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How to run a content outline workshop


Juggling problems is what has led to the pervasive nature of the human race. 

We are extremely good at keeping ourselves alive. We do this by prioritising thoughts and actions at a million miles an hour without conscious thought.

When it comes to creating content, we can forget our user’s brains are firing in the same way.  

When a user lands on your web page or uses your design – they are looking to answer their most pressing problem or need. Solving these problems is what it means to be a content designer.

So how do you know what those needs are?

You must find them out and then prioritise them. And this is the essence of a content outline workshop.

What is a content outline workshop?

A content outline workshop helps you create a prioritised list of user needs. This forms a brief for writing content that genuinely helps your customers and users.

Content can vary wildly.

From an article about dogs going into heat to the content in an app for registering to become a blood donor. Whatever it is, there is one thing that unites it all: purpose. Content needs to serve the person reading or using it.

Content outline workshops focus on what the content needs to do for your user. 

They work whether your goal is content marketing or content that is designed to inform.

A content workshop can be broken into three parts:

  1. Understand the needs of your user.
  2. Prioritise those needs.
  3. Create an outline or wireframe that content designers can use to start fleshing out the detail.

Why should you run a content outline workshop?

An excellent content workshop gives you a clear understanding of the problems you are trying to solve, and in what order. 

The detail of the content itself happens afterwards by content designers and copywriters. 

What’s the difference between content design and copywriting? Read my guest post at Incredibble. 

It can be tempting to sit down and jump straight into ideas. 

But by giving your team the time to consider the needs of the user, your content will be more compelling and helpful.

Including other perspectives and subject matter experts in the content creation process is a powerful way to create content that, on your own, would be impossible.

Content workshops create a sense of unity.

Inviting stakeholders to this workshop, and receiving their input, makes them feel like they have had a hand in creating the content – and they have! People are far more likely to vouch for something when they’ve had a part in it.

The best time to conduct a content workshop is as early as possible.

All too often content becomes an addition to a website, rather than a starting point. When you are thinking about your content second, you’re already thinking about it too late.

Without content, websites are empty shells

Beautifully bound books are reams of blank paper, and advertising campaigns are glorious empty billboards.

How do you run a content outline workshop? 

You need a step-by-step process and exercises to help you get the most out of people. 

In this section, I’m going to reference Workshop Tactics, a deck of step-by-step exercises for running workshops and getting stuff done. 

I created it after years attending and facilitating workshops for some of the world’s leading brands and businesses, learning from facilitation masters and refining my knowledge into usable, bite-sized information.

Below, you’ll see how the cards fit together to help structure and inform impactful, productive workshops that get you what you need. Find out more here


Before you do anything, identify why you need a workshop. Are you about to embark on a new landing page, email campaign or help section of your website?

Gather any research or data you have on the problem. Were there any past attempts at solving this? Analytics data, market research or user research? Bring it all to the session.

Set the goal for the session

Sailboat tactic

Tactic: Sailboat

For example, create a content outline for the landing page. If you’re not sure where to focus your efforts, try running the Sailboat tactic with your team to find out where you are trying to get to, and what’s stopping you.

Optional step: 

If you have unfamiliar faces, clients or stakeholders in the session, it can help to run a Hopes and Fears tactic to ensure everyone’s expectations for the session are out on the table. This way, they don’t spend the next couple of hours wondering why they aren’t whittling wood in an actual workshop.

Step 1: Research playback

Go through all of the information you’ve brought to the workshop as a group. Spend as long as you need to play it back to the room. Though, try not to spend more than an hour. Keeping it succinct forces you to share what’s most important.

Step 2: User needs

Empathy Map helps you get into your user's shoes.

Tactic: Empathy Map

  • Using the information you’ve brought to the session, run the Empathy Map tactic to start bringing your evidence and assumptions together.

For example: 

  • Job: need to switch energy supplier to keep paying as little as possible
  • Pain: lots of energy suppliers out there, who is the cheapest?
  • Pain: lots of new companies, are they reliable?
  • Gain: I want peace of mind that I’m paying the lowest rate.
  • Gain: I want to know I’m doing something to help the planet

Step 3: How might we…

Reframe problems as "how might we" questions.

Tactic: How Might We…

Referencing your Empathy Map, reframe your pains into “How might we…” questions. For example:

How might we reassure our potential customers we are reliable?

How might we communicate to customers the value of our service?

How might we show that being the cheapest isn’t always good?

How might we quickly establish trust, and show we are reliable?

Take a five-minute break!

Workshops are tiring, stay hydrated!

Let’s get back to it.

Step 4: Collect assumptions

Collect your assumptions so you're all on the same page

Tactic: Assumption Collecting

Start making some assumptions about what information you think the user needs to remove their pains, and complete their job. This is a helpful step as it gives the client and stakeholders a chance to get their assumptions down on the table.

The best way to approach this is to frame your assumptions as questions. 

Write questions your potential customers might have on sticky notes.

Bonus points if your research has given you an indication of these questions already! Don’t worry if you feel like you are making it up, you’ll be testing your assumptions later.

For example:

  • I’ve never heard of this company, who are they?
  • How do I get a quote?
  • Can I trust them?
  • How much is it?
  • How expensive are they in comparison to the market?
  • What is a tariff?
  • Do they have smart meters?
  • How does switching work?
  • Are there any early exit fees?
  • Are they at risk of going bust?

Step 5: Prioritise and create a content hierarchy

Prioritise things based on criteria important to you.

Tactic: Priority Map

Draw a vertical line, with “important” at the bottom and “really important” at the top. Additionally, you can create a horizontal axis with another factor such as “high / low urgency”

Grab your sticky notes with questions on, and as a group, begin to prioritise them based on your assumption of the importance to the user.

This will start to create the basis of your content outline. Your content should answer your user’s most pressing and important questions first. 

Avoid prioritising the obvious subconscious questions like, “Is this the right website?”, “Am I on the right page?”, “Where else can I go?”. These fire in our mind every time we browse the web. That’s why we have logos, titles and navigation at the top.

Focus on the questions that get to the heart of why your user is on your page. 

Step 6: Sketch out a wireframe

Once everyone is happy with the order, sketch out a wireframe of the website using simple boxes. Put your prioritised question in each box.

Content outline workshops give you... an outline!

This last, simple step begins to create the foundations of a webpage’s content brief that you can now start to work on – and test with users.


Why run a content outline workshop? It makes you do three things:

  1. Understand the needs of your users.
  2. Transform those needs into questions that demand answers.
  3. Prioritise those questions to give you a content hierarchy that kicks off the content creation process.

The beauty of this process is it can be done on your own, to create content outline quickly. But the simple act of being inclusive and inviting subject matter experts, stakeholders or clients into the process helps create better content. There’s an old saying:

“If you want to go fastgo alone. If you want to go fargo together.”

To go far, go together.

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