Information mapping is a research-based method for writing clear and user focused information, based on the audience's needs and the purpose of the information. The method is applied primarily to designing and developing business and technical communications. It is used as a content standard within organizations throughout the world.
Overview of the information mapping method
The information mapping method is a research-based methodology used to analyze, organize and present information based on an audience's needs and the purpose of the information. The method applies to all subject matter and media technology. Information mapping has close ties to information visualization, information architecture, graphic design, information design, data analysis, experience design, graphic user interface design, and knowledge management systems.
Components of the method
Information mapping provides a number of tools for analyzing, organizing and presenting information.
Some of Robert E. Horn's best-known work was his development of the theory of information types. Horn identified six types of information that account for nearly all the content of business and technical communications. The types categorize elements according to their purpose for the audience:
|Procedure||A set of steps an individual performs to complete a single task|
|Process||A series of events, stages or phases that occurs over time and has a specific outcome|
|Principle||A statement designed to dictate, guide or require behavior|
|Concept||A class or group of things that share a critical set of attributes|
|Structure||A description or depiction of anything that has parts or boundaries|
|Fact||A statement that is assumed to be true|
The information mapping method proposes six principles for organizing information so that it is easy to access, understand, and remember:
|Chunking||Break up information into small, manageable units|
|Relevance||Limit each unit of information to a single topic|
|Labeling||Label each unit of information in a way that identifies its contents|
|Consistency||Be consistent in use of terminology as well as in organizing, formatting and sequencing information|
|Accessible detail||Organize and structure information so those who need detail can access it easily, while those who don't can easily skip it|
|Integrated graphics||Use graphics within the text to clarify, emphasize and add dimension|
Units of information
Documents written according to information mapping have a modular structure. They consist of clearly outlined information units (maps and blocks) that take into account how much information a reader is able to assimilate.
There is an essential difference between an information unit and the traditional text paragraph. A block is limited to a single topic and consists of a single type of information. Blocks are grouped into maps, and each map consists only of relevant blocks. The hierarchical approach to structuring information greatly facilitates electronic control of content via content management systems and knowledge management systems.
Advantages of information mapping
The information mapping method offers advantages to writers and readers, as well as to an entire organization.
Advantages for writers
Information mapping offers these advantages for writers:
- An easily learned systematic approach to the task of writing that once learned, enables writers to minimize down time and start writing immediately
- A subject-matter independent approach that can be applied to all business-related or technical content
- A content standard that greatly facilitates team writing and management of writing projects
- Enhanced writer productivity, with less time required for both draft development and review, and
- Easy updating and revision of content throughout its life cycle
Advantages for readers
Information mapping offers these advantages for readers:
- Quick, easy access to information at the right level of detail, even for diverse audiences
- Improved comprehension
- Fewer errors and misunderstandings
- Fewer questions for supervisors, and
- Shorter training cycles, less need for re-training
Advantages for organizations
Also an entire organization can benefit from using a content standard like information mapping if the method is used with the following objectives in mind:
- Revenue growth by reducing time to create content and accelerating time to market
- Cost reduction by capturing employee knowledge, increasing operational efficiency, reducing support calls, and decreasing translation costs
- Risk mitigation by increasing safety and compliance
Information mapping was developed in the late 20th century by Robert E. Horn, a researcher in the cognitive and behavioral sciences. Horn was interested in visual presentation of information to improve accessibility, comprehension and performance. Horn's development of the information mapping method has won him recognition from the International Society for Performance Improvement and the Association for Computing Machinery.
Review of research
Many independent studies have confirmed that applying the information mapping method to business and technical communications results in quicker, easier access to information, improved comprehension and enhanced performance. It also facilitates repurposing for publication in different formats.
Doubts have been raised over the strength of the research Horn uses to justify some of his principles. For instance, his chunking principle requires lists, paragraphs, sub-sections and sections in a document to contain no more than 7±2 chunks of information. Horn does not state where he got this principle, but an Information Mapping website stated that the principle is "based on George A. Miller's 1956 research". Miller did write a paper in 1956 called "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information", but its relevance to writing is tenuous. Miller himself said that his research had nothing to do with writing. Insisting that lists, paragraphs, sub-sections and sections throughout a document contain no more than 7±2 chunks of information paradoxically assumes that the size of what is not read in a document can influence a reader's ability to comprehend what they do read.
- R.E. Horn, Developing Procedures, Policies & Documentation, Info-Map, Waltham, 1992, page 3-A-2.
- "Mapping FAQs". Infomap.com. Archived from the original on 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
- Geofrey Marnell, Essays on Technical Writing, Burdock Books, Brighton, 2016, pp. 111–155).
- See http://members.shaw.ca/philip.sharman/miller.txt, Viewed 14 January 2011.
- Robert E. Horn. Mapping Hypertext: The Analysis, Organization, and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-Line Text and Graphics. ISBN 0-9625565-0-5
- Robert E. Horn. How High Can it Fly? Examining the Evidence on Information Mapping's Method of High-Performance Communication. Note: This publication is available for download on Horn's website: Chapter One and Chapter Two.