What’s a Language Board? Does it Matter?
LOL! FOMO. Bigly. (That’s a real word, shockingly.)
Language is always changing. It’s an adaptive technology designed so humans can communicate with each other. But when creating content, urging stakeholders to understand a customer’s language takes work and careful planning.
One handy tool we use is a language board. It helps to clarify key concepts, vocabularies and shared understanding.
What’s a language board?
I first heard about this concept from Steph Hay, the Head of Conversation Design at Capital One. The idea for this tool sprang from the frustration that both parties feel when creating content: SMEs think of their content one way, while audiences have different words or phrases they use to communicate about the topic.
When introduced early in a project, language boards resolve that dispute. Here’s how it works:
- Preparation: The content creator does research before the stakeholder meeting to assess the main words and phrases of the topic. It’s a good idea to look at SEO data first, so that you can walk into the meeting armed with data. SEO data will quickly tell you what your audience calls certain terms. Blood pressure and hypertension are one example of a split between the SMEs and the audiences.
- Agreement: During the interview, the content creator should ask the SMEs about the different terms and how they use them – both in conversation and in writing. Ignore this distinction at your own peril, because very often, SMEs will use the more vernacular terms in conversation, but not while writing. Stress to them that conversational terms will make content more effective: You’re not writing for a journal or science article, but for laypeople. So 7 syllable words probably won’t cut it for your readers. Agree on what the terms will be.
- Writing: During the writing phase, use the terms that were agreed upon on the language board. Continue to do research on the terms that the SMEs said people use. Use language that feels comfortable to your audience and that your SMEs have agreed to. In that way, you’ll avoid a lot of hair pulling during the editing process.
Language boards are effective when communicating about future content with SMEs. Try one out on a smaller project, and see if it gets you the results you need. Then you can determine if it makes sense to use them for all of your content projects.
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