Re: Information Mapping

Subject: Re: Information Mapping
From: WRONECKI Frederic DG <frederic -dot- wronecki -at- FRANCETELECOM -dot- FR>
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 12:18:17 +0100

Patrick,

Information Mapping is a *very* efficient method for analyzing, organizing and presenting information.

It consists of two basic sets of rules :
- a taxonomy of information (six categories : "Facts", "Principles", "Procedures", "Processes", "Concepts", "Structures", plus "classifications") to analyze it ;
- seven principles to organize it :
- "chunking" : chunk the info into small, manageable units :
- "relevance" : in a given chunk, put only that information relevant to the topic ;
- "labeling" : give a relevant title to every chunk ;
- "consistency" (see under) ;
- "visualisation" (see under) ;
- "detail accessibility" : adjust the level of details to what is necessary ;
- "hierarchy" : organize chunks into higher-level entities (modules, chapters, etc.)
... and tools/guidelines to display information.

It is both rigorous and simple to use : just after you've been trained (3 days), you're immediately able to (re-)construct documents in a much more effective fashion.

It has been developed 25 years ago by Robert E. Horn, a scholar and psychologist, on an experimental and not theoretical basis (how people read, learn and memorize).

It is "universal" in that it is based on how the human brain works, and not on a specific culture or language (I have seen "infomapped" documents in Chinese !).

And finally, while it was developed for paper docs, it is even more useful for onscreen pages (this is a result of the "chunking" and "labeling" principles, inter alia) : I have checked by myself how satisfactory was the result when I converted such docs into WinHelp or HTML.

I recommend R. Horn's book "Mapping Hypertext" (Lexington Institute, ISBN : 0-9625565-0-5) which also gives an excellent overview of the method in general, and helps to see to what extent it is "universal" (Horn makes a clear distinction between what he calls "relatively stable discourse", for which the method has been primarily designed, and other discourses such as "experimental discourse" or "disputed discourse", for which the application of IM is still under test).

I have discovered this method one year ago, and decided to advocate it strongly in my company by organizing training sessions (which I can get at fairly competitive prices). So far, 99 % of the 300+ trainees [we have not "techwriters" here, docs are written by SMEs] have expressed deep satisfaction, and are advocating the method to their colleagues. Besides, as we are increasingly developing Intranets, with a need to develop corporate skills for Web pages design, I have an additional argument in favour of the method.

There's a recurrent debate about IM's style guide : they recommend a presentation format with titles in a separate left column and horizontal borders between chunks, which irritates many readers. But this is a false debate : the only important thing is to understand the "visualisation principle" which says that :
- any page (even without any graphics) must be considered as a visual entity ;
- titles must be visually scanned separately from the text ;
- each chunk of text must be visually separated from others.
Once you've got it, you'll see there are many ways to achieve this result.

Another frequent debate related to IM is the (im-)proper use of Miller's "magic number seven, plus or minus two" : there again, the question is not to stick to a rigid rule which would make no sense in many contexts, but to organize your information to adjust it to the memorizing/reading capabilities of your audience.
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Frederic Wronecki
France Telecom, Paris, France
mailto : frederic -dot- wronecki -at- francetelecom -dot- fr
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