Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Planning and Creating Usable Content — with Melanie Seibert

Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Planning and Creating Usable Content — with Melanie Seibert

Summary:

I had the pleasure of hosting Content Strategist and UX Mastery community member Melanie Seibert in our Slack channel to talk about planning and creating usable content that supports and enhances our work. Here is a full transcript of the chat.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting Content Strategist and UX Mastery community member Melanie Seibert in our Slack channel.

Melanie shared her wisdom around planning and creating usable content – content that enhances and supports our designs.

If you didn’t make the session today because you didn’t know about it, make sure you join our community to get updates of upcoming sessions.

If you’re interested in seeing what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, here is a full transcript of the chat.

Transcript

hawk
2017-07-25 22:01
Firstly, a huge thanks to @melanie for her time today. I’m really interested in hearing what she has to say.

hawk
2017-07-25 22:01
For those of you that are new to these sessions, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the process

hawk
2017-07-25 22:02
I’ll intro Melanie and she’ll give us an introduction to the topic

hawk
2017-07-25 22:02
Then I’ll throw it open to you guys for your questions

hawk
2017-07-25 22:02
If things get busy I’ll queue questions in another channel for Melanie, an acknowledge that I have like this

hawk
2017-07-25 22:02
Then she’ll answer as she gets to your place in the queue

hawk
2017-07-25 22:02
So don’t hold back – post your questions any time

hawk
2017-07-25 22:03
I’ll put a full transcript up on http://uxmastery.com tomorrow

hawk
2017-07-25 22:03
So… here’s the formal intro

hawk
2017-07-25 22:03
In her role as Senior Content Strategist at mobile agency WillowTree, Melanie Seibert draws on over 17 years of experience planning and delivering content for interfaces. She has worked for companies that include Razorfish, Rackspace, and Crutchfield, and has taught an introduction to content strategy class at General Assembly.

hawk
2017-07-25 22:03
Today, Melanie supports the WillowTree design team by incorporating content strategy and content design principles into the UX process, helping the team deliver high-quality apps, chatbots, websites, and other digital products to clients.
Follow Melanie on Twitter @melanie_seibert, and check out her course Getting Started with Content Strategy. http://gettingstartedwithcontentstrategy.com/

hawk
2017-07-25 22:04
@melanie Over to you to give us a rundown on content strategy and how it applies to us

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
OK!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
Hi everyone! Happy to be here.Thanks for joining! :wave:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
I love UX Mastery and have been following these chats for a while.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
:smile:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
My name’s Melanie, as Hawk said. And I’m joining you from Virginia, USA. It’s about 6 pm here. :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
Content Strategy is a subdiscipline of UX that focuses on planning, creating, delivering, and maintaining, content that’s usable.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
We can also add that it includes delivering content to users on any device.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:04
There’s a lot packed into that definition though. :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:05
Content Strategy got really popular around 10 years ago (although it’s been going on longer) when Kristina Halvorson published the book Content Strategy for the Web.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:05
Since then, it’s gained a lot of popularity because a lot of teams were trying to pack content and copywriting into their design process at the end.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:05
And the content would break their designs.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:05
I know my interest in Content Strategy was piqued after a painful content migration. :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:06
Content Strategy seeks to prevent and fix those kinds of hard problems by planning for content throughout the UX process.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:06
It gives you tools for that, and also for knowing what content to create vs. not create.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:06
So it’s a pretty integral part of UX design. And I love it! :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:06
So that’s it for the intro! Would love to take any questions you may have.

hawk
2017-07-25 22:07
Questions are GO.

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:07
@melanie: as a non content person is there a tool that designers can improve to put in fake copy per day?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:07
@flaxenink Do you mean like “lorem ipsum” copy?

jwager
2017-07-25 22:08
I’m interested in how to best support or encourage (or educate?) other team members in content creation from their realms of expertise.

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:08
@melanie: yes but not using that anymore.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:08
There are some lorem ipsum generators online, although it’s a bit of a hot topic. :slightly_smiling_face: Oh okay!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:08
So the best advice I can give is to look at what existing content the organization has. If you’re mocking up, say, a blog page, what blog posts have they published in the past?

