The Versatile Reference

refernce book

Different formats of content obviously come with different kinds of convenience and different requirements for handling and using them practically.

But increasingly, thanks to digitization, they can be blended with each other in a way that makes their differences less of a reason to choose one instead of another.

Documents contain videos; presentations contain audio; and so on… making any content item a potentially “rich media” offering.

On the surface, the versatility suggests that one item can appeal to the largest range of different users, whose receptivity to incoming information can vary hugely from the influence of their backgrounds, immediate location, tastes, and habits.

But one potential problem with rich media is that even a good job of production can leave a user with more work than desired to get to the point.

What do we mean by “get to the point”?

In this case, the issue is not “the Point” but instead the “getting to”. How does content help the user get to where they want to be with the ideas in the content?

To help bring out the answer, one approach is to consider what advantage each type of format can most easily offer relative to other formats. This approach does not argue against using a given format in one way or another, but it helps to identify why one format might be preferred over another when we know what the content user might need. In turn, this can be the key to making the content more valuable in its occasion of being shared for use.

Below is a comparative profile for each of four major content formats. In the profile, the format is distinguished by the following comparisons:

  • psychological affect
  • how it shapes recognition of ideas
  • how it shapes information
  • convenience or benefit of use with other formats
content versatitlity

In those profiles, there is a helpful view of why some content can be more effective than others, even when different formats are covering the same subjects.

Additionally, an interesting relationship appears between the formats. While each one can be made independently with a great deal of sophistication and quality, having a “suite” of the different types is an opportunity to guide a user through increasing strength of understanding of the ideas.

As suggested by the profiles, moving across the formats from left to right can mean having the initial memory of an idea reinforced by confidence, self-pacing, and experiential impact.

With that in mind, two important kinds of versatility are available with content.

One is re-purposing. Finding an additional use for existing content might be pursued by moving the same ideas into another format.

And the second is integrating. Combining one format with another allows a point being made in one way to be emphasized in another without breaking anyones attention span.

What may be most important, however, is the affect on information that each format can have, when the content is being made in the first place.

In those terms, we see a distinction in the support of definitions, importance, explanation, and point-of-view — all factors contributing to the sense of “meaning” in the content. The profiles suggest that a content maker can take those matters as a cue to use certain formats at certain times. This can be part of a strategy to assure that the content has the most obvious value as reference material for the eventual user.