Chunk Information into Short Pages

Think of a website as a network of pieces of information, or chunks, rather than as a collection of documents. Online users like to go directly to the specific pieces of information that answer their immediate questions. They don’t want to read “all about it”. Try to apply the metaphor of an easy jigsaw puzzle: make it fun to put the whole story together starting and connecting the pieces in any order.

Long pages and dense text make for passive reading and can lead to eye strain. As in online learning, keeping the user’s attention is a challenge. The best way to to engage users is to make the website as interactive as possible. Let users drive by clicking buttons, following links and the like.

The exceptions are documents users want to download, perhaps to print and keep or read offline. Read more about deciding whether chunks should be HTML or PDF.

Another factor that can help chunking decisions is whether a chunk or page should be in the member-only area of the website, the public area or in both areas. Most pages fall into either public or member-only areas, but exceptions are allowed:

  • Pages can appear in both areas.
    The disadvantage is a potential security loophole described in the section Don’t break Login Security.
    Examples: Annual Fees, Land Acknowledgement, About Us and Privacy Policy (button in the footer).
  • Sometimes, two versions of the same information is appropriate. A shortened version for the public and another with more detail for members.
    The disadvantage is duplication of information and the need to maintain both pages.
    Examples: Contact Us / Contact the Board and Where We Meet / Location.

Say Everything Only Once

If you find yourself repeating information that is on another page, make a separate chunk for that information and replace all repetitions with links to that chunk. A chunk can be a whole page or a prominent section within a page. A rich network of links helps users find explanations, expansions and definitions as required. Describing a term, concept or process differently for different contexts may be OK and even help flush out users’ understanding. But duplicate text — even a single sentence — in two or more places may be a symptom that the some pages should be chunked into more, smaller pages.

Make Pages Independent of Reading Order

Unlike a book, pages in a website have no natural order. Users can visit the pages in a website in any order. In this website, the only exception is the Home page. Every other page must stand on its own. Convert keywords or concepts that may be new to the reader into links to the chunks that introduce the terms and concepts.

Be Conscious of White Space

Dense text is hard to read. In contrast, short blocks of information separated by white space add visual interest and reduce reader fatigue. Start by breaking up blocks of text into short paragraphs. Add headings, images and lists.

Transform Rather than Transfer Text

Reading a website is a mixed-media, interactive experience. To create an engaging website, you must do more than copy text from printed documents or transfer content authored in word processing tools. The ultimate goal is to transform text documents into interactive multi-media experiences where the user is a participant rather than a reader.

Reading paper documents tends to be a passive activity. In contrast, websites are more engaging when users feel they are in control of the experience. The key to a successful website is interactivity. In-page links, buttons and every thing that users can click count as an interactive features. Look or opportunities to let the user control the display by exploiting features offered by the the WordPress editor and Kadence theme. Images help build multimedia content. Many Kadence features, such as Show More and Accordion blocks, call for user participation.

Adjust your Writing Style

For guidelines on authoring text for webpages, see Writing for Websites.

Balance Menus with In-Page Links

Giving users the right mix of menus and in-page links for navigation is an art. Sometimes a better arrangement does not present itself until you are writing the text.

Menus are good for helping users jump directly to the most appropriate areas of the website. But long and detailed menus can be off-putting. A user who has no choice other than returning to the menu after reading a page has lost a measure of control. Arguably, lots of in-page links provide a more natural form of navigation. Links can take users back and forth among pages and, because following links is always optional, do not get in the way.

Suggestion: At the end of each page, provide at least one link to suggest what the user reads next. The goal is to let the user drive and continue exploring by following links. Think of a menu a last resort that is always available when the user wants to pursue a new line of enquiry.

When considering whether to add a submenu, consider whether the higher-level menu item should instead open a landing page. In this context, a landing page is a webpage with the main purpose of suppling links to the chunks related to a specific topic. An example is the By-Law and Policies page.

Be Consistent with Terminology

Take care to use the words and phrases for concepts consistently. Maintain the LLIR style guide and referring to frequently. For example, if the standard phrases are Course Registration Form and Waitlist Application Form, never say “register for the waitlist”.

Learn to Love Lists

A list is often easier to digest than a paragraph that itemizes things or describes a process. Use numbered lists if the order is important, as with the steps in instructions. Otherwise, bulleted lists are more appropriate.