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Intent and Style: Clarifying the Roles of Content Standard and Style Guide

Planning to be around the table whole dayContent is expensive to produce. To maximize ROI, it makes sense to reuse existing content wherever appropriate and to automate content production and delivery as much as possible. To achieve this, you need to create your content in a controlled manner, so that the intent of the content is easily identifiable, thereby the content can be reused and adapted correctly in different contexts. This is when separating the substance from the presentation of the content and having a unified content standard that works alongside various style guides become necessary.

Differentiating content standard and style guide

A unified content standard is a series of rules and instructions for writing content that is applied across the entire organization. These rules govern the source content and specify the grammar, writing structures, and organization of the source content. The unified content standard facilitates information sharing and updating across the organization. On the other hand, a style guide put emphasis on the presentation, voice, tone, and branding of the content. The goal of a style guide is to ensure that the content’s look and feel are consistently on brand. An organization may have multiple style guides based on different business contexts.

Comparison of content standard and style guide

Content standard Style guide
A content standard regulates the

  • structure and organization of content
  • writing structures (such as lists, tables, and paragraphs), and
  • grammar and syntax.
A style guide regulates the

  • presentation of content
  • voice and tone, and
  • specific terminology to be used.
Applies across an entire organization Applies to one or more departments
There can be only one There can be multiple style guides to meet specific needs

A unified content stand can work alongside multiple style guides to meet different needs

A unified content stand can work alongside multiple style guides to meet different needs

Why do you need a content standard?

Richard Saul Wurman, who coined the term information architecture, once said: “The organization of information actually creates new information.” The structure and organization of your content are closely tied to the meaning and intent of the information. A unified content standard maintains the consistent alignment of the organization, structure, and syntax with the intent of your content. It disambiguates the meaning and purpose of your content so that selecting the right content for a particular context becomes relatively easy for both humans and algorithms.

Both unstructured and structured authoring need a content standard. In the context of structured authoring, such as DITA, where the structure of the content is laid out in writing tools, a content standard is still necessary to ensure the use of structures is consistent and there is no misuse or abuse of XML tags. Although grammar and syntax rules can be enforced with tools like Acrolinx, a content standard is still needed to clearly define those rules in the first place.

Benefits of a unified content standard

A unified content standard benefits both content developers and your organization as a whole in many ways:

  • It gives the writers the power to defend the integrity and the substance of the content.
  • It takes away the decisions of organizing content from the writers so that they can focus more on writing the content.
  • It defines consistent structures and language patterns that are aligned with the user intents so that the writings produced by a single writer, or a group of writers can maintain consistency as well as usability.
  • It reduces the barriers to information exchange across the organization.
  • It facilitates the automation of content reuse, translation, and delivery.

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