Info Architechture: Card-Sort Topics, Granularity thereof

Subject: Info Architechture: Card-Sort Topics, Granularity thereof
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, cewinch -at- aep -dot- com
Date: Mon, 13 Jul 2009 11:50:25 -0400

Connie Winch reports: <<I'm embarking on my first-ever card sort...>>

You mean people actually work for companies that care enough to allow
this in the real world? Cool! <g>

<<I work for a major electric utility, in the group that sets the
standards for how transmission lines and structures are designed,
engineered, and constructed. The project for which I'm planning a
card sort is redesigning the internal SharePoint site that presents
(among other things) our standards, specifications, and guidelines.
As part of that effort, I'm "information architecting" our body of
content--and planning to design the site so it more or less mirrors
the classification system that comes out of my research (user/task,
mental models, etc.).>>

Sounds good! But one thing that interests me in the rest of your
description is that you haven't used "standards, specifications, and
guidelines" as your initial level of granularity. It would seem
logical to me that at least some of your audience (possibly most of
them) will use these as initial search categories. Regardless with
what you do during the rest of your analysis (below), you should
consider providing access to documents based on these categories of
information. One of the nice things about online information is that
you can publish only one copy of the information, yet provide as many
links to it as you desire. So keep that in mind as you proceed, and
remember that you can provide multiple access paths to any given

<<OK. The granularity level I'd decided on was individual-document
level. So I've created labels (to affix to the cards) with document
titles on them...mostly *without* any indication that they're doc.
titles--to assist with sorters' ability focus on the implied content.
Here's the problem: When I do that, I end up with some topics like,
for example: "mehtods for calculating effective catenary curve
constants of ACSR and aluminum conductors at maximum operating
temperatures between 167 deg. and 401 deg." Yes, that's the title of a
document... It strikes even my inexperienced mind that that's too
broad/inclusive to be considered a single topic that's workable in a
card sort.>>

Document titles are way too fine-grained for card sorting and related
tasks, possibly because you're confusing the categories (the places
you'll assign each document) with the documents themselves. The gaol
is that the finest level of granularity should be a category name that
groups two or more documents, and ideally a whole set of related
documents. One thing you should consider before beginning the card
sort is to ask your audience to define the broad keyword categories
they will be using to think about information. For example, the title
of this specific report suggests the following keywords: calculation
methods, catenary curves, and conductors (types of). Your audience may
disagree, in which case, remember that they're the ones who'll be
using it (not me nor thee). Work with them to define a reasonably
efficient number of categories: enough to rapidly narrow down the
alternatives, but not so much you have as many categories as there are

<<When I try to paraphrase and pare down the title (for example,
"best practices: calculating catenary curve constants for conductors
at maximum operating temps"), it's still too much packed into one

Possibly keeping the categories less specific (as noted above) would
be the way to proceed.

<<I don't think that changing the actual documents' titles is
politically feasible right now, so I'm taking that option off the

However, you may want to propose developing a standardized naming
convention for all documents for future use. That would greatly
facilitate assigning future documents to the correct part of the

Geoff Hart (
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Info Architechture: Card-Sort Topics, Granularity thereof: From: cewinch

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