Re: Information Mapping

Subject: Re: Information Mapping
From: Janice Critchlow <Janice -dot- Critchlow -at- ENG -dot- SUN -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 1996 08:11:33 -0700

Fellow writers,

I typically lurk on this alias, but every once in awhile an issue comes up that
I feel I need to add a few words about. Information Mapping is one of those
issues. [soapbox on]

First, yes I have worked at companies that used Information Mapping as their
standard. I have also worked at companies that used Information Mapping
techniques for some documentation. And, I have worked for companies that had no
knowledge or desire to use Information Mapping techniques.

I have seen documents before and after they were "info mapped," and in most
cases the users did like them better once they were mapped. However, for
information mapping to achieve the desired results, the information has to be
good to begin with. Simple techniques, such as writing clearly and precisely,
are essential to the success of ALL technical documentation, whether you use the
Information Mapping approach or not.

I have seen examples in which Information Mapping has been taken too far and the
documentation suffered as a result.

Much of the Information Mapping approach is a repackaging of techniques that
many of us already had (before Information Mapping came into being). These
techniques are founded on cognitive psychology and instructional design (with a
healthy dose of good common sense). For example, several years ago (more than I
might be willing to admit), I learned about something called "cognitive mapping"
in one of my Psychology courses. The concept is sound and is one of the basic
building blocks of the Information Mapping philosophy.

What the people at Information Mapping attempted to do was take some more
theoretical ideas and try to develop simple implementations. Does it work? Yes,
to a degree. Is it the be-all and end-all of technical writing? No, techniques
have to continue to evolve. For someone who has little-to-no knowledge of good
information design, Information Mapping's techniques and tools do help. That is
not to say this is the best and only approach.

As we move toward more Web-based information design, some of the techniques and
layouts that the Information Mapping people used in the past will have to
evolve. For example, what happens when you translate large tables to HTML? If
your user has the latest-and-greatest browser that provides full table support,
it may work fine. If he (or she) is using basic Mosaic, what happens to all that

My recommendation: Use your own brain! Information Mapping is a good technique
to learn, but it doesn't work 100% of the time.

[soapbox off; back to lurking]


SunSoft - Enterprise Network Products
Janice -dot- Critchlow -at- Eng -dot- Sun -dot- Com

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