Archive for January, 2010

Documents that (don’t) work

Have you ever come across a document that didn’t work for you? I bet you have. Just last week, I encountered a small yet relevant example myself.

The document…

I was delivered a parcel and because I wasn’t home, the courier service left me a card detailing what to do to arrange for a re-delivery or pick-up. I had the choice of having the parcel re-delivered to the same address, to a different address or picking it up myself. The card also provided additional instructions; it told me how soon items could be re-delivered and that I needed to present an ID when I wanted my item re-delivered to a different address. So far, so good.

worked for me…

I decided to pick up my parcel. The card provided the pick-up location and opening hours which was great. Of course, the pick-up location for couriers often happens to be a bit further out of town. I have a car, so I’m lucky. I got there, parked my car close-by (plenty of parking available) and made my way to the counter where I was greeted not only by a friendly member of staff but also by a sign stating that an ID must be presented to collect the item.

but wouldn’t have worked for Bob…

I said I was lucky. All I had to do is march back to my car and get my driver licence. However, I could have been an elderly person without a car and no driver licence. Let’s call him Bob. Since the card did not tell Bob to bring along an ID to pick up his parcel, I doubt that he would have thought of taking his passport (or birth certificate).

yet could work easily for everyone…

One additional instruction on the card could have helped Bob and prevented him from having to embark on a strenuous bus journey across town twice.

Sometimes it’s only one extra line that can make a document so much more user-friendly, but often it’s more than that. Think of seemingly contradicting instructions on how to put together a shelf, or the latest letter from your bank that requires a degree in accounting or finance to understand it.

If you want to know how to write documents that work, check out our free information session.


January 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment

Disposing of the filing

I’m working my way through my paper files, shredding all those documents inappropriate to put out for recycling. So, what do you do with a huge heap of shredded paper? Why, buy an Eco Paper Briquette maker from the great New Zealand Nature company ( of course. We shall bask in the hot air produced from those old client documents this winter.

January 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm Leave a comment

Information-map your content the agile way

An important trend

Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf lists content analysis as one of ten trends in technical communication for 2010. Content should be integrated and consistent (across documents and other support tools), analysed as to its re-usability for different types of output (paper, online, multimedia, etc.) and it should contribute to the overall user experience (user-focused, task-oriented).

IM content analysis

The Information Mapping® methodology has always advocated thorough content analysis. The trained information mapper is first of all an analyst of content. Before designing and developing new content, an Information Mapping® consultant will:

  • identify the users’ needs and the purpose of the information
  • analyse existing content and identify any gaps
  • collate and analyse subject matter knowledge, and
  • if necessary, map the relevant business processes.

Real-world issues

Traditionally, analysis and design forms the first stage in a project. Unfortunately, this stage is often cut short through deadlines, budget restrictions, limited availability of subject matter experts, etc.  The solution: an agile approach to content development.

Using the agile approach

Typical features of the agile approach to content development include short development cycles, regular progress reports and project reviews, and collaborative authoring (e.g. through a Wiki).  The topic-oriented nature of the Information Mapping® methodology (chunking content in specific units of information) lends itself to easily develop user-focused, task-oriented content in an agile way.

January 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

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