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    Magazine Content Structure Guide for Publishers

    at Issue production, Guides

    Magazine publishers, both new and established, eventually find out that the hard way that magazine content structure and pre-publication workflows can get confusing. We’ve designed the following guide to help simplify the process and keep it manageable. Put on your coffee, send the new guy out for donuts, and round up the team. We’re about to make your magazine content structure and your content prep process a worry-free scene.

    Magazine production content prep team meeting
    Magazine content structure & prep is easier with a proven method.

    Your content is a big deal and so is how you communicate it to your stakeholders and the printer. I’m about to share a company secret here, a 5+ year secret we at Flip180 Media have been using to order our content prep process and keep it streamlined.

    Choose a solid cloud file transfer platform

    There are so many tools to manage teams, processes, and content that it can really get overwhelming learning and using them all. While testing many of them we believe the most crucial of these are:

    1. Dropbox
    2. Smartsheet
    3. Google Drive

    Pro tip – Be transparent:

    Don’t forget to share files with your production team when adding links to your emails – it allows everyone to know what they’re dealing with. It also helps to make sure that people don’t have to guess at what you’re talking about, but can immediately understand what you’re talking about.  And this can help when you have multiple similar projects with similar names, etc.

    Focus on internal magazine content structure

    Everyone thinks that the cover is the most important part of the publication. The cover is the face of the magazine, but as a production company, we focus on the magazine body and the magazine’s issue content structure and outline first and put the cover on the back burner until the entire issue has shaped up. This prevents problems later, such as as a major change in the magazine content outline (the table of contents) from impacting the relevance of the chosen cover before the editor.

    One of the pivotal aspects of magazine content structure is the table of contents (TOC). The TOC serves as the outline of the issue content. It’s a central reference for the content in the magazine issue. It’s not just a formality or an afterthought. The TOC is where the reader finds their way to what they care most about.

    So what is the perfect TOC and how do you get it ready? Well, here’s how you should see your TOC if you want to make the most of it:

    Section naming

    A great TOC should reflect the true and intended magazine content structure for that issue. The TOC should have sections with clearly-defined names, as well as the article name and the article subheading (if there is one). To make the article references  logical within the article file, we recommend using different font sizes, like this:

    Section Name: 24pt, bold
    Article Headline: 16pt, bold

    Subhead: 14pt, italics


    Don’t make a mess. The headline in the TOC should refer to and be identical to the headline of the article, and the name of the Dropbox folder should be identical to the name of the magazine section it references.

    Screenshot: table of contents (TOC) example
    Screenshot: table of contents (TOC) example

    Unlike with social media headlines, within the TOC, you don’t really need to change the headline for the audience just to gain their attention. They’re already in the table of contents, after all. Nor is it helpful to your production team to use alternative or “shorthand” references if there are potentially similar titles or related article topics within a single issue.

    Consistency is the name of the game here. You don’t want your readers so dazzled by your versatility that they are unable to identify which article is which! And you certainly don’t want your production team confused about which article they are dealing with, either. They have enough on their plates as it is!

    Pro tip: Use a ROADMAP

    Also, along with the TOC (table of content) file there can and really should be ROADMAP file. The roadmap gives an opportunity to the editor or the publisher to plan each page on the magazine and create the right order of all the elements – sections, ads, etc.

    The roadmap is like wireframe or flowchart, showing how the issue should flow and branch out into the different content in a very exact way. This can help to nail down precisely the editorial vision already in place by the time the production prep is being handed off. It can actually save a lot of time, energy, and caffeine!

    Uploading to the Cloud

    Now that you’ve successfully organized and prepared all the content and files, you’re now ready to upload the files and share them with your production crew.

    For content sharing with production teams, we prefer the Dropbox platform. The reason is that it’s a proven, reliable tool and also because it’s very easy to register and quickly get started. We use it every day, so simply create your account and then log in and we’ll start from there:

    • Create a main publication folder with the clear name (e.g., “Women’s Lifestyle Magazine”).
    • Inside this main folder, create an issue folder (e.g., such as “Spring 2019”).
    • Inside the issue folder, let’s create a folder structure similar to your magazine structure. In the most standard scenario, it would look like this:
      • Cover
      • TOC
      • Ads
      • News
      • Article #1 name
      • Article #2 name
      • Article #3 name
      • Etc.

    Now, let’s also create as many article folders as there are different articles in the magazine. To make it crystal clear, name each of your article folders exactly as you referred to them within the TOC.

    Now that have a perfect folder structure that closely matches the TOC, let’s upload all the content into the folders. Let’s look at the cover folder also – it has one or more images to use for the image that matches the cover. We also have a cover content file that has the right hierarchy, so now it’s crystal clear on

      • what the cover is
      • what the main headline is for each article
      • what articles are super-features
      • which articles are features
      • what’s additional text
      • etc.

    Leave an “Instructions” file top-level within the issue’s main cloud folder. If you feel like some special instructions need to be given to the production team, just add an “Instructions” or “Directions” file to the same folder – it can be text (.txt) or even a voice-recorded memo. Either way, an instructions file is a good best practice to follow.

    Take a quick peek at just such a feature folder. It has multiple pictures and the main text file. Make sure to check what we have in the main text file and whether it’s easy to understand.

      • a. At the very top, we see the author name and photo credit.
    Screenshot: Magazine feature fulder example
    Screenshot: Magazine feature folder example
      • b. Going further we see the article name (same as the file name), subheadline and the main body text.
    Screenshot: Magazine feature folder example of headlines and subheadlines
    Screenshot: Magazine feature folder example of headlines and subheadlines
    • c. The text is nicely formatted, has any links embedded, titles bolded, paragraphs and breaks defined, etc.
    • d. At the bottom of the document, where the body text ends, we can add additional elements that are needed to design the article. In this case, we have a photo caption and pull quotes. To separate these elements from the body text and inform the designer that this is additional information, simply use square brackets.
    • e. Once adding these captions, make sure your ad has an exact image name next to the caption so the designer can find it quickly and easily.
    • f. Sometimes it’s hard to get good quality images, so in all such cases, we recommend using Stock images from or similar website where you can find reliable quality images that truly match the occasion.

    More resources:

    Use these resources for stock images. Always be sure your stock image sources are from the approved list to avoid copyright issues.

    • g. And finally, if you think some liarticular images need to go with some particular part of the text in the magazine, just add a note to the designer [file-name.jpg goes here]. And don’t hesitate to give your reasons, as that will help your designer understand your directions and to spot mistakes. You want to be crystal-clear why such an unusual choice is being offered.
    Screenshot: How to add notation for image files within text of the article production file
    Screenshot: How to add notation for image files within text of the article production file

    Double-check & SHARE IT!

    Just before sharing the files to your production team, take a minute to look through the TOC. Compare it with the magazine content structure in your folders and files to make 100% sure that everything matches up just as we’ve recommended here. If everything looks good, proudly click the share button to let the magic begin!

    In conclusion

    By making the production process a more logical, tidy, and transparent one, you empower your production team to be confident that they are producing a quality product. Whenever something isn’t clear, they’ll know that it’s okay to say something or – in extreme deadline situations, what to go ahead and correct, and what to refer back to the editor on at once.

    Magazine content structure issues should not have to hold publishers and their production teams back. When everybody is clear on the logic of the standard production prep process, everybody can do their job better and maximize the office supply of caffeine – and we all know how important that can be. Your entire team will be happier and more productive and become that well-oiled, super-intuitive machine that gets things done and makes the most of their time and resources.

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    Infographic on magazine production content prep phase before publication

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