Micro Content in Technical Writing

Posted by
Julia in Technical Writing on 10/27/20217 min read

woman using laptop sitting on sofa

Many content creators, technical writers, and other authors face the problem of content form choice. Content forms have the following classification:

  • Long-form content
  • Short-form content
  • Micro content

Long-form content provides a lot of information on the topic to say nothing of its depth. The length may vary from 700 to 2000 words. The most vivid examples of long-form content are ebooks, blog posts, user manuals, tutorials, instructions, white papers, etc. In other words, it is a separate document.

Short-term content contains up to 1000 words. It provides readers with relevant information but in a short way. It is more effective than long-form content. It is easy to read and perceive, it is more lightweight. The essence is to tell the audience about one idea or to deliver one message quickly and efficiently. Examples of this type of content are infographics, short news articles, social media posts, etc.

As we are surrounded by tons of information, our attention span is only about 8 seconds or even less. We don’t want to waste our time dealing with unnecessary information. We want to see easily scannable and highly efficient pieces of content. And here is the point where micro content comes in.

What Is Micro Content?

This term appeared in 1998 in one of the articles by Jakob Neilson, a usability advisor. Step by step, the term became very popular in such spheres as technical writing, marketing, UX/UI.

Micro content (micro-content or microcontent) is the type of content (image, text, or video) that can be perceived in a time span less than 30 seconds.

The term itself might be unknown among broad audiences, but everyone has surely seen this type of content a lot of times. Social networks widely use it every day. The main distinctive features of microcontent are the following:

  • Addresses one question or solves one problem at a time
  • Is aimed at working in a short period of time
  • Is easily readable and scannable
  • Is precise and direct

The greatest thing about micro content is that it clearly shows the value of your message. Customers won’t have to spend time reading and reading lines of text. The essence is on the surface. Here are the examples of micro content in technical writing:

  • Headlines
  • Images
  • Blurbs
  • Tips
  • Illustrations
  • Infographics
  • Short videos
  • Phone numbers
  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Memes
  • Lists
  • etc.

Even snippets in Google are considered to be micro content. Snippets in Google are brief extracts from a webpage that you can see in the search results. They are automatically pulled from web pages indexed by Google. And they give quick answers to users’ questions. Though actually, this content is not micro content on a webpage. Even voice search results can be represented in the form of such micro content. Here is what a snippet in Google looks like:

google snippet

Micro Content Benefits

Micro content is a special type of content that offers benefits both for technical writers and for readers:

  • Improved focus. Micro content leaves no space for odd information. It includes only the relevant one. Moreover, you can focus only on one problem or question at a time.
  • Reduction of cognitive load. Small chunks of information don’t cause overload.
  • Easy navigation and improved searchability. Users hardly ever read technical documentation from cover to cover. They scan it to find the information to solve their problems. Another possible search scenario is that they use the search box (in case they read online technical documentation). They will scan the whole branch of related topics. Micro content makes the information highly visible as it is divided into small chunks. There is no need to scan unnecessary information, as the content is clear. It saves time, effort and makes documentation more enjoyable.
  • Easily digestible information. When information is divided into small chunks, it becomes easier to perceive.
  • Easily shareable information. Micro content can become a part of a large document, and at the same time, it can be used on its own. This makes it suitable for posting on social media and sharing it independently from the rest of content.
  • Easily tailorable to different groups of users. Micro content can be an entry point for different kinds of users. As it is brief and precise, it can be easily changeable to meet different needs and expectations.
  • Saves time and money. Using micro content is an efficient way of attracting users’ attention, but producing content like that doesn’t require a long learning curve. If technical writers can cope with HTML and CSS, surely they can cope with creating infographics or a short video. In case not, it is not a problem to find an expert who will help with that.

How to Create Micro Content in Technical Writing

Creating micro content in technical writing is not as challenging as it may seem at first. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll get great results:

  • Keep it short and to the point. Micro content contains no excessive information. That’s the main rule.
  • Focus on one problem/feature at a time. As was mentioned above, micro content is aimed at focusing on one problem. When creating your micro content, do not overlook this rule: answer one question and describe one feature.
  • Identify user intent. When you know a user’s intent, you know how to create content and what exactly to underline. For example, users may want to find a description of a process, an instruction with a set of steps, or a definition to understand the nature of an object.
  • Structure information in a clear and comprehensive way. Structured information is more digestible than endless lines of text. You can use tables, lists, steps, and other visual elements for this purpose.
  • Special adherence to context. That’s the main difficulty in creating micro content. On the one hand, micro content should be independent of context. There should be a possibility of using it out of context at all. But on the other hand, the correlation with context cannot be denied. In case micro content is used as a part of a bigger document, it should fit it in a natural way.

ClickHelp, as a technical writing tool, offers great functionality for more convenient and efficient use of all types of content, including micro content. These are variables and content snippets.

Variables help authors update documentation. It works like that: imagine you have a manual in which you need to update small but very important details like company name or product version. I guess no one wants to look through the whole text to find them and change manually. You can simply create a variable for company name or product name, assign a particular value to it and change rapidly throughout the whole documentation project.

variable example

Content snippets help to work with bigger pieces of content. Some information should be used in every manual of a company. Sometimes this information must be updated. When authors copy and paste pieces like that, it is a great problem to update them. How can you do that? It is impossible to check all the places where it is used. Obviously, a lot of mistakes will be made. You can create a content snippet and reuse it when you need it. If you update the original snippet, the content will be changed everywhere.

snippet example

If you want to learn more about single-sourcing techniques, read our post - ClickHelp - Single-Sourcing Techniques.

Microvideo Formula

Microvideos are rapidly gaining popularity in online technical documentation. A situation like that takes place as microvideos are 100% efficient when you need to attract users’ attention to information and, at the same time, reduce the cognitive load. Here is a good formula for creation of microvideos:

  1. Gain viewers’ attention
  2. Show the need for a product or service
  3. Show how a product will satisfy viewers’ needs
  4. Show how things will change with a new product or tool
  5. Show what steps should be taken

You can find more information about how to create videos, which video hosting platforms to choose, and how to gather feedback from videos in our post - Tips to Make Instructional Videos.

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Conclusion

Micro content isn’t something widely known, but it is widely used. It allows to boost the performance of technical documentation, and, of course, is highly appreciated by users. Does that mean that technical writers should concentrate mainly on this type of content? The answer is no. Create diverse content for different purposes and combine them in your technical documentation.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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