What should you study to become a content strategist?
Several months ago, I started a Google Group on content strategy. And then promptly neglected it. (Yes, thank you, the irony does not escape me.) And so, after an initial flurry of activity, it died.
And then! Much to my delight and surprise, a comment was posted to the group from a graduate student named Brynn, who asked the following question:
I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for postgraduate study that would lead to a career in content strategy.
From what I've read, it seems like people kind of ended up in the position before it was even labeled - but considering the work you do now and the challenges you face, what would anyone recommend to a Silicon Valley resident with a B.A. in English looking to do some Masters work to get into your field?
The programs I have looked at are all so specific and none are exactly in line with what I think is relevant study... I know that I might end up combining things, like a Masters in professional writing and taking some computer science classes on the side. I have considered advertising/marketing, professional writing, computer science or information systems (or something similarly related to IA), but I am really just starting my search.
The responses – coming from content strategists all over the country - have been terrific, and very worthy of sharing with the community at large. So, with the authors' permissions, here's what they have to say:
Jeffrey MacIntyre, Principal, Predicate LLC:
I would say follow your muse, but then that's not something you can bank on exactly, is it?
Library sciences is a very strong basis for content strategy skills. I came to be a content strategist out of a constellation of management/ communications consulting, interactive copywriting, and a strong field interest in publishing.
There's no one path that's right, in my experience. It really comes down to best aligning your interests and getting some project exposure as soon as you feel ready to test the waters.
I strongly recommend you join the CS mailing list and ask the subscribers what they think! To subscribe, send an email request to Contentfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen McGrane, Principal, Bond Art Science:
Consider programs in Technical Communications and Rhetoric. University of Washington, University of Minnesota, Carnegie Mellon, and Rensselaer Polytechnic all have well-known programs.
Rahel Bailie, Principal, Intentional Design:
I had to chuckle because I have never been hired as a content strategist. The last gigs I've been hired as:
Business analyst with user-centered design specialtyCopywriter (but did very little copywriting, mostly UX activities)Marketing writer/Usability expertInformation architectWeb design analyst (my personal favorite)Training project manager
My M.O. is this: Half the effort is showing up and listening to their problem. When the problem can be re-articulated as a content strategy problem (possibly combined with other problems, such as site architecture), then I just write that in as a line item and explain what I'm doing and why.
Richard Sheffield, Author, The Web Content Strategist's Bible:
From the point of view of someone who hires content strategists, I look for two basic kinds of experience (on top of solid writing skills):
Web writing as part of good-sized Web development project. You don't have to have a lead role, I just want to see that you have worked in the Web development environment and understand the various roles and responsibilities.Having created Web content using a Web Content Management System.My experience shows that if you take ten good writers and put them to work using a WCMS, that 5 will simply not "get" it or completely hate the process. So I want to hire content folks who have previously worked with a WCMS, otherwise its a fifty-fifty shot.
I'd focus on internships and contract work to make sure you get as much exposure to the Web development process as possible while working on your degree. I got my MA in Professional Writing. I needed a broader exposure to all kinds of writing to counter my tech-heavy background.
Content strategists can share a lot of concepts with librarians and information architects, so another idea would be to look into univerities with a School of Information, or iSchool.
[Your Name Goes Here] Have other ideas for Brynn? Want to help breathe new life into the Content Strategy Group? Visit and join today!