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:08
@melanie: able to show decent content to stake holders

melanie
2017-07-25 22:09
Beyond that, I think it’s beneficial to work with a writer who can help you create spec copy. I don’t know of any tool so far that I would recommend.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:09
Maybe with the rise of AI tools, we’ll see one soon!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:09
@jwager asked: I’m interested in how to best support or encourage (or educate?) other team members in content creation from their realms of expertise

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:09
@melanie: thanks!!!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:09
@jwager that’s a tough one!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:10
I like to encourage people to write BAD FIRST DRAFTS

melanie
2017-07-25 22:10
This advice comes from novelist Anne Lamott.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:10
I had a developer friend who was very hesitant to write, bc he lacked confidence.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:10
When I told him he should just write terrible first drafts, he seemed to really open up.

jwager
2017-07-25 22:10
I work in a technical space and can’t (nor would want) to create all that content myself that would be beneficial to publish!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:10
It helped him to stop editing himself.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:11
Right!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:11
Do you edit the experts’ writing?

jwager
2017-07-25 22:12
There isn’t much writing happening at present. It’s something I know is important and want to figure out

melanie
2017-07-25 22:12
I also like to let people write in whatever medium they’re comfortable in. Google Docs, Pages, Word, etc.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:12
Oh I see

melanie
2017-07-25 22:12
If you can get a high-level stakeholder (manager, exec) on board to explain the benefit to the business, that can help too

melanie
2017-07-25 22:12
I held an interest meeting once for contributors, and it seemed to drum up a lot of interest (redundant, ha).

melanie
2017-07-25 22:13
So: 1. Interest meeting, 2. Executive sponsorship, 3. BAD first drafts!!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:13
TERRIBLE DRAFTS

melanie
2017-07-25 22:13
(As long as someone will edit them. lol)

jwager
2017-07-25 22:14
Cool, I like the collaborative approach

melanie
2017-07-25 22:14
Yes, it works well for us here at WillowTree. We have a crazy amount of technical contributors (http://willowtreeapps.com/ideas)

jwager
2017-07-25 22:15
The book you recommended, is it a good tool for how to create an overall content plan? A model?

janeg
2017-07-25 22:15
What are the most critical issues in content strategy? Today content strategy covers so much. If you had to focus on three critical areas, what would they be?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:15
@jwager: It depends on what you mean by a plan/model (different people mean different things :)). Are you thinking of an editorial calendar?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:16
To plan a schedule of publishing content, for example on a blog

jwager
2017-07-25 22:16
A calendar would be important. I’m thinking of the birds eye view on what we want the content to support. As in, toward our business goals.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:16
Yes!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:17
It’s geared toward a holistic understanding of ALL the organization’s content.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:17
@janeg asked: “What are the most critical issues in content strategy? Today content strategy covers so much. If you had to focus on three critical areas, what would they be?”

jwager
2017-07-25 22:17
Sweet, that’s what I want to learn more about

melanie
2017-07-25 22:17
Wow, love this question

melanie
2017-07-25 22:17
awesome! I think it’ll help! Let me know…

melanie
2017-07-25 22:18
So @janeg one thing that’s really a big topic right now is “content design”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:18
And by that, we mean the “content” part of content strategy: how does the content support the interaction?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:18
It’s not necessarily a NEW idea, but it’s still very much needed. Some companies are still not giving a lot of thought or resources to content.

janeg
2017-07-25 22:18
Thanks! Can you provide an example?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:19
Sure. (Incidentally, Sarah Richards of http://uk.gov writes about this, she’s definitely worth a follow on Twitter!)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:19
So it might be collaborating with a designer to break up a page into sections, using headers so that users can scan for information they need, adding bullets to make the content scannable.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:20
It could be deciding that a dropdown of zip codes is unusable, and the field should be formatted as a text entry field (Sarah uses this example)

janeg
2017-07-25 22:20
Ah, thanks. So collaborating with a UX designer

melanie
2017-07-25 22:20
So right. It’s a little beyond writing, as in the second example.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:20
More, thinking about how content should support whatever the user wants to do

melanie
2017-07-25 22:20
The second issue I’d bring up is reuse: devices are proliferating. Watches, smart fridges, apps, etc. How can we publish to multiple devices?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:20
This is a huge problem.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:21
Fortunately, we’re seeing a lot of new content management system (CMS) technologies to support this.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:21
However, organizations are lagging behind.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:21
Some still have a CMS (and a copy of the content) for each app / website / device.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:21
Which is a huge pain to manage!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:21
Third issue, hmmm.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:22
I would say, with the popularity of content marketing, a little too much emphasis is probably placed on production of MORE content.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:22
without thinking about: who will write it? does it serve the user’s needs?

