By Bob Boiko

For the consumer, format and content are inseparable; Not so for the content manager

In addition to being the way that you encode a file, format is more commonly known as the qualities that you use to visually render content. If I use the word format without qualifiers in this work, I mean this sort of format. Typographic qualities such as bold, italic, and underline, as well as layout qualities such as tables, right alignment, and margins, are all part of this definition of format. Although I dwell most on text formats in this work, the other media types (images, sound, and motion formats) all have unwritten equivalents of the notion of format.

Rendering format is important because you must manage it across all of the content that you intend to handle. The following list describes two ways in which you must manage your format:

  • You must make format consistent across content categories, as well as across all content, in a single publication. To ensure readability, for example, you want to make certain that all of your news releases feature the title centered and boldfaced at the top of the page. You can also format a cross-reference link the same way, across all of the content in your publications, to ensure that the user recognizes it as a link.
  • You must separate format from content so that you can reuse the content in a variety of outputs. Although making your titles centered and boldfaced may be appropriate in your Web design, for example, you may prefer to make them left-justified and italicized in print. In this case, the title itself doesn’t have any set format associated with it; rather the publishing system enables the title to adopt the title format that the specific publication uses.

For the content manager, rendering format is best thought of as separate from content. For the consumer of content, the two are inseparable. The typography and layout of the page tell you much of what you need to know about the page. Format is a kind of metadata. It’s information above and around the language on the page that tells your brain what to do with the language on the page. It tells the reader things such as “This part is important,” “Read this section first,” or “This text is a link.” It guides your eye and your emotions around the language, leading you, if done well, to a much faster and fuller understanding of the information on that page.

Excerpted with permission from Chapter 2, “Content Has Format,” of “The Content Management Bible” by Bob Boiko (copyright HungryMinds Inc.). Visit Metatorial for more information on the Content Management Bible or Metatorial Services Inc.