Diagram Series: Decrypting SME’s Drawings

User documentation that includes different types of graphics is more effective and easier to perceive than monotonous text. A diagram is just one type of graphics that prevails mostly in technical documentation. When creating diagrams on a daily basis, you eventually learn to overcome such difficulties as: vague explanations, inaccurate SMEs’ drawings, abundance of details, or lack of information. As an Information Developer, you must know how to combine these diverse chunks to create consistent graphics in user documentation. In this article, I will discuss some tips on decrypting SME’s drawings to make the process of creating diagrams an interesting and creative experience.

Difficulty 1: Different levels of detail

Different SMEs (Quality Assurance Engineers, Designers, System Architects, or others) may explain the same functionality differently: according to their understanding and knowledge of the subject. So, very often you will get absolutely different diagrams representing the same functionality.

Example: The following drawings represent how the same functionality can be explained by different SMEs and drawn with different levels of detail. The first diagram was drawn by the System Architect who knows all the technical nuances, while the second diagrams was drawn by the Quality Assurance Engineer, who has a general idea of how the functionality should work. When creating the diagram, I combined the simplicity of the QA’s diagram with the necessary details of the Architect’s diagram.

Figure #1 (Click to enlarge)

Tip: I recommend listening to the explanations of different SMEs (if estimates allow) to broaden your understanding of the subject and acquire both the low-level and high-level information. Then, analyze and structure the information according to what the real users need. Finally, review your diagrams and content with the SME who has a broader vision of this functionality (in my case—System Architect) to make the final touches and get the approval.

Difficulty 2: Complex explanations

Sometimes, SMEs can get carried away when explaining the functionality. They start explaining one thing and draw the first diagram, then they dig into more details and start redrawing or drawing over the existing diagrams. So, you end up with a diagram maze on a piece of paper.

Example: The following drawing represents several diagrams overlapping one another. Be patient to separate components of diagrams correctly 🙂 and never forget to review your diagrams for technical accuracy. Just as you may think that the diagram is finalized and ready-to-go, SMEs tend to come up with dozens of improvements.

Figure #2 (Click to enlarge)

Tip: I recommend having a few sheets of paper when communicating with the SME to quickly and subtly slide in a new paper just when the SME starts drawing over the first diagram. This way, you will not interrupt their explanations or interfere with their flow of thoughts.

Difficulty 3: Abundance of information

Some interviews might be very technical and exhausting: difficult functionality, multiple flows or sequences of actions, unknown technical terms, or other. It is very easy to go blank within the first 15 minutes. Nonetheless, you need to stay concentrated and focused.

Example: The following drawings represent a three-day attempt to draw sequences of data transmissions. Not only was it boring to death, but it also required a deep knowledge of this subject. The diagram underwent six reviews and was finally approved.

Figure #3 (Click to enlarge)

Tip: I recommend using a recording device or a recording app for this case. Try to stay focused on your SME’s explanations on the paper as much as possible to understand the logic of the flow. Do not allow yourself to get distracted because even in 20 seconds you may miss a good deal of data transmissions. The recording device will do its job, so stay concentrated.

I hope that this article was of use for those who strive to decrypt SMEs’ drawings. Additionally, you can read how to create a diagram from scratch, make your diagrams informative following practical tips, and select the right type of graphics for your particular case. Good luck!


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