Imagine for a moment that you’re a chef, and your specialty is preparing dishes without knowing which ingredients you’re using. How many customers do you think will patronize your restaurant? How long will it be until you’re offered your own cooking show on television?
Step 2: Categorize information by type and purpose
Would you enjoy being served a meal that was prepared by a chef who had no idea which ingredients he was using? None for me, thanks—it would probably upset my stomach. Of course, if you’re a writer who creates a document without understanding the different types of information you’re working with, you’re putting your readers into much the same situation. Except that instead of indigestion, the result will probably be non-compliance.
Start by recognizing the different information types
Identify the “ingredients” that will go into your document by learning to recognize the different types of information you need to include. Our research shows that 80 to 90% of business-related information can be categorized into the following 6 information types.
- Procedure: steps an individual performs to accomplish a task
- Process: a series of events that occur over time and result in a specific outcome
- Principle: a rule, policy or guideline
- Fact: a statement that can be assumed to be true
- Concept: an idea that needs to be defined or explained
- Structure: a physical representation of parts and boundaries
Create a list of topics
Once you’ve identified the information types you’re working with, think about the purpose of your document and create a list of topics by considering the questions below.
- Have you identified the procedures your users need to perform?
- Have you determined what users need to know in order to perform these procedures?
- Have you thought of ways to separate the “nice to know” from the “need to know” information?
Thinking in terms of the information types can help you create a document that will meet the needs of users and regulators—and won’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.