A Giant Digital Filing Cabinet
Information design and content management are two terms that I knew existed, but they never would have crossed my mind. Technical communicators write and create their documents, but must also design the way they distribute information and manage what they write. Most people only consider the writing part of a technical communicator’s job, but these are tasks in which technical communicators have always engaged. Before the Web grew in popularity, technical communicators kept track and managed their writing in hard copy formats. However, with the enormous increase of documents being created and distributed online, somebody must be responsible for maintaining it: “Search and retrievability – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever before” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 103). A document is useless if the user cannot navigate it or cannot properly access it. I imagine a digital filing cabinet and a technical communicator working diligently to keep it organized. I have created a visual to aid with my giant digital filing cabinet analogy.
I took a stab at defining the two terms:
- Information design – creating or establishing a text using a set of principles to improve the readability of a document
- Content management – maintaining the usability and searchability of a document so that it can be accessed by users
So, in terms of information design, technical communicators “[design] information in written documents so that those who put ideas to work can access content when needed” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 105). With the increase of electronic documents, it is important that technical communicators consider the format of their document. If they want their users to be able to open up an electronic file and type their information directly into the file, they must design it in such a way. Design in a key element in helping readers understand the document. Also, technical communicators are “charged not merely with the activity of writing, but also with […] looking after the information assets of the organization” (p. 128). Increasingly, technical communicators are responsible for keeping the information they write organized so users can locate it. If a graphic designer creates a company logo, it will fall on the technical communicator to keep a digital copy of the company’s logo managed so that the marketing department, and any other departments, can locate it for their work.
Technical communicators use various systems for designing information and for maintaining documents. InfoDesign is a blog that provides technical communicators with current information and communication strategies. Technical communicators can use the tags to search for posts about a relevant topic. Companies have many options in terms of managing their content. CMS Matrix allows users to sort through a list of 1,200 content management systems and compare selected systems. Top Ten Reviews contained numerical data comparing the most popular content management systems.
So does this giant digital filing cabinet create more work for a technical communicator? I don’t think so, unless the technical communicator is not properly designing and managing his content. I think properly designing information and managing it correctly can actually help a technical communicator be more productive in the long run.