This is one of the 52 terms in The Language of Technical Communication published by XML Press in 2016 and the contributor for this term is Cheryl Landes.

What is it?

The quality of being able to discover and retrieve technical information through searching or browsing.

Why is it important?

Technical information must be found to be consumed; otherwise, it is useless.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Finding information is the biggest business challenge. According to recent surveys, employees spend 30% of their workdays looking for information. They often make eight searches before they find the correct information (Cottrill Research, Various Survey Statistics: Workers Spend Too Much Time Searching for Information).

Your organization can have the best technical documentation: simple and well-crafted. But if search engines cannot understand your content or users can’t find it, then no one will ever get to read that information. If users can’t find your content, they’ll look elsewhere.

Users find information with a combination of two intentional methods: navigation and search:

  • Navigation means using the available options and contextual clues to locate technical content. Buttons, tabs, tables of contents, menus, links, and indexes are common navigation options online. In print, readers navigate with the help of tables of content, indices, and page numbers.
  • Search is the act of looking for specific content by entering a query in a search engine or application. Users form queries with keywords or search terms, and the search engine displays the query results based on its index and understanding of the request.

Increasing the findability of technical information means ensuring that content has metadata and structure that enables search engines and consumers to locate and retrieve relevant content, as well as making it more likely that users will encounter the information they need. Well-designed navigation and content designed for search help serve the information users want when they want it. Headings and subheadings that clearly describe what the technical content is about also help users scan content easily and locate the details they need quickly.