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Technical Writing
March 25, 2022
xx min read

Is Structured Content Too Difficult?

Creating structured content requires a learning curve, but pays off enormously in the end.

I remember learning to drive a car. I was both excited and terrified at the idea of operating a giant machine. While I was pretty good at book learning, actually getting out on the road was stressful. There were indicators and buttons to keep track of. I was terrified of getting too close to other cars and getting on the interstate. And when it came to parallel parking, I was certain that I would never be able to make less than a 9 point turn.

Learning to drive a car was difficult. There was a huge learning curve. But eventually, I learned how to balance focusing on the road, my speedometer, and other cars all at the same time. I learned that getting on the interstate wasn’t actually that dramatic. And today I can confidently do a 3 point turn.

Goal-oriented content

Now, imagine if I had given up on learning to drive the second day of driving school. If my goal was simply to do as little work as possible, then learning how to safely operate a car would make no sense. After all, it’s technically easier to walk.

But doing as little work as possible wasn’t my goal. My goal was to be able to drive so that I could travel to places as quickly and easily as possible. And driving was the easiest way to accomplish that goal, even though there was a learning curve.

Today, my life is far easier because I know how to drive. And the things that once caused my teenage self so much stress are now barely an afterthought. It would have been silly for me to give up on learning a skill that would make my life so much easier just because it required a little effort upfront.

It’s the same when you’re thinking about structured content. If you’re looking into structured content, you aren’t searching for the easiest and quickest way to write a paragraph. I could easily write lots and lots of words in a notepad app on my phone, for example, with very little to distract me. But what I could produce in that app is basically useless for an enterprise company.

Doing as little work as possible is not the goal

When considering making the shift to structured content, too often we hear people approach the subject with the goal of doing as little as possible. Technical writers and ContentOps professionals ask “what’s the easiest way to do this?”.

But we think they should be asking  “What’s the best way to reach my goals?”.

The reason why writing structured content requires a learning curve is because it’s fundamentally different from unstructured content. Structured content is focused on controlling each piece of content down to the granular level and uses features like taxonomies and metadata.

There is a learning curve. Writing structured content requires you to think differently than if you were writing unstructured content.

This form of writing is powerful because it gives you control over your content, makes it more searchable, and lets you reuse it in endless ways.

Structured content solves problems

So what are your content goals?

Is it to reduce writing time? Create better help sites? Improve customer self-service? Eliminate content silos? Generally upgrade your customer experience with content? If so, then structured content is the best way to reach those goals.

Structured content solves many content issues by allowing you to:

  • Make bulk updates
  • Track changes
  • Speed-up reviews
  • Publish to multiple systems
  • Reuse content
  • Create new deliverables
  • Cut support costs

Even with the time and energy it takes to learn how to create structured content, it will still be the quickest and easiest option to solve your content problems. Plus, once you know how to create structured content you will have skills that you can use in the future.

Doing as little work as possible is a myth

Even if you did decide that creating structured content is too difficult, that doesn’t mean your workload’s going to be easier. In fact, the opposite is true.

Unstructured content isn’t easily searchable, costs more to maintain, creates versioning nightmares, and leaves you with massive amounts of documentation.

Avoiding structured content causes more problems and takes up more time.

So maybe it’s time to change your perspective on structured content. A good way to do this is to clearly define your goals and nail down exactly what you need your content to do for you. Once you do, you may just discover that structuring content is actually the easy choice.

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