Looking for the best content strategy books? I searched far and wide in my (accidental) journey of becoming a CS to develop my own content strategy reading list.
While I appreciate the multitudes of content strategy reading lists floating on the web, the recommendations often lacked context. Why was the book being recommended other than being popular? What categories of CS books exist for what purpose?
I decided to curate a list of top content strategy books using the following method:
- Combine & synthesize from the recommended reading lists of top content strategists
- Categorize the books into content strategy, writing and user experience. (Because content strategy is part of UX)
- Add personal context for why I think you should read each book that’s being recommended.
The following is a selection of the top 15 out of 104 content strategy books I’ve identified across 5 content strategy reading lists. Skip to the end of this article for more background on the methodology and to get the full list.
I’ll list the top 5 content strategy books across 3 categories…
Books on content strategy
Out of 16 top content strategy books, I chose the following 5 for their breadth, practical application and utility for both new and practicing content strategists.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher manages to write about the context topic of wrangling content in a succinct and easy-to-understand style. This book is about the importance of structuring content and how to do it. Learn how to manage omni-channel and omni-device content, including responsive and adaptive content. Includes actionable ideas for how content strategists can tame distributed content into a manageable project.
How many of us owe our jobs to Kristina Halvorson? (Me). CS for the Web pretty much popularized the field of content strategy. It’s the first recommendation for our field for good reason – it’s a mix of covering the “what” and “why” of content strategy, then dives into the actionable “how”. I learned a ton from the chapters on content audits, conducting research, and the people side of content (“governance”).
Content Strategy at Work shines in 2 particular ways: 1) frameworks and 2) case studies full of real-life content strategy examples. Tons of advice for different work environments, e.g. applying content strategy to an agency practice vs in-house work. One of the most practical books to help new CSs get a grasp of the day-to-day reality of content strategy.
The Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey
By: Meghan Casey
Stuck on your content project? Try this beloved book, which is known for Meghan Casey’s conversational-yet-entirely-practical style. Comes packed with step-by-step directions on a multitude of content processes, from planning and creating your content to delivering and managing it. All followed up with downloadable content templates! This book truly lives up to its name.
Read this book if you’re dealing in the realm of content operations, content management and CMS. While quite readable, this book is aimed towards the content strategist working with technical aspects of content. It speaks to the entire enterprise content workflow, including metadata, taxonomy, and even specific advice on markup.
There are 11 other content strategy books I didn’t get to cover here. If you want the full, sortable list, look at the bottom of this article for a free download :)
Books on writing
Why include writing books? Many content strategists generate content as part of their roles, whether it’s UX writing for interfaces or crafting marketing copy. Here are 5 books that’ll help any content strategist elevate their writing skills.
Janice (goes by Ginny) Redish combines her UX background (having authored 2 UX books on usability) and with writing to create this masterful guide, which includes practical details on writing content and using the right content types in order to meet users’ expectations. I love this book’s presentation – there’s tons of examples, illustrations and “before-vs-after” comparisons that bring the advice home. While the knowledge in this book is evergreen, make sure you get the 2nd edition. It’s jam packed with even more examples that make it not just a minor update, but a major refresh.
Ann Handley is hilarious and I want to be her friend. If not for her writing advice (which is great), this is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read on the art of writing. The book is structured like a funnel – starting off wide with tips on writing process and grammar, then converging into step-by-step examples for the 13 most popular content types marketers write. I still remember her formula: Utility × Inspiration × Empathy = Quality Content.
A beautifully composed, down-to-earth book on the craft of writing. I highly recommend Nicely Said for designers who work a lot of interactive copy, and/or are interested in becoming content strategists (me!) Covers the whole gamut of how to writing interface flows, blog posts, emails, and notably voice & tone style guides. I found that the authors’ backgrounds – one from Mailchimp and other a freelancer – blends together very well for a relatable book for any modern professional who needs to write.
Killer Web Content is a blend between writing advice (content generation) and research as it pertains to writing. McGovern lays out common sense advice for listening to customers and distilling those conversations into effective content. Not just for the content strategist who writes, but also a great on-ramp for the beginner content writer.
By: Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman
In the same entertaining style as Everybody Writes, this book breaks down 11 Content Rules, including gems like “Embrace being a publisher” and “Reimagine, don’t recycle.” A great reference for anyone who’s hit a writing block or is looking for ideas on generating effective content.
Books on user experience design
I consider content strategy a part of UX. Any content strategist who works with digital products and interactive experiences can benefit from design thinking and user experience methods, which the following 5 recommendations cover beautifully.
By: Steve Krug
Ahhh…I love this book. Usually thought of as a UX book, Don’t Make Me Think reads more like a book of common sense ways to solve problems with digital products. This book uses fun, illustrative storytelling (like a comic book) to demonstrate actionable tips to make user flows friendly and easy to use.
Information architecture is an inextricable part of content strategy, and this now-renown “Polar Bear” book is the most comprehensive book on IA. It’s high level and focuses on the theory of IA, covering subjects like navigation, labelling and search in-depth. While, the book could use more examples and practical application, it’s still one of the most foundational (and evergreen) texts on understanding and analyzing information architectures.
By: Erika Hall
From this book I learned how to conduct powerful user research in lieu of a big budgets and schedules. Great reference of different research techniques and how to conduct each step. Consider this a quick, actionable handbook of user research that you can apply to any project.
Jesse James Garrett’s 5 Planes Model changed how I understood UX and how to approach experience design. Through wonderfully concise explanations paired with illustrations, learn how to build experiences through the lens of strategy, scope, structure, skeleton and surface. The distinction between “product as information” and “product as functionality” alone has given me clarity as a UXer-turned-content strategist.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating digital products through the lens of features & functionality. Donna Lichaw helps the reader put on a storytelling lens in order to give shape to new products and experiences. She also provides the practical tools of storymapping, like the book’s 3 story frameworks, to help readers make sense of the journey they want to design for their users.
Here’s a comprehensive list of UX books if you’re interested in what’s on my UX reading list.
Methodology & stats behind this content strategy reading list
I started my analysis with 6 content strategy reading lists from Jonathan Colman, Brain Traffic, Story Needle, Avo Agency, UX Booth and Goodreads to top it off. This gave me a total of 104 unique content strategy books. Thanks giants for your shoulders to stand on and generous sharing :)
Books recommended 3 times or more were tallied up, resulting in 30 content books. I gave an extra vote to any book I’ve personally read.
Then I categorized these 30 books across 4 categories: content strategy books, writing books, UX books, and a miscellaneous category, which didn’t show up in this final list. Then I chose the 5 best representative books from each category to arrive at the final 15 you just read. Writing up the description for each book was the most time consuming part of this process.
Some interesting stats from the list of 30 content strategy books:
- Female authors dominated the list, with 18 female authors (60%), 4 female & male author (13.3%) and 8 male authors (26%)
- Books are not crazy long, with the total # of pages across books at 6938, and average book length at 231 pages. The shortest read is Erin Kissane’s Elements of Content Strategy, at 79 pages.
- These books are evergreen. The majority of books included in this effort are surprisingly resilient and evergreen. Many books date back years, but still hold their relevance vetted by recent reviews and repeat recommendations.