UIEtips: Breaking Up Large Documents for the Web – Part 1

Jared Spool

September 22nd, 2009

When you visit a web site, you go there with a purpose. Perhaps it’s to buy a product, to do some research, to read an interesting article, or view an image. It’s rare to simply browse a web site with no particular intent.

How you display your content so visitors can easily find what they came for is critical in keeping them there. If visitors are overwhelmed with unorganized content, or can’t easily figure out how content is broken up, they’re likely to leave and find what they are looking for elsewhere.

In today’s UIEtips, we hear from one of our favorite speakers and writers, Ginny Redish. In this excerpt from Ginny’s book, “Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works,” Ginny explains how to break up large documents for your web pages by using specific topics and subtopics — time or sequence, task, people, type of information, and questions people ask. I think you’ll get some good pointers in part 1 of this article. Part 2 will be coming later this week.

Read Ginny’s article.

If planning and writing web content is part of your daily activity, then you won’t want to miss Ginny’s full-day workshop at this year’s User Interface 14 Conference in Boston, MA on November 1. Ginny will show you how to uncover users’ needs with personas and scenarios, how to deliver users to their content by carefully selecting and organizing your site’s information, and how to develop a cohesive content strategy for your site.

What’s your process for breaking up information and documents on your web site? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

4 Responses to “UIEtips: Breaking Up Large Documents for the Web – Part 1”

  1. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Thanks Ginny and enjoyable reading.

    In your experience who is usually responsible in organisations for maintaining the content and ensuring that standards are applied before its uploaded to the web site?


  2. DeWayne Purdy Says:

    Great timely article. I’m in the process of preparing a web site for our accreditation report, which includes 18 chapters and more than 400 pages (in the Word version). I planned to break each chapter into content areas on the web site, but the committee leaders have asked to have each chapter as one long document. While that will make it somewhat easier to drop in and format, it’s not the best user experience. I’ll be forwarding Ginny’s article to the committee leadership. Thanks for the great examples!

  3. Ginny Redish Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Dan and DeWayne.

    DeWayne: Good luck with your committee.

    To answer your question, Dan: In my experience, responsibility for web sites varies considerably.

    The organizations that are doing best on the web do assign that responsibility and have a group in charge. They also have a content strategy, standards, templates, a style guide, and a process for helping people use the standards. In my workshop, I’ll talk about why a content strategy is critical and how to get started on one.

    The responsible group may be a Web group — separate from but coordinating with other groups such as Marketing, Communications, and the lines of business.

    In many organizations, the responsible group is Marketing. In others, it is Communications (public relations, news). Both of those placements have pros and cons.

    Marketing people are customer-focused, but they sometimes haven’t yet learned that marketing messages on web sites don’t work the same way that they do in direct mail. In my workshop, I’ll explain the difference, show examples, and give a case study of how changing the way you market can greatly increase conversion rates.

    Communications people often have a background in journalism, so they know how to write well. However, they sometimes don’t realize that, unless it’s a newspaper site, most site visitors don’t come to read news about the organization. They come to satisfy their own needs. If news about the organization dominates the home page, site visitors often can’t find the pathway to what they need.

    In some organizations, chaos reigns; content writers throughout the organization can post web pages with no one ensuring standards are met — if indeed the organization has any web standards. Organizations in content chaos don’t have a content strategy. In my workshop, I’ll give case studies of how large organizations have moved from chaos like this to a centralized content strategy with the content writers as contributors.


  4. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Thanks Ginny for a thoughtful response.


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