Re: What alternatives are there to "Information Mapping"?

Subject: Re: What alternatives are there to "Information Mapping"?
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 10:37:57 -0500

ian.saunders wrote

>Does anyone have any comments (good or bad) about the "Information Mapping"
>method of organising and presenting information? Are there any other
>alternative methodologies that I might consider for training staff to

I recently attended a seminar (read: sales pitch) on Information Mapping. In
the course of this seminar we were given a simple exercise.

First, we were given a memo written in paragraph form. The memo was densely
written without breaks or headings and with lots of type crammed onto a
single page. We were asked to find the new job for John Smith (name changed
because I forget what it really was) and put up our hands when we found it.

Of course, the information was buried in a paragraph 2/3 of the way down the
memo. (When designing these things always put the information you will be
asking for 2/3 down.) Some hands shot up instantly (presumably those who
know the 2/3 rule) and the rest straggled up over the course of the next
minute or so.

Then we were presented with a version of the memo written according to the
information mapping methodology. In this case there were fewer words and the
information we were after was in a table smack in the middle of the page.
This time we were to find Jane Doe's new job and put up our hands. Naturally
every hand went up in the first five seconds.

Now one could comment that this was all a set up that proved far less than
it pretended to, and that would be fair. But after a few minutes I noticed a
much more telling problem. The table was organized in three columns, Name,
Old Job, New Job. I realized that in the exercise I had found the name,
found a job title next to it, and raised my hand at once. But I hadn't found
the new job at all, I have found the old job.

I checked with those around me and found that they had made the same
mistake. (But I am reasonably sure that most people at the seminar never
checked and never realized the error. They probably went home very

The problem here is that in using a table to present the information, the
text that expressed the relationship between the name and the title had been
eliminated. To understand the relationship, you now had to understand the
structure of the table as a whole.

Rewriting the memo had changed us from taking 30 seconds to find and act on
correct information to taking 3 seconds to find and act on incorrect
information. Not an improvement if you are writing operating instructions
for a nuclear power plant, for instance.

I don't want to pick on information mapping in particular. It is 50% common
sense, and 50% oversimplification. Alternative methodologies must
necessarily be the same. Simplified methods for doing inherently complex and
difficult tasks always have this weakness. Nothing can be made more simple
than it is.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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