Writing for the Web

Planning: Organize Your Site

Web sites typically use one or a combination of three organizational structures:

Each organizational structure offers advantages for writers depending on their specific purposes and their readers’ needs and interests.

Linear Organization: A linear organization offers limited choices to a reader: forward and backward. A linear, or sequential, organizational pattern is similar to that found in a book or a long essay. A scientific report presented on the Web, for instance, might use a linear organization in which the title page is linked to the abstract, the abstract is linked to the introduction, the introduction is linked to the methods section, and so on. Or a book might be published on the Web with links between successive chapters.

Linear Web sites are well suited to step-by-step instructions, in which each page builds on the one that came before it. They are also well suited to documents that were originally published in print and are being republished on the Web with little or no change in content and organization.

Linear Structure

Figure 1: An Example of a Web Site Organized in a Linear Structure

Hierarchical Organization: This organizational pattern is frequently used on the Web, particularly sites that provide categories of information, such as informative Web sites, instructional sites, government sites, and commercial sites. Like a linear structure, however, a strict hierarchy offers limited navigational choices to readers: they can move up to a higher level in the hierarchy or down to pages lower in the hierarchy. They cannot, however, move across the site to other pages that are at the same level in the hierarchy. Few sites, as a result, follow a strict hierarchical structure. Instead, they modify it through the use of navigation tools such as menus, tables of contents, and cross links—or links that move across levels or to other parts of the hierarchy.

Hierarchical Structure

Figure 2: An Example of a Web Site Organized in a Hierarchical Structure

Interlinked Sites: In an interlinked site, it is possible to reach every other page in the Web site from a given page. This organizational structure is sometimes used in smaller sites, or in sites that use a navigational menu on each page. This organizational structure becomes difficult to support when the site grows to more than a handful of pages. In a site composed of nine pages, for instance, each page would have eight links on it. In a site composed of 100 pages, each page would need to have 99 links on it. Sites that use a predominantly interlinked organizational structure often modify it by reducing the number of links.

 

Interlinked Structure

Figure 3: An Example of a Web Site Organized in an Interlinked Structure

A Combined Organizational Structure: Larger sites frequently use a mix of the three organizational structures. A site organized in a more or less hierarchical structure, for instance, might incorporate linear and interlinked structures in some parts of the site.

Combined Structure

Figure 4: An Example of a Web Site Organized in a Combined Structure

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Introduction