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:22
YES THIS MY GOODNESS!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:22
So I think we need a little more UX focus on our marketing content :wink:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:22
(I would say this as i’m in UX…)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:23
So:
1. Content design
2. Content reuse
3. A little more strategic focus on marketing content

janeg
2017-07-25 22:23
Thanks so much! This is really helpful

melanie
2017-07-25 22:23
Oh good!!

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:24
@melanie I work with all content designers and they are so busy so that was I asking about the copy how or what I could use…

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:24
Any tips

melanie
2017-07-25 22:25
Right @flaxenink – so you were looking for a tool to allow you to easily import fake content into your designs?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:25
Can you give me an example of the type of thing you’re designing? Like, ecommerce website, mobile app, etc

flaxenink
2017-07-25 22:25
@melanie: HA both!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:26
haha

melanie
2017-07-25 22:26
I just remembered this tool. If you use InVision, apparently there is a Craft plugin that brings real data into your design. I’ve never used it, but might be worth a look! https://support.invisionapp.com/hc/en-us/articles/209650506-Craft-Introduction-to-the-Data-plugin

melanie
2017-07-25 22:27
I don’t know of anything else right off!

hawk
2017-07-25 22:27
I have a q: What traits make a good Content Strategist?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
Ah

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
1. Adaptable! You have to be willing to fill in some gaps.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
Content Strategists might have to help out with IA, taxonomy, project management.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
So they need to be willing to fill in where needed.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
2. Humble! Sometimes you have to work with experts to get information.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:28
You can’t be afraid to “look stupid.” Ask the “dumb” questions.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:29
Chances are, others are asking those same questions in their minds and are too afraid to speak up. :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:29
3. Curious! Especially in a tech environment.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:29
It really helps to be able to dig into technical details about a tool or technology.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:29
Especially since they’re always changing (see the discussion of content management systems above.)

crystal
2017-07-25 22:30
This past May was the first I heard about UX Writing and UX Writer as a job title. I haven’t understood where this fits in with Content Strategy. Is UX Writing it’s own independent field or a subset of content strategy? Is it just another fuzzy term for the same thing?

tzhao
2017-07-25 22:30
@melanie, I could not agree with you more, especially the #2. Without it, it will impose a challenge.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:30
@crystal You are very observant!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:30
UX writing is, I would say, a subset of Content Strategy.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:30
Content Strategy has 2 components: content tasks, and people tasks

melanie
2017-07-25 22:31
The “content” tasks are where you would put UX writing.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:31
So yes! UX writing is a part of it. And I would even say that “UX writing” and “content design” are synonyms for the same thing.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:31
Oh I guess I should mention the “people” tasks…

melanie
2017-07-25 22:32
Above, I said that often organizations want to publish MORE CONTENT without thinking about who and how

melanie
2017-07-25 22:32
So a Content Strategist can help them to map out workflows, so they know what their content approval process will be

melanie
2017-07-25 22:32
Or list all their channels (social media, websites, apps, etc) so they know what content they have…

melanie
2017-07-25 22:32
It’s amazing how many companies don’t even know what they’re publishing :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:33
But that’s a bit of a tangent :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:33
I like this image by Kristina Halvorson that describes what Content Strategy entails: http://trujilloestate.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/content-strategy-quad.gif

crystal
2017-07-25 22:33
I see. That helps! Thanks!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:33
Sure!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:33
(UX writing would go on the left side of that diagram IMO)

hawk
2017-07-25 22:34
Who else has questions? Now is a good time. We’re at the end of the queue.
RELATED:  Review: Foundations of UX: Content Strategy

hawk
2017-07-25 22:34
Tough crowd! Ok, I’ll jump in with another one. :wink:

hawk
2017-07-25 22:34
The title of this session is planning and creating USABLE content

