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Content and context

Last updated on January 17, 2023

I’ve recently had two separate situations where I realized that clients didn’t fully grasp the connection between content and context. Yet the two are deeply, inextricably intertwined.

When I start a project — any project — I always start with the same question: Who is the reader? And some clients have actually responded with “Everyone.” My follow-up question is always the same: How are they accessing the information? Are they using laptops, mobile devices or good old-fashioned paper? And again, some will say “It doesn’t matter.”

So, let’s talk about why content and context matter.

Let’s say that you have a diagnostic test that detects a certain form of cancer. You need to share information with labs, physicians and patients. Do you really think that they all need the same information?

  • Labs need to know how to analyze the data.
  • Physicians need to know how to administer the test and see clinical data proving its efficacy.
  • Patients need to know about the test in an easy-to-understand, jargon-free style.

Is this all the same information? Does it require the same words, terminology or level of detail? Context influences the content.

Let’s take an example from a tech client. They specialize in building healthcare applications. Information needs to be communicated to developers, clinicians and patients.

  • Developers need to know the nuance of backend systems and how data is secured.
  • Physicians need to know that it’s easy for their patients to use to improve engagement and compliance.
  • Patients need to be assured that it’s secure to use, but don’t need to know the “how” behind it.

Again, differences in context influence the type of content.

Now, let’s look at the same audience in two different scenarios. Let’s talk about mechanical ventilation. Mechanical ventilators are complicated, blending mechanical parts and highly technical electronic components.

  • In Scenario A, it’s a Tuesday afternoon and the service technician is running routine maintenance.
  • In Scenario B, there’s been a disaster. The hospital fills with trauma cases. A ventilator is malfunctioning.

In the first instance, the technician has time to walk through a lengthy step-by-step guide. In the second, the adrenaline is pumping; they need a clear, easy-to-understand troubleshooting guide to identify the problem and get the ventilator back in service.

And let’s not forget that “content” isn’t just the words on the webpage or the story within the white paper. Content also includes visual representations — charts, graphs and images that help to make the information clear. It includes the white space that makes the text approachable.

Content even includes the format itself. All content should be mobile-friendly, accessible at a moment’s notice. For the ventilator crisis, a paper copy of the troubleshooting guide is needed in case internet access is disrupted by the disaster. In the case of the diagnostic test, it may be a video of a patient who has already been through it.

All of it is content, and all of it is context specific. So, when your strategist asks you about the context, now you’ll understand why.

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