Review: The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane

Elements of Content Strategy by Erin KissaneBrilliant. Funny. Useful. All words that quickly sum up Erin Kissane’s Elements of Content Strategy.

Kissane’s work is part of the A Book Apart series, which is bills its titles as “Brief books for people who build websites.” Elements of Content Strategy definitely follows that formula, yet still feels like a complete examination of the topic.

This work was absolutely needed in the content strategy space and couldn’t have come at a more important time given the explosion of interest in what we do. Elements doesn’t attempt to make an argument for the field’s practice, nor does it try to teach one how to get started. What it does, brilliantly, is describe the practice’s individual parts, pieces and points of view. In doing so, we start to learn how we got here in the first place and get an idea of where the field is going.

In this aim, Kissane comes through with true verve. Her writing is funny, witty and easy to understand (read as: minimal emphasis on jargon). The text flows in an entirely logical order, beginning with shared values that every content strategist should be paying close attention to. Here she touches on why content deserves special attention in the first place and what beliefs drive that focus.

She follows this with a thorough examination of the craft itself, reviewing various mindsets that content strategists tend to have when they approach their work. I very much enjoyed her humorous narrative looks into the minds of Editors, Curators, Marketers and Information Scientists and appreciated that she took the time to illuminate the points of view (and baggage) that those very different perspectives bring forward when practicing content strategy.

It’s in those explorations that Kissane fills the biggest gaps in the conversation around content strategy. With so many voices coming from different disciplines, she succeeds in bringing the reader to the realization that though we all have a different lens for our focus, the shared principles are the end goal. This chapter also supports my personal belief that most content strategists need to spend some time digging into each of these four areas to deliver a complete content strategy, as focusing on a single style will inevitably leave a hole in the end product.

Following the examination of the craft, Kissane provides insights into the tools and techniques that a content strategist has at her disposal. She addresses techniques for a wide range of CS deliverables; from strategy and design to content planning and curation. What I especially liked about this section was Kissane’s reassurance that not every tool is needed for every situation. More often than not, I find that many people see content strategy as a long, drawn out process that has too many steps. Elements of Content Strategy reminds us that what is truly important is having a communication strategy and set of deliverables that makes sense for our end user and our internal team that’s executing the production of content. Here you’ll also find some nice examples of content templates and get some insight into how Kissane approaches a project. All useful things.

In summation, the book is entirely useful and would serve both the experienced and novice content strategist well. For me, a book’s true value is whether or not I’m willing to let it take up the valuable real estate I set aside on my desk for reference. I’m happy to say that a paperback copy, just like the other titles in the A Book Apart series, already has a home waiting for it.

One more thing: Aside from being a great read, the book itself is beautifully designed. Credit for that goes to Jason Santa Maria. I’m a firm believer that beautiful design makes things inherently more approachable and Jason’s lovely choice of type and use of color helped make Elements of Content Strategy a joy to read.

The book will be released on March 8. A Book Apart isn’t taking pre-orders, but you’ll be able to buy it here next Tuesday.

Disclaimer: I feel it appropriate to mention that one of my charts and some of my thoughts were featured in the first chapter of this book. And while I’m humbled to be even the smallest of contributors to this text, I don’t believe it in any way influences my endorsement of the fine work that Erin has done.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Simon Foust says:

    Thanks for the very informative summary, Daniel. I am especially glad to hear that Erin talks about using the appropriate tools for a given job. I’m very interested to hear what other people have to say on that point, because isn’t it just very tempting to try to apply a cookie cutter template to every project?

    I’ll be buying this book next week, and I can hardly wait. Erin’s posts over at are amazing.

  • Daniel, this looks great. I wish they were taking pre-orders, but I dropped a note in my calendar for Tuesday. Looking forward to reading it, and hoping it’s a giant, piñata-studded, slightly tipsy party.

    (with apologies to Erin for the out-and-out cribbing)

  • Daniel Eizans says:

    @Simon – I couldn’t agree more. I believe CS has a bit of a reputation for being the big, process oriented machine. Truth is, there are lots of tools and tricks. Some of them you might use for every single project, regardless of size, others you might only need for certain situations. Do buy the book, it’s a pleasurable read.

    @Pascal – Thanks for the comment… I wish A Book Apart took pre-orders as well. I’m waiting patiently for Ethan Marcotte’s “Responsive Web Design,” as it is an area that I believe will be of particular interest to content strategists in the next few years.

  • John says:

    I found this book excruciating to read. Too much talk and not enough substance. The first half of the book is completely theory-based and provides absolutely no real-life examples of how to strategically produce or implement content. The most you can expect to get out of this half of the book are extremely long-winded and complex checklists of things you’ll never have the budget or time to do for real-life projects.

    Basically the book is an 80-something page rant about why content is important – we already know that – and the insanely complex structure required to adequately map and implement content which could only ever realistically be achieved by nothing less than a full-blown publishing house – CNN, NYTimes etc.

    If you’re looking for practical, real-life solutions for small-to-medium sized businesses, this book is not for you.

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