TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
About two weeks ago, someone posted a message about the Information
Mapping method and asked if it was worthwhile.
Last week, I attended the four day basic Info Mapping course, and I
can throw out a few opinions.
Although it has its shortcomings, I think overall that it can be a
worthwhile method to help plan, and to layout documentation. If you
stick strictly to the guidelines, you may find yourself somewhat
constrained at times. Some flexibility is permitted, of course, and
once you're back at your office you can modify the method if you
The info mapping method greatly increases white space on the page, and
this of course sends your page count way up. Well, if that's not a
problem for you, then this is a point in favor of info mapping (as it
was for me).
There are actually several organized map templates, dealing with
"procedures", "concepts", "process", and other issues. These force
the writer to think (oh, the pain), and decide which map is most
appropriate. Then you write your information onto a map according to
their guidelines. For most professional tech writers, this isn't any
big deal, it's just common sense. For people who don't write as the
primary part of their job, this is a new experience. (The class I
attended had 12 participants. Four of us were tech writers.)
There is software available (from them, for a price) that will
work with some desktop publishing packages, and automatically format your
page to the info mapping standards. It's available, for example,
for Frame in Windows and Mac (but not Unix).
I'm still fairly new with my current employer, and still on the
learning curve concerning the equipment and technology involved. I'm
going to be reorganizing one of the manuals by the Information Mapping
method, and it's helping me out. In order to properly "map" one
section in the revision, I've got to pull data from several scattered
points and gather it onto one page. That may make perfect sense, but
the need to develop the map probably jumped me several days ahead in
spotting this problem and finding the answer.
Once you've mapped out the data, it's much tougher for the reader to
lose (did I spell that right?) track of what procedure is on which
On the down side (and maybe this isn't much of a problem), Information
Mapping Inc. promotes their method as a solution for writing problems
all the way down to the level of memos and faxes. Well, that might be
a bit much, it would take me more time to info map a one-paragraph
memo then it would to write it the conventional way...
My vote is that it's worthwhile, and if you can get your company to
pay for it -- go for it.
rjlippincott -at- delphi -dot- com