Structuring the unstructured

Being a completely green Information Developer, I got confronted with a bulk of Knowledge Base data scattered across folders, topics, and a complicated tree-view model. How did I feel? Like a librarian with stocks of books that not only should be put in the right place and grouped logically but also easily found later on.

So many items, but where do you start?

Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this structuring maze. I had my experienced and always-willing-to-help colleagues who like superheroes came to rescue me with timely and useful tips. Their pieces of advice got me going and set the tune for the whole process. So here is what I’ve learnt.

Analyze the existing information

You have to know what you are dealing with. Look into that huge information pile and analyze the content. However, don’t rely just on your memory. Be it topics or folders with various types of files, make a list of all the items you have, and next to each item, specify its gist, the very essence of what it is about.

Analyze the software / technical platform

Examine the platform where the KB should live a long and happy life. Learn the limits of the software you have. Sometimes, for example, permission levels may give you a hint about the way in which to arrange pages together so that you have no leaks of secured information.

Understand your audience

Is your KB intended for one specific type of users or maybe there are several of them? Identifying the audience comes in handy when you are trying to organize your content. The more different target audiences there are, the more spaces you may need to create. Suppose you are structuring a university website. You may want to split it in two different sections. One with lecture preparation techniques and staff meeting schedule for teachers, and the other one containing information for students on curriculum, books, tasks, exams, and events.

Group the information

Once you get acquainted and establish a friendly relationship with your existing KB and audience, try to understand the logic behind the information. Trace the unifying categories of the information bits that you have and combine them into bigger chunks. This grouping will make it easier to determine the new KB structure.

Consider organizing the information by user groups, products, processes, problems, or even stages of the product development life cycle.

I hope you find these tips useful. Of course, they will not do the whole restructuring routine for you. But at least, they will set your mind on work.

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