Re: Info Mapping Tirade

Subject: Re: Info Mapping Tirade
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 08:37:00 -0600

The Info Mapping style is useful for short spurts of information, for
look-up type documents, and as a way of organizing SGML or hypertext.
It can turn a dismal writer into a minimally acceptable one. It
can't, though, turn a good writer into anything but a drudge.

There's a lot of interesting thoughts lying just under the surface of those
last two sentences, which I agree with completely.

I've sen Info Mapping and the like in several texts. (The first time I ran
across something like was "Writing Effective Computer Documentation," which
contains a lot of the same precepts.) They all hand out a firm set of rules
for presentation of information, and following these rules you create
manuals which all look alike and dress alike and walk alike and talk alike
("and hate each other very much, oh yes they do").

The real problem I have with these approaches isn't that they aren't
effective. But I think they *are* dangerous. They can erode the judgment of
the tech writer involved. When you've acquired such a set of rules, it's
quite easy to quit thinking and just crank out the words, filling in the
blanks as you go along. It's too easy to quit analysing your audience, to
quit looking for a better way, to cease trying to create and become simply a
transcription service. Yes, Info Mapping can be very effective at
communicating certain kinds of info to certain people. It's just that they
ignore the very real differences between audiences. At if a tech writer
learns that particular lesson, all is lost.

Rigorously following a single procedure for producing all kinds of
documentation isn't right. As the Grand Poo-Bah once said, "We must make the
punishment fit the crime." The "xxx for Dummies" series has sold well, and
the format is quite evidently both popular and effective. Yet if I used that
format for a maintenance manual, I'd have it thrown back in my face (no
small threat, considering the size of some of them).

From what I've seen, Info Mapping is *a* way of organizing a presentation
which is quite effective for some types of information and some audiences.
But rather than adopt it as a universal style, I'd suggest adopting it on a
project-by-project basis, using it only for those projects for which it is
well-suited.


Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
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