Structure supports the user as they search for information. Design structural elements, like headings and paragraphs, to help the user scan the page.
Structure content to help the user to navigate and understand
Structure helps people find information. It helps people to understand and use content by:
- preparing them for what they will read
- helping them navigate and scan content
- helping them remember what they’ve read.
Structure also helps search engines. They use structure to find and rank content in a search results listing.
Write clear page titles. The title is the first thing a screen reader user hears and is the first item to appear in search results.
Organise content in a clear order using section headings.
WCAG quick reference:
Pick the type of structure that works for the user
Use a structure that matches expectations for the type of content you are creating:
- To put the most important information first, use an inverted pyramid.
- To present a sequence of steps or event, use a sequential structure.
- To group content into topics or connected ideas, use a hierarchical structure.
- To guide people from beginning to end, use a narrative structure.
Avoid unconventional or inconsