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

Subject: Re: FW: 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: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 18:22:55 -0500

Kathleen Kuvinka wrote


>Are you really suggesting that all info be presented in the format of a
>simple linear page?

No. I am saying that it is a safe design, not that is is always the optimal
one.

>It does not encourage skimming? Could you support this
>assertion somehow?

Vast amounts of research show that plain text is hard to skim. Headings,
tables, and other layout devices make skimming easier. Ergo plain text
discourages skimming.

More to the point, it forces the skimmer to at least read a portion of the
text around the information they have skimmed to. It forces people to
associate pieces of information based on established grammatical structures,
rather than on graphical relationships for which they have far less
convention and far less skill.

We spend 13 years teaching people to read. We don't spend 13 minutes
teaching them to interpret drawings, diagrams, or page layouts.

>> Glibly encouraging people of limited
>> experience to
>> try high wire design tricks with their information does not
>> strike me as
>> particularly responsible.
>>
>
>I'm sorry, we were talking about a simple three column table that would
>probably be used by a manager or HR personnel. We're not trying to change
>the world.


Just because a device is simple does not mean it is not powerful. Ample
research shows that simple page layout devices have a profound effect on
comprehension and readability. What everyone seems to forget is that
anything that has a powerful effect can have that effect for good or ill
with equal power.

This is why we give children plastic scissors. We understand that scissors,
though simple, are powerful and can do more harm than good in the hands of
inexperienced users.

I'm not sure that these powerful layout tools are appropriate for
inexperienced communicators. The example I cited showed that, even in the
hands of people who claim to be able to teach people to write, they can
cause potentially serious miscommunication.

Even in the hands of professional technical communicators, such devices
often do more harm than good. I have seen countless examples where adopting
layout intensive approaches to documentation lead to misunderstanding.

These are powerful techniques, folks. Wiser professions keep their power
tools under strict control and supervision. We seem to take a Tim Allen like
power-tools-for-everyone approach. If research shows that layout technique X
has a powerful effect on comprehension, our response should be to use it
with caution, not to stick it willy-nilly into every document we write.
Those who play with fire will eventually get burned.

---
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
Web: http://www.omnimark.com








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