Writing large amounts of information is what technical communicators do. There is no formal guidance on how to write effective documentation but you can use some methods like Information mapping to make your manuals better. It is already used in the business process documentation. So can a similar approach be taken for technical product documentation? Let’s make it clear here.
What is Information Mapping
Information mapping is a research-based method for writing clear and user-focused information. It’s based on the audience’s needs and the purpose of the information. This method is primarily used in design, developing business and technical communications. Information mapping has close ties to information visualization, graphic design, information architecture, data analysis, information design, graphic user interface design, experience design, and knowledge management systems. It was developed by Robert Horn, a researcher at Harvard and Columbia Universities, in 1967.
The overall process of information mapping consists of three major steps: analysis, organization, and presentation.
Advantages of Information Mapping
Documents written according to information mapping have a modular structure — they contain maps and blocks that help readers to get the main idea quickly. There are differences between an information unit and traditional text paragraph. Information units are grouped into maps, and each map consists only of relevant blocks.
Advantages for writers:
- A writer can learn a systematic approach to the task, and they can start writing immediately.
- A writer analyzes both the text and the audience’s needs that make the content effective.
- This approach is unique and can be applied to all tasks whether they are business or technical-related.
- It helps to standardize team writing process.
- Information mapping helps to update and revise content throughout its life cycle easily.
Advantages for readers:
- The information is clear and easy-to-interpret.
- Fewer errors and misunderstandings.
- Fewer questions.
- Shorter training cycles.
As you can see, information mapping method has a lot of advantages, and as technical product information needs to be accurately and consistently documented, it can benefit from the information mapping method. The principles can work effectively in technical writing and can be used as high-level planning guidelines.
If you want to use information mapping in your technical writing process, here are core principles that you should stick to:
- Chunking. Information should be broken down into manageable chunks.
- Relevance. The content of each topic should be relevant to the task at hand.
- Labelling. All topics, tables and figures should be given meaningful labels.
- Consistency. All aspects of documentation should be kept consistent.
- Integrated graphics. Graphics should be close to the relevant text.
- Accessible detail. Content of topics should be accessible to those who need it.