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Technical Writing by Mark Metcalfe, Publications Professional

"Don't go around the block in Boston," my dad advised. He gave me this sage advice long ago because the streets in Boston are not laid out logically. Boston is an old city that grew organically. In fact, many of the winding roads in Massachusetts are paved-over cow paths of old.

Think instead of Manhattan. If you are on West 42nd street, you can easily figure out how to get to East 23rd Street. That is because the streets are laid out in a logical progression and you can expect that 41st Street precedes 42nd Street and that the next street will be 43rd Street.

Along the lines of expectations, think about what you expect when you walk into a McDonalds or Burger King. You know that you can go almost anywhere in the world and get the same experience. (McDonalds in India serves chicken sandwiches; no hamburgers.)

When a company has an ocean of information, the key concepts to getting the information you need are access and navigation. If information is laid out consistently, on a web site or in the documentation set, customers can navigate easily through the system. For example, it means that Overview sections have the same kind of information and always appear in the same place. The regimentation gives users the confidence of knowing where to find the information they want to find.

Mark Metcalfe

Posted on Friday, June 19, 2009 12:53 PM | Back to top

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