Writing for Information Scent?

14 Jul 2009 - 12:44pm
5 years ago
6 replies
400 reads
Becky Reed
2008

...perhaps a bit off topic asking a content development question in here, but I was hoping since interaction has so much...well, interaction with content that perhaps someone might have insight they'd be willing to share.

Much of the work I've found around information foraging/scent, goal-oriented design, and mental models resonates well with IA and IxD folks, but I've struggled to get it to resonate with content developers.

Does anyone have personal experience translating or possibly seen anything published that translates the HOW (process, steps, what the difference is) of information scent into the language of content developers?

Thanks in advance,

Becky Reed
IxD, Healthwise

Comments

14 Jul 2009 - 3:54pm
Mike Myles
2009

This may not be exactly what you're looking for, but I have a very
brief overview I put together on a presentation about Information
Foraging Theory (IFT) given by Peter Pirolli at CHI 2007. It's
available on my website at -
http://www.mylesdesignstudios.com/IFT_CHI2007.ppt

It's not specifically targeted to content development, or even to
designing for scent, but rather about some of the core features of
IFT. I put it together for a five minute CHI debrief to my
colleagues, so it's very high level & minimal detail. That said, it
may be useful for whetting the appetite of content developers to
further explore IFT & designing for scent. I find the concepts
extremely useful and relevant.

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14 Jul 2009 - 4:48pm
Alan James Salmoni
2008

I'm not sure if this is what you're after but I did some work on
information scent a while ago.

The work on information scent on its own is a useful framework but
for practical implementation, work on text comprehension can be a
good complement. The work I relied on most was Kintsch & van Dijk's
text comprehension stuff which described how a person may construct
an understand of an entire document. The model was called the
'construction - integration' model and began with a macrostructure
and works down through microlayers and on to propositions
(statements), and how the whole are combined and aimed at a task.
There are different ways to do this, but a classic example is good
journalistic writing where the headline tries to summarise the story
by placing it into its context (macrostructure). After this, there is
a short introductory paragraph which expands and provides more details
of the overall study (between macrostructure and microlayers depending
upon the style of writing - broadsheets will be more towards
microlayers whereas tabloids might expand a little on the
macrostructure), and then to the details. Sub-headings can aid the
construction of the macrostructure too which is what chapter headings
and the like do - they help readers to construct a framework of a
document while is then integrated with more detailed and lower-level
information.

The macrostructural elements can be used to provide the beginnings of
scent by providing cues as to content, beginning with an overall view
to provide a framework of comprehension, and then working down
through to lower level framework constructions, and then specific
information which can be integrated into this framework. Good
summaries or abstracts expand upon this and help users to make
accurate relevance judgements about the content of a document and
whether it's relevant or not to their needs.

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14 Jul 2009 - 4:48pm
Alan James Salmoni
2008

(Part 2 - the online system wouldn't let me post all of this in one
go)

I also found that it was not a good idea to tailor the
macrostructural elements to the users too much - this often gave
misleading information about the content so people ended up choosing
documents that were less likely to satisfy or satisfice their needs.
Communicating the macrostructure without reference to users'
contexts was important for them to make good judgements about which
documents to read or not which is where I part ways with Google's
way of making a search engine returns page. They prefer to reflect
users' contexts back to them (seeing the keywords embedded in the
summary) which led to more inaccurate judgements that providing
information removed from their context (eg, the document title). This
finding was replicated with different designs so I'm quite confident
of it.

I guess a lot of this depends upon your users. If you are designing
for a bunch of academics, then abstracts are the best things to use
because they are familiar with reading through many. Satisficing the
needs of regular end-users is different again.

My research also found that (contrary to Pirolli & Card's paper)
that negative information scent can exist - this is when something
that is definitely off-track, so for example like when searching for
statistics algorithms and coming across a link to a site selling
various drugs online. From what I recall, they felt that there was a
continuum between positive scent or neutral scent whereas I found
that people were actively repelled by some content.

