Content management systems for beginners

One thing I was surprised to learn when I became a web editor is that there is still a sharp divide between writers: those who know how to use content management systems, and those who do not. There is no in-between. They either have had exposure to the CMS environment, or they have not.

This is heartening to me, believe it or not. Because I have not yet met any freelancer or new hire who said, “well, I’m kind of good at online blogging but haven’t learned XYZ yet.” They say either, “I have used CMSs in the past and can learn yours,” or “I do not know how to use a CMS.” Because I’ve trained writers to use content management systems to post their work, I believe that the learning curve for new CMS users is not very steep. It’s really a quick jump.

So I hope that this short tutorial will give you confidence to become a proficient user of most content management systems.

First, a quick Q&A:

  • Do you know how to use word processing software like Word?
  • Do you have an e-mail account that you set up yourself? (like a Hotmail or Yahoo account)

Now, a second Q&A:

  • Do you ever use Facebook?
  • Have you ever set up a blog using Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad?
  • Have you ever commented on an article or on someone else’s blog post online?

OK, there’s no scoring involved with this quiz. If you answered “yes” to all of the above questions, you are ready to work within one of today’s content management systems. If you answered “yes” on the first two questions but “no” to the rest, you can still learn to use a CMS more quickly than you think.


1. Get a blog

If you never created a wrote a blog before, and you want or need to learn to use a content management system quickly, set up a blog for free at WordPress, Blogger, or TypePad (which has a 14-day free trial). It does not need to be anything superlative. Create an account, create a new post, and start typing.

2. Play

Keep the content light. You can type some original sentences, or you can paste some of your unpublished work into the blog. Or, you can write fan fiction or regular fiction. Or you can talk about your favorite hobby. The point here is to just put some words into that blog and publish them.

Once you’re comfortable doing that, you should play around with some of the other controls a blog offers, such as the ability to save a post as a “draft” (it can be edited and saved, but won’t show up in public). And you’ll definitely want to practice putting up your own photos or images.

3. Share with the world, or not

In WordPress, you can choose to keep your blog private – meaning no one can see your work unless they have a login and password that you provide. This allows you to play around in the blog environment, make mistakes, and learn the basics of putting words on the web at your own pace.


The steps above will get you started on the basics of using content management systems to publish your writing. In subsequent posts I’ll go into detail about other aspects of using your blog or working within content management systems, such as placing images and CMS security. Good luck!

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