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Getting staff the information they need to be able to do their job is a principle role of the intranet. A great information architecture will make sure they get to the right page, which is a great achievement. Rarely though are staff looking for a whole document. More often they are seeking a piece of information or set of related pieces from within it. This might be form, a guideline or a series of task steps.
Bringing information architecture thinking to the page and document level can help staff complete their journeys to information success.
Text thinking is often linear thinking
Text documents have been used for information exchange for hundreds of years. This heritage brings with it particular characteristics that include:
- having a start-to-finish structure
- generally having a narrative thread through the document
- being a single ‘bound’ object such as a book, report or other publication
This narrative approach is perfectly natural to our story-telling nature and ideal for delivering novels, and other works that follow a linear progression. They are driven by a top-down view such as a story around a theme of interest.
However the information seeker on the intranet rarely needs this degree of comprehensiveness and detail. Usually they are looking for something very specific.
Thinking like an information architect
Rather than taking the top-down view, the same bottom-up approach that drives great information architectures, applied to text pages and documents, can make information much more accessible. Firstly, be very clear about who the audience is and what their information need is. Then involve them in creating the most appropriate structure to deliver that information to them by:
- getting them to cluster the information around topics meaningful for them
- using their language to describe the clusters
- arranging the clusters in a manner that aids findability
Now make it a priority for the finished document to elegantly convey how the clusters relate to each other.
How the information ends up being structured and displayed will depend on its nature. Don’t relying on text to convey the structure. Simplify the document to the point where the structure is visually obvious. Here are some approaches:
- A simple or linear procedure can be elegantly conveyed using a set of concise bullet points or a well crafted table of contents.
- More complicated or non-linear processes might require a flowchart with clickable links to each step and related content.
- Where broad lists of related topics need to be conveyed and navigated then tables allow the breadth of information to be made immediately obvious.
Avoid the temptation to use convenient clusters, that are easy to understand, but can have very poor ‘information scent’ and are generally unrelated to the task or topic of interest. Cluster types to be cautious of include:
- type of document (forms, templates, and related policies should be located together under the topic of interest)
- alpha-numeric listing (document names are rarely consistent enough to make this useful)
- organisational unit (needing to know who the owner is, can be an impediment to finding the information)
Testing your document
Ask a staff member to look at your page or document and see if they can quickly get a sense of:
- what is contained within that page
- how the information is structured
- a logical flow to the information
If the page visitor has to read a paragraph to decide if they are or going in the right direction, then perhaps better signposting is required.