Great Technical Writing Improve Your Readers Access With A Visual Index

Great Technical Writing Improve Your Readers Access With A Visual Index



OVERVIEW

People are visual creatures. They look at​ your product,​ and see,​ for example,​ a​ button or​ display. They want to​ find out about that control or​ indicator. a​ Visual Index is​ a​ simple but powerful document access tool that enables your Readers to​ find the​ information that they want.

This article describes the​ Visual Index concept and tells how to​ create one for your document.

A VISUAL INDEX

A Visual Index is​ a​ picture of​ your product or​ process with links to​ the​ relevant information in​ the​ related document. Using a​ Visual Index,​ your Readers can look at​ the​ picture,​ and quickly jump to​ the​ place in​ your document that describes the​ item of​ interest.

Your document may include several Visual Indexes (the plural of​ "index' is​ "indexes" not "indices").

STARTS WITH a​ PICTURE

The Visual Index starts with a​ picture of​ your product or​ process. There are various kinds of​ pictures to​ use,​ based on​ the​ product type:

* Physical Product (for example,​ a​ barbecue or​ video disk recorder)
Pictures of​ the​ product (all relevant views).

* a​ Procedure or​ Process: a​ flowchart of​ the​ steps and decisions in​ the​ procedure or​ process.

* Software Product 1: Screenshots of​ the​ software.

* Software Product 2: Before and after images of​ the​ work that the​ product does.

* Organization: an​ organization chart.

LABEL the​ PICTURE

Label all the​ User-Product Interaction Points (U-PIP) on​ the​ picture. a​ U-PIP is​ anywhere that your User and the​ product may interact. U-PIP's include controls,​ displays,​ and relevant physical features of​ the​ product (such as​ handles,​ latches,​ etc.). Provide a​ meaningful (to your Reader) label (name) for the​ U-PIP. (Use that same exact label everywhere you refer to​ that U-PIP.)

Aside: if​ your product uses sounds to​ inform the​ User,​ then include a​ table of​ those sounds,​ what they mean,​ and a​ link into the​ relevant area of​ your document (describing the​ sound).

LINK the​ U-PIP's to​ YOUR DOCUMENT

Up to​ this point,​ the​ Visual Index is​ just like any well-labeled picture of​ your product or​ process. However,​ when you add links into your document,​ the​ well-labeled picture becomes a​ Visual Index.

The link should be to​ a​ section of​ your document that you believe your reader would most want to​ reach to​ get the​ information about that U-PIP. (This is​ a​ fundamental question whenever you create an​ index: "does my reader want to​ come to​ this place in​ my document for this item?")

Your method of​ adding links to​ the​ picture depends upon the​ publishing mechanism for the​ document. if​ the​ document is​ published as:

* a​ Printed document,​ then use page numbers for the​ links;

* an​ Electronic Document,​ then use hyperlinks that a​ Reader can click on​ to​ follow. if​ the​ document is​ published as​ HTML,​ then the​ visual index can be an​ image map.

EXAMPLE 1: a​ PAIN in​ MY FOOT

I have a​ pain in​ my foot when I walk. if​ I go to​ a​ website about feet,​ it​ would be very efficient for finding out about my pain,​ if​ I could see a​ picture of​ a​ foot with various areas where the​ pain could be. Links from the​ foot areas to​ specific web pages would enable me to​ find the​ information about my specific foot pain quickly.

EXAMPLE 2: PHOTO CORRECTING SOFTWARE

Show a​ picture with the​ errors that your software can handle,​ before and after correction. Here the​ U-PIP's are each of​ the​ photo errors.

EXAMPLE 3: a​ COURSE ON WRITING USER DOCUMENTATION

The Visual Index is​ a​ flowchart for creating the​ User Document. Since the​ Course is​ presented in​ HTML,​ the​ Visual Index is​ made from an​ image map,​ with hyperlinks into the​ sections of​ the​ Course relevant to​ each item in​ the​ flowchart.

BOTTOM LINE

A Visual Index is​ a​ simple concept. But like many simple concepts it​ is​ very powerful. Try to​ include one in​ your next document. You'll be doing your Reader a​ great service.




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