My Journey to Content Strategy

I answered the question “How Did You Become a Content Strategist?” recently on the Content Strategy Community Forum and was surprised at the number of comments it generated. Here, then, is the story of my journey to the profession of content strategy.

After working several years as a technical writer and editor, I became interested in “single sourcing” and “intelligent content.”

The Spark: Single-Sourcing Content

My journey started when I attended the SingleSource 2000 Conference (developed by CIDM) in Chicago. I was inspired by the idea that a single piece of content could be output to multiple deliverables. Such an obvious and revolutionary concept!

Subsequently, I implemented some single-sourcing capabilities in FrameMaker at my then tech writing job. (This was before FrameMaker supported structured authoring.) My efforts enabled my team to stack appropriate pieces of boilerplate front-matter into a custom (for the product) front-matter chapter. We called the sub-chapter pieces “modules” and referred to the effort as “modularizing information.”

After serving as a tech editor for a technical education organization and a gig as a program manager for a technical sales organization, during which I earned my PMP, I turned back to technical writing. But I couldn’t shake the idea that there were better ways of thinking about and organizing content work. Surely, we could share as much as create, find commonalities, collaborate, seek efficiencies. And stop the madness of copy and paste!

Next Up: Database Publishing

My experience as a program manager really pushed me to look at alternative approaches, and I pursued that interest by attending the Intelligent Content Conference 2013 in San Francisco. There, I bought a book and a deck of flashcards output from the same content database and authored by Rahel Bailie and Scott Abel. Here was single-sourcing but from a database! I was astounded and knew I had to explore more.

After a brief gig as a freelance tech writer, I got my next tech com gig by describing to the hiring manager my enthusiasm for the ideas presented at that ICC event. She thought that my project/program management experience was a good fit for her evolving organization. They were a DITA shop with a sophisticated CCMS, and I didn’t know DITA. So as I learned, I helped the group by applying my technical editing and project management skills. Eventually, I settled into the role of team Content Strategist, working closely with the team’s newest information architect.

The Final Discovery

But that was just the beginning! I had to develop a role for myself, so I researched what a content strategist does–starting with Kristina Halvorson’s book Content Strategy for the Web. I reviewed articles–and whole magazine issues–dedicated to defining content strategy as a profession. I took courses and experimented with approaches and tools that others had found useful. We pushed the envelope as a team inside of that sprawling and sometimes impersonal corporation. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Finally, I had found a profession that matched my skill set!

To learn more about my skill set, please review this website’s “About Debra Kahn” page.

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