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Writing for large audiences: how to make content-led projects a success

CYB’s associate Content Designer Graham Spicer writes about the importance of clear, concise, user-researched content when writing for large, varied audiences
Picture of Graham photo (GS)

Graham Spicer

Associate Content Designer

20 Jun 2023

‘Content is king’. ‘Content is the product’. These are the mantras of the content designer, sometimes seen in the wild on a MacBook Air sticker in an office near you.

Yes, if you hadn’t already noticed, content designers can sometimes take themselves a bit seriously. Maybe it’s a hang up from the bad old days when content was often left to last or just another task for the webmaster to tick off when building a new site. Over the years we’ve had to scramble to be noticed. Hence the buzzwords.

While there’s still plenty of projects where the content is still something of an afterthought, thankfully more and more organisations are now acknowledging the value of bringing in expert content support early on.

At Caution Your Blast Ltd (CYB), we certainly recognise the importance of content in the projects we work on - especially when working with a partner like the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) who require clear, concise, user-researched content for a large and varied audience. 

That’s why it’s been really refreshing to work on the FCDO’s consular assistance ‘findability’ project, where CYB is helping to improve user journeys for British nationals finding themselves in trouble overseas.

In fact, content designers have been involved in the project since the initial discovery process. And rightly so, as content is really the meat of the whole project - this is where the FCDO provides key guidance to British nationals abroad.  

Assistance guidance redesign

We’ve been tackling this by firstly looking at content and user journeys for four key areas - what to do if you’re:

  • arrested or imprisoned abroad

  • hospitalised or in a medical emergency abroad

  • a victim of crime abroad

  • bereaved abroad

As you can imagine, those four areas find British people in stressful, potentially life-changing situations overseas. We knew that providing detailed, concise and well-researched content was vital. 

We’ve been initially trialling improved content with a pilot, working with consular colleagues in Germany. In doing so, we’ve been looking particularly at the differences and similarities between what we’re calling ‘global’ guidance – content that applies to everyone wherever they are in the world – and ‘local’ guidance – content just relevant to that country, or in FCDO speak, the country’s ‘post’ (embassy or consulate). 

With service designers and performance analysts also on the team, we’ve been able to gather user needs - for example, is a lawyer required? - and test new pages to ensure they’re covering the key questions and problems that British nationals may need consular support with.

The challenge of writing for 160 countries

Although we’ve been working specifically on the Germany pilot, we’ve also been acutely aware that FCDO works across the globe.

Tailoring content to specific user groups is nothing new, of course. ‘Localisation’ of content to different geographical markets is common, but you’re usually looking at maybe serving up four or five different versions of essentially the same thing.

Writing content for FCDO is a particular challenge within government, as it has 160-odd ‘posts’ - a lot of different countries that need their own specific content. Each country’s laws and procedures are going to be very different, so you could say FCDO assistance content is as varied as the world itself. Okay, maybe it’s not quite as challenging as a meeting of the UN security council, but it’s a big thing to get your head around. It’s certainly the most expansive publishing model I’ve been asked to produce content for.

Working in some 160 countries means we need 160 sets of similar but ultimately unique guidance. This is the case with things like the ‘prisoner packs’ - information given out to British nationals arrested or in prison abroad. Some arrest content is completely unique to each country. Other information is ‘generic’ and is more about FCDO’s overall approach to assistance across the world.

So as well as making sure our content meets identified needs, putting the user at the heart of the content, we’ve had to look at the real world organisation constraints. That’s why we’ve developed the ‘global’ and ‘local’ model, where central FCDO content publishers can update global content in just one place, rather than having to get publishers in each post to change their guidance every time something changes from the centre.

From Germany to the world

We’re making great strides with the Germany pilot and getting some really encouraging analytics back. These are indicating that our newly drafted Germany embassy and consulate home pages are answering common questions and triaging users to the information they want directly, reducing contact to consular staff and letting them concentrate their time on more complex cases that need in-person assistance. 

New arrest and hospitalisation guides are ready to roll out and the templates we’ve created mean we’ll be able to apply the improvements we’ve made much quicker to other countries very soon.

As we move forward we’ll also look more at the sustainability of the content and streamlining sign off processes, moving towards an overall consular publishing model.

Improving consular assistance guidance is a really meaningful project where content has been central, helping to boost the strategy of helping consular staff focus on urgent cases. Content really is king on this project.

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