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Technical Writers’ Companion

Navigation: Structuring

Which order of topics?

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Find a structure that doesn’t reflect your own information needs and your own mental modal, but that reflects the mental model, the tasks, the goals, and the priorities of the users.

The order of sections and topics within a document determines:

which information users perceive to be the most important, and which information users perceive to be the least important

the context in which particular information is presented

the succession in which users who read the document from start to finish pick up the information


Even online help has some sort of structure. In addition to the table of contents, many online help systems also provide a browse sequence so that users can follow the suggested order of topics by clicking a link to the “next” topic. Basically, in online help, readers are free to go anywhere, anytime, but the table of contents and the browse sequence recommend a certain sequence for those who would like the guidance.

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