hawk
2017-07-25 22:35
what makes content usable?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:35
Good one!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:35
I define usable content as having 3 traits:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:35
(I’m doing a lot of lists of 3s… it’s not intentional! haha)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:35
1. It’s findable. Especially on the web, people must be able to find it in search engines.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:36
That means removing the content clutter from our websites.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:36
It can really mess up users’ search results.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:36
It also means using relevant terms that the user will understand. Not necessarily just how the business talks.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:36
2. It’s actionable.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:36
Digital content is a little different from print, because users spend so much time inhabiting a digital ecosystem, of which content is a huge component.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:37
That’s why it’s so important for digital content to be actionable—there is usually an online action for the user to take.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:37
In contrast, print content (think about instructional sheets or user manuals) usually doesn’t have a direct action for the user to take inside the content’s ecosystem (unlike digital).

melanie
2017-07-25 22:37
3. It’s understandable.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:37
This is where good writing comes in. Whether you call it “content design” or “UX writing.” :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:37
To me, those 3 things make content usable.

hawk
2017-07-25 22:38
Cool, thanks.

ct
2017-07-25 22:38
q: I’ve often seen how content can end up as as secondary discussion when it comes to product dev. Can you share your content strategy workflow experience when it comes to working with big teams? Specifically where/when content strategy planning discussions occur in agile environments that often have established communication flows between dev and design teams and not necessarily with the editorial or content teams.

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:39
I work with academics and researchers and go around and around on what “understandable” is. There’s a bunch of info out there on that topic (yay – I’m not alone), but am curious how you handle those types of divides.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:39
ct: Yes, this is a common problem I think.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:39
@ct Ideally, the conversations with editorial teams should happen at the beginning of the project, and throughout the project.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:40
Often I have received a request to edit an error message or button text at the end of the project, and I always ask a million questions. :smile:

ct
2017-07-25 22:40
totally!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:40
It’s important for the writer/content strategist to know about the user and product to be able to write efficiently

lynne
2017-07-25 22:40
If there are several very different audiences accessing the content, how do you ensure it is usable for everyone?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:41
So the best projects I’ve worked on were ones where the editorial team was in the daily standup with dev and design. And content came before design (or at least was being created concurrent with design).

melanie
2017-07-25 22:41
I don’t know if we did “agile” differently from you :smile: I’m not sure if that’s what you meant.

ct
2017-07-25 22:41
@melanie that’s a whole other discussion :slightly_smiling_face: Thank you, that was helpful

melanie
2017-07-25 22:42
@laura_r asked: “I work with academics and researchers and go around and around on what “understandable” is. There’s a bunch of info out there on that topic (yay – I’m not alone), but am curious how you handle those types of divides. (edited)”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:42
Gosh that’s hard.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:42
I mean, the best thing is to do user testing, of course.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:42
It’s really helpful if you can watch a user struggle to understand something! It really bolsters your argument.

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:42
Then they start asking about p values! :smile:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:42
oh dear lol

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:43
ooooooh – i like the idea of them seeing it in real time.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:43
Have you tried showing them Jared Spool’s or NNG’s information about how you only need 5 users? (that’s right, i think? lol)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:43
I seem to remember it being 5ish

melanie
2017-07-25 22:43
Yeah, qualitative, moderated testing helps with that.

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:43
5 ish is what I remember as well

melanie
2017-07-25 22:43
I don’t think it’s a question of “are ALL of our users struggling with this term?”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:44
If you can make it better for 2% of your users, why not?

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:44
totally

melanie
2017-07-25 22:44
Maybe you can try that argument. :wink:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:44
Especially if that doesn’t degrade the experience for the more savvy users.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:44
If it does, then you have to navigate the tradeoff, which is pretty tough.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:44
But we really seem to overestimate the level of expertise of our users/readers!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:45
Most expert users don’t mind if the copy is a bit simple. Or having to click through to get to more detail.

