Looking for the “Big Picture”

Posted on: March 8, 2009

Once you have reconciled expectations about the document you are writing, and after you and other decision-makers have agreed on the project guidelines, the next step is to gather top-level information about the product.

The key question is: What information do you need in order to create a conceptual design (that is, an outline) of the document? Another way of saying this is that we are on the hunt for “big picture” information — the roadmap of the product’s features and operations.

To briefly explain why the “big picture” is important to your audience, let me use a software user guide as my example: Most people buy software  to get a job done. However, for most users, software operations and procedures are not intuitive; in fact, they are unfamiliar, complex and often mystifying. And, no matter their background, most users face hurdles in trying to learn how to use a new software application.

Thus, for users, “getting the big picture” is important, because it allows them to grasp the overall organization of the application and begin to get a foothold in learning how to use its features effectively. Knowing the “big picture” makes it easier to see how the details are connected.

With that in mind, then, the objective of a conceptual design, or outline, is to communicate the “big picture” by showing the logical organization of the parts and pieces of the product, and how they are connected. The eventual Table of Contents and chapter sequencing, among other elements in the document, will reflect this organization to the users.

No matter the product or type of document, these basic principles apply.

In my next blog entry, I’ll discuss how to create “big picture” information. Stay tuned!


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