LexPower

How to Make Online Topics Independent

Posted on: December 8, 2009

When you write an online document, be aware that you probably cannot force your readers to hew to a single, linear, narrative path as they make their way from topic to topic.

This means that instead of offering your audience only one beginning, middle and end, your document may provide many entrances and exits. Just as they do with printed documents, readers like to skip around within a text, grabbing information as it catches their attention, or homing in on the parts most pertinent to their interests or the task at hand.

One good strategy for dealing with online topics is to make each as independent of the others as possible. Use hyperlinks to provide access to related or additional information, which might include, for example:

  • Contextual information
  • Information for different levels of readers (first-time, expert, and so on)
  • Background information
  • Detailed explanations
  • Interesting, yet tangential information
  • Glossaries that define terms, abbreviations and acronyms
  • Information that rapidly becomes out-of-date

Each topic should have one main idea as its subject. You can hyperlink to other topics (as well as to related and additional information).

For each topic, provide a title and an opening sentence that make the subject of the topic immediately clear to your readers. This serves any number of purposes, one of which is to help your readers decide if they want (or need) to read the entire text.

If the application you use to create online documents supports a Table of Contents or other navigation aids, use them to help your readers find their way around the document. Navigation aids can also help keep your readers oriented to where they are in the document at any moment.

Remember that your online documents may not be read in a predictable sequence. Even when tested and audited before release, such documents will be used by readers in all sorts of unanticipated ways. So be sure to take that into account when you plan the structure of your next online document.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas

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