The Presentation of Information

One of my main takeaways from this class thus far is presentation of information is key. You can have a long document with a ton of information in it, but if the readers can’t extract the important information effectively it’s all for nothing.

A great example of this was in the “When You Need the Medicine But Can’t Understand the Form” article written by Kathryn Summers, Michael Summers, and Amy Pointer. This article was from the STC intercom, Plain Language and Information design, published in February 2014. People struggled to apply for their medicine due to a complicated form. There were some known problems with the original form such as applicants failing to attach required documentation. To fix the form, an iterative process was carried out: 1) confirm that the previously identified problems were fixed, 2) identify new possible problem areas and 3) guide further changes to the design. Three main groups had trouble filling out the form: people with low literacy skills, people new to English, and senior citizens. These groups were focused on when revising the form, but the result was a more effective form for all groups. There was a long page of instructions on the original document that many applicants skipped. To make this section more appealing: a larger text size, shorter line lengths, and more white space were used. Also, plain language was used and erroneous doctor information was eliminated. The result of the changes was a 48% decline in entry errors, which means more people could get the medicine they needed. The moral of the story was the information in the document wasn’t presented in an effective manner.

The Wong book also highlighted the importance of the presentation of information. The main point of the book is to get data across in the most concise way possible. If you use complicated colors or shapes, they can impede the reader from extracting the data. As the creator of documents and figures, you should be doing the work for the readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to understand the document quickly.

I think that the Charles Minard flow map infographic is another good example of an ineffective document/figure.  Personally, even with the long text explanation, I found this flow map difficult to follow. The figure displays an incredible amount of information such as geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. This is impressive to show on one flow map. However, I think that if a figure needs a full page of text to explain itself, then it is not an effective figure. I believe that figures are designed to replace text and stand by themselves. A reader should be able to extract the important information from a figure without having to read any text. I think that if this figure was broken up into a couple separate figures that each displayed different information about the war, it would be more effective. I feel like the creator of this figure tried to cram too much information into a single figure.

These examples showed me how to effectively present information in a document, and what to avoid. When I need to present information to my boss in the future, I will be sure to make my document/figure concise, simple, and organized, so they can understand it and extract the information they need quickly.

-John Hill

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