Hope this helps and doesn't have too many errors - it's been a few
years since I covered this stuff in any detail. Email me if anything
is unclear or incorrect.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Jul 2009 - 4:48pm
Margot Bloomstein
2008

Becky, sounds like some of your frustration is in addressing the gap
between the architecture of experiences and the content contained in
those experiences. The latter is typically the purview of content
developers, but usually under the guidance and direction of content
strategists. While content strategy often addresses issues of
category nomenclature and site-wide parity and consistency--all key
to helping users sniff out information--it can also prescribe
page-level consistency and cohesion.

I've found Joseph Williams' "Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and
Grace" (sixth edition if you can find it) to be an excellent guide
to writing for information scent. Specifically, he addresses
consistency and cohesion within sentences, paragraphs, sections of
pages, and across site categories. In a way, good structure is very
fractalized, with the largest chucks (categories) mimicking the
internal structure of the smallest elements (sentences) if they are
organized well.

Good organization was one of the big things I learned from his
chapter on cohesion and coherence. Cohesion addresses the sense of
flow: start sentences/paragraphs with known or familiar information,
and let that lead into new information. Let one element flow to the
next, judiciously incorporating repetition, passive voice, and
parallelism to lead the reader from old to new. Ensure that structure
stays on course. That's where coherence comes in. Coherence addresses
the sense of focus. Sentences can hang together well, but lose their
way by the end of a paragraph. Paragraphs that hew closely to a
single topic--such as this does, to organization--can maintain both
cohesion and coherence.

Hope this and that Williams book help.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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15 Jul 2009 - 4:51pm
Margot Bloomstein
2008

Becky, sounds like some of your frustration is in addressing the gap
between the architecture of experiences and the content contained in
those experiences. The latter is typically the purview of content
developers, but usually under the guidance and direction of content
strategists. While content strategy often addresses issues of
category nomenclature and site-wide parity and consistency--all key
to helping users sniff out information--it can also prescribe
page-level consistency and cohesion.

I've found Joseph Williams' "Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and
Grace" (sixth edition if you can find it) to be an excellent guide
to writing for information scent. Specifically, he addresses
consistency and cohesion within sentences, paragraphs, sections of
pages, and across site categories. In a way, good structure is very
fractalized, with the largest chucks (categories) mimicking the
internal structure of the smallest elements (sentences) if they are
organized well.

Good organization was one of the big things I learned from his
chapter on cohesion and coherence. Cohesion addresses the sense of
flow: start sentences/paragraphs with known or familiar information,
and let that lead into new information. Let one element flow to the
next, judiciously incorporating repetition, passive voice, and
parallelism to lead the reader from old to new. Ensure that structure
stays on course. That's where coherence comes in. Coherence addresses
the sense of focus. Sentences can hang together well, but lose their
way by the end of a paragraph. Paragraphs that hew closely to a
single topic--such as this does, to organization--can maintain both
cohesion and coherence.

Hope this and that Williams book help.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=43708

15 Jul 2009 - 6:41pm
Lisa Trager
2009

Hi Becky,

This is where the role of a Content Strategist can be of great value.
Content Strategy is what you might call a hybrid of Information
architecture. There are many new resources that explain what it is
and the methodology behind it, but as a starting point, I welcome you
to view my Slideshare presention, Role of A Content Strategist. It
will provide you with an overview of the process and examples of
deliverables, as well as links to other websites and people who are
leaders in the field.

One of the main things a CS does is to research and identify the
targeted audience, relevant terms, and best way to oversee/govern
content. Personally, when working as a CS I meet with stakeholders
and content developers to ensure that the site not only meets the
needs of users, but also addresses the main goals of the business by
providing clear calls to action and interesting and compelling
content.

Hopefully delving into the world of CS and sharing with your content
development team insightful blogs and presentations by people such as
Kristina Halvorsen, Jeffrey MacIntyre, and Karen McGrane will help.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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