Kate Santo - From travel content to technical content: my journey
Catherine Heath | October 13, 2021
This is a summary of a talk given at Write the Docs Prague 2021.
Kate is very proud of learning how to swim the four basic strokes. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English. She works as a technical writer. She went from writing travel-oriented content to creating guides for developers.
She started writing travel content after growing up in a town outside of Madrid in Spain. She studied linguistics and her first ever job was as a tour guide. After that, she got a job in an online travel agency and lived surrounded by travel but also tech. She became really interested in the more technical aspects of her job.
She completed a coding bootcamp to satisfy her own curiosity and expand her own skillset. She discovered there was a type of job called technical writer and realized it was her dream job. She wanted to find out more.
The framework that was always there was content design. The need to communicate things clearly was always big, after growing up with very intelligent people who were not necessarily literate in an academic sort of way. Long sentences and long words are a real issue for her mum, who didn’t finish primary school. Clear and concise writing was a skill that she gained in her family context.
She did her Masters degree in linguistics and got the top mark for her final dissertation because everything she wrote and presented was easy to understand. Her work was about Natural Language Processing and the judging panel was composed of linguists, not technologists.
When she joined the online travel agency, she started to see content writing and UX writing. This is where she officially met content design, and she has been fascinated by it ever since.
What is content design?
Content design is the discipline that governs the presentation of content, as illustrated by the transition of the UK government. It gives consistency to the content.
Content design principles put the user at the heart of content decisions. It’s all about designing content rather than creating copy. We have time-pressures, stress, English as a second language, and content design means creating content for all of us.
Think about the user in your content design. Someone trying to renew a driving license online could be the same person as a dev trying to solve an error. Content design helps all of us, including developers.
Content design phases:
Discovery and research - engage with product experts
User stories and job stories - understand your user
Designing content - consider format and channel
Writing content - write
Reviewing content - collaborate with peers
Maintaining content - analyze and iterate
If you are a tech writer, think about which of these things you already do even if you don’t use those exact names. She advocates for technical writers being called technical content designers, since there is so much more involved with the job than just writing.
When engaging in content design, you need to use headers that help users understand the content. Make them action-oriented and use clear language. Keep it short and to the point.
One of the principles of content design is to avoid jargon. But when we are documenting an API or writing about a new product, how can we avoid jargon? It’s impossible, but we can reduce its usage by using common terms as much as possible.
When engaging in content design, keep your user front of mind at all times. It’s not about the company’s priorities - it’s about meeting the user’s needs.