshop

  1. Before the workshop
    Send out pre-workshop questions and an online content article to help get participants into the online content ‘head space’ and start them thinking about issues/problems.

  2. Audience and purpose
    Emphasise that the user of the information is the focus of content not the provider or the provider’s manager. This can be a major sticking point to get effective and useful content.

  3. Intranet and online content concepts
    Cover concepts such as the idea that online readers skim/scan, the content triangle/inverse pyramid concept etc. Keep in mind that some of your content providers may have very limited knowledge of what makes online content successful.

  4. Writing/online style guidelines
    Cover specific guidelines such as writing short sentences, ‘one idea’ paragraphs, use of tables, images, file types etc. Also cover thefundamentals in your organisation’s writing/communication style guide (get one developed if you don’t have one!).
    Be sure to highlight anything in the style guide that may clash with effective online content.

  5. Discussion and exercises
    Emphasise discussion and hands-on exercises. Get people talking about online content and working together to share ideas and approaches and use these discussions to help understand where your content providers are currently at. Exercises should be based on current intranet content and cover both concepts and specifics as discussed above.

  6. Managing participants
    Mix participants up across different business groups and keep numbers limited to a manageable numbers (10 or less), Get people working in pairs during the exercises and avoid domination of the workshop by more experienced participants (but be sure to use them when needed to elicit responses).

  7. Cover editing/collating as well as writing
    If (as in many organisations) a lot content comes from existing sources rather than being produced initially for an online environment, put more focus on ‘editing for online’ rather than just writing.

    Here is where the content triangle becomes more apparent and an emphasis on clarity and a strong ‘less is more’ approach.

    Also it is important to cover collating material from various people and how to edit the various pieces into a logical format with smooth transitions should also be covered.

Revolutions take time

Running intranet content workshops won’t revolutionise your intranet immediately. But what tends to happen is that workshop participants become champions of the intranet and better understand how effective online content can achieve their objectives.

In the longer term this filters down within an organisation to help create a' content culture' within your organisation and ensure that your intranet is better placed to help achieve and develop business value.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Automated web accessibility checks

Trenton Moss has published a concise article on sitepoint about the dangers of relying too much on automated web accessibility checking.

He rightly points out that the mere process of getting a successful result from an automated tool doesn't necessarily mean that your site is accessible especially in terms of content.

I would stretch this further to include things like good use of fonts, images, colours etc which are not necessarily looked at by web accessibility tools which tend to focus more on the quality of the underlining code and how this code would render for users with impairment.

Basically don't think that just because your site passes an automated validation test your site is accessible. You need to do manual readability and usability tests, as well as colour and contrast tests, to ensure users can read and use your site successfully.

But the best long term solution is for all online professionals (from programmers through to marketers) to build up a knowledge of accessibility issues and implement that knowledge from the start of a project without having to rely on testing to reveal problems.

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