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:45
I agree

melanie
2017-07-25 22:45
But inexpert users will really be stumped by something that’s too jargony.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:45
I know I’m preaching to the choir :smile:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:45
@lynne asks: “If there are several very different audiences accessing the content, how do you ensure it is usable for everyone?”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:46
Hmm. I think when you say “everyone” you mean “all the disparate audiences” right?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:46
Not like, everyone :smile:

lynne
2017-07-25 22:46
Yes!

wendy
2017-07-25 22:46
@melanie how can people become content strategists? Is there a catch 22 similar to what people trying to break into ux Design experience?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:47
So, I’ve worked in situations where we had different paths for different users to take.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:47
It can be as obvious as segmenting by “doctors,” “patients,” etc on a health care website. (That’s common.)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:47
Or it can be asking what problem the user is trying to solve

melanie
2017-07-25 22:48
When I worked at Rackspace, we had this issue. Some users were very technical, some were just mom and pops who needed to host a site for their business.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:48
We ended up surfacing a couple different paths on the homepage. An option for large enterprises looking for cloud computing, and an option for small businesses looking for simple hosting (for example).

melanie
2017-07-25 22:49
Now how you word that will be different depending on your business. I recommend using terms the user would use when they think, “I have this problem to solve.”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:49
Like, “I want to host an ecommerce website.”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:49
Rather than whatever jargon the business uses. Does that help?

melanie
2017-07-25 22:50
@wendy asks: “how can people become content strategists? Is there a catch 22 similar to what people trying to break into ux Design experience?”

melanie
2017-07-25 22:50
Hm, interesting. I don’t think it’s quite as bad, to be honest.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:51
Because existing content strategists all come from various fields. I know one content strategist who was a developer. Most were writers or editiors. So there’s more understanding that “no one starts their career as a Content Strategist” (at least not yet). :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:51
So I will recommend a few things.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:51
First, read books. The Halvorson book (Content Strategy for the Web) is indispensable for anyone wanting to do Content Strategy within UX (rather than marketing).

melanie
2017-07-25 22:52
Second, there is a conference called Confab that is excellent. If you can go, I recommend. (If you can’t pay, see if you can volunteer and attend for free!)

melanie
2017-07-25 22:52
Anther thing is, I have a free 7-day email course called Become a Content Strategist

lynne
2017-07-25 22:52
Thanks. It’s interesting because I’d learnt that segmenting by audience was generally a bad idea, but I can definitely see how it would help in this kind of situation.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:52
It gives you some tips for starting to practice Content Strategy right away.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:52
You can sign up at my website: http://prosekiln.com

melanie
2017-07-25 22:53
TBH I’ve heard that too. I just don’t have any other great solutions.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:53
We wrestled with it quite a bit. lol

wendy
2017-07-25 22:53
Great, thanks so much for the tips, @melanie

melanie
2017-07-25 22:53
Sure!

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:54
i never thought to try and volunteer at ConFab – great idea!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:54
The Content Strategy community is very welcoming. Honestly I would jump on Twitter and follow a bunch of folks, like Rachel Lovinger, Halvorson, Jeff Eaton, Kate Kiefer Lee, Hilary Marsh, Colleen Jones. That should get you started!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:54
Sadly I can’t take credit. That idea comes from my friend Hilary Marsh. :slightly_smiling_face:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:55
And they love to talk about it, so you can ask questions.

laura_r
2017-07-25 22:55
Well thank you both!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:55
There is also a UX + Content Slack that’s run by Michael Metts – Google will lead you to a form to fill out.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:55
Oh! and the Content Strategists group on Facebook!

melanie
2017-07-25 22:55
You’re welcome! :smile:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:56
Lots of opportunities to read, engage, and ask questions. :smile:

hawk
2017-07-25 22:57
Awesome. We have about 3 mins left. Does anyone have any urgent qs that haven’t been answered?

hawk
2017-07-25 22:57
Nope? Ok, we might call this a wrap!

hawk
2017-07-25 22:57
Again, thanks so much @melanie for your time.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:57
Wow that went by fast! Thanks for having me. :smile:

melanie
2017-07-25 22:58
anyone with further questions is welcome to find me on here. I’m on Slack constantly.

melanie
2017-07-25 22:58
:wink:

hawk
2017-07-25 22:58
And to everyone else, if you want to learn more, here’s that link to Melanie’s course again: http://gettingstartedwithcontentstrategy.com/

hawk
2017-07-25 22:58
Thanks to everyone else for joining us today. :slightly_smiling_face:

Sarah Hawk
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Sarah Hawk
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