Scaling your content production

Updated 4 years ago by Kathrin Kroenig

Streamline your topic production with this effective process

Putting together a whole topic consists of quite a few moving parts. If you are just one person doing the content production: Don't worry about it - you'll probably be able to keep an eye on all the aspects that still need doing. But if you are a content production team, the challenge lies in keeping track of every step making sure that there is nothing missing and all your sparks and content have a consistently high quality.

Our content team has been optimizing the production process for quite a while now, trying different ways to split the work and to manage the project. The following process is the result.

You will surely find points here and there you want to differently but this will give you a good starting point.

Here is an overview of the steps we take:

  • 1: Topic concept
  • 2: Kick-off
  • 3: Project setup
  • 4: Writing the content pieces
  • 5: Writing the sparks
  • 6: Quality

Our production time for one topic is 5 weeks. We always produce our topics in English and German. If you create monolingual content, you can get it down to 3 or 4 weeks.

Step 1: The topic concept

The most important step for a high-quality topic is the concept - it forces you to by crystal clear on what it is you would like your users to take from each of your sparks. It is a good idea to have a topic owner who holds the vision for what this topic wants to be/convey and who is also accountable for the topic being finished on time.

Here is our template for a topic concept in Google Drive for you to copy and use.

Our topic owners start writing the concept with an informal conversation - a kind of brainstorming. Just to hear what someone else (or a few others) think is most important about the topic. Then the topic owner writes the concept.

A topic is not a course. You don't have to logically build things up. You can just collect all learning aspects you find relevant and all these sparks then make the topic. The order of sparks is secondary. Of course, when your topic is input heavy (versus more about awareness and practice), you will start with the basics, but if in a later spark you find that learners have to have some basic knowledge, you can simply embed a content piece again to provide it to someone who says "huh, I don't get it!". So when putting together the sparks, don't get stuck with the logic.
Shorter is better: We calculate about 1.5 embedded content pieces per spark. We often end up with an article followed by an exercise or a reflection. Less is more! Better have your learners wanting the next spark than stopping because it drags on too long.

Step 2: The kick-off

The different roles are:

  • Topic owner: The person accountable for the quality and the deadline. Usually a subject matter expert.
  • Co-owner: Someone who can add valuable insights, give feedback in regard to the topic.
  • Project-Manager: Someone having the oversight over the Kanban Board.
  • Content writer: Someone writing content pieces
  • Spark writer: Someone writing sparks
  • Editor: Someone editing content pieces and sparks
  • Proofreader: A detail-oriented person who will make sure there are no mistakes
  • Test user: Someone who will experience the finished sparks as an actual user to check the learning experience.

At Intao, we usually have 4 people working on a topic at the same time. For the writing and editing of our content pieces, we work with freelancers, the sparks we write ourselves. The reason being that it does take some time to learn how to write sparks that feel engaging.

That means, people usually have more than one role.

In our kick-off, we go through the overall concept and every spark making sure we are on the same page in terms of what we want to achieve. For a topic with 10 sparks we schedule an hour.

Step 3: Setting up the project

We use a Kanban board to manage our topic production. Ours is located in Asana, but other tools like Trello for example, work just as well (here is our topic production in Trello). Every topic has it's own board with the following columns:

  • Pre-production
  • Writing
  • Feedback/Editing
  • Ready
  • Proofreading
  • Quality Assurance
  • Done

Every spark has two cards: One for the spark and one for the content pieces within the spark. Usually we name the cards according to the position in the topic. Most our topics are planned with 10 sparks unless someone really goes crazy with it. (It's been seen to happen).

Here are the tasks as they appear on each of the cards:

Our most important learning: In order to create accountability, it is absolutely crucial that it is clear at any given moment, who is responsible to take the next step for each particular card.

Step 4: Writing the content pieces

Unless you are the proud owner of a big video library, most of your content pieces are going to be articles. Because you are working to create content for a microlearning app, you should make sure that your articles are no longer than 2300 characters. (The longer we have been producing content, the shorter our articles are. We often end up with less than 2000 characters.)

We write our content pieces in Google Docs because they are easily sharable for our freelance editors. Only when they are approved, do we put them into the admin panel.

We have standard formatting rules for a simple article, exercises and reflections. (Check out our formatting standards here.)

Read our handbook for great content here

The editor reads makes sure the content flows nicely.

Step 5: Writing the sparks

The most important aspect of the spark is the beginning. So your first task is to create an engaging beginning. The first section is supposed to elicit some kind of emotion: Curiosity, surprise, feeling seen or appreciated, ...

We always write the beginning section first, post it in a slack channel and ask everyone on the content team to give a thumbs up (or provide feedback).

Once the beginning is approved, the spark writer goes ahead and writes the spark.

A good spark will take you between 45 and 90 minutes.

The editor checks for flow and often ends up finetuning the emotional and engaging aspects like gifs or emojis.

Step 6: Quality assurance

Our quality assurance has two steps: The proofreading and the user test.

During the proofread, we check that the flow of the spark makes sense - that all buttons lead to the right section and of course, we check for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Once the topic is put together in the system, we invite one or two test users who go through all the sparks just like real users would do providing feedback via slack.

How did we do?

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