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Technical Writers’ Companion

Navigation: Structuring

Which topics and headings?

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Organizing the content into the right chunks of information and finding descriptive but concise headings for these chunks of information is one of the most critical parts of creating user-friendly content. It’s also one of the most difficult parts.

The primary rule is: Base your decisions on the typical scenario that most users will go through when reading your material. Most users don’t read manuals or online help from start to finish. Most users read user assistance only when they face a specific task or problem. They browse the table of contents, look for a keyword in the index, or use search to find a topic title that promises to deliver the solution to their problem.

For this reason, you need to:

Organize information in a way so that users can read the document selectively. Each user should only have to read that short piece of information that’s relevant to his or her particular situation.

Build self-contained topics that cover everything that their headings promise to cover. Don’t send readers on a wild-goose chase. Your goal should be that every reader needs to read only one topic to get his or her question answered.

Label topics in such a way so that users can select the right topic without any trial and error. Make the first guess a success.

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