As a technical writer/instructional designer, it is my responsibility to take complex and/or large quantities of content and break it down so it is more simple and manageable to consume. I would argue that anyone who writes anything from an email to a policies and procedures manual should strive to do this as well. Making communications and content easier to take in can only result in increased understanding and action from your audience.
One fantastic methodology that has helped me do this is called Information Mapping. According to their website, ‘Information Mapping is an international, research-based method to analyze, organize and present clear and user-focused information.’ Below are six research-based principles from the Information Mapping methodology that you can start using today to increase the chance that the audience you write for will understand what you are writing and, better yet, act on it.
Six information mapping principles
Chunking: Group information into small manageable units.
This principle can and should be applied to just about every type of communication.
- Take every opportunity to turn a run-on sentence into a bulleted list or insert a table.
- Are there extra words that you can cut out? Keep it simple and only tell people what they need to know.
Relevance: Limit each unit of information to one purpose, topic, or idea (even if it’s just one sentence!).
Labeling: Label each unit of information. Perhaps my favorite principle. Doing this allows different audiences or stakeholders to skim and only read what they need to know, making it more likely that they’ll act on what is being communicated.
Consistency: Use similar terms, formats, organization, labels, and sequences for similar content. This goes back to keeping it simple. Be consistent in whatever techniques you use to communicate but always leave enough white space for the eye to rest.
Integrated Graphics: Use graphics:
- to clarify, emphasize, or add dimension to the text, and
- within, rather than separate from the text.
Often times a picture or visual can say a lot more than a written paragraph. Be sure to label your graphic and include it within the text or communication so your readers understand what it’s communicating.
Provide the detail that all readers need, and structure it so that those who:
- need the detail can easily access it, and
- those who do not need the detail can easily bypass it.
Move all critical points to the top of your communication, perhaps as a summary or an action item list. Don’t embed key points within a long paragraph, and consider including an appendix or detailed summary at the end for those who want the details.
For more on Information Mapping, check out their website at http://www.informationmapping.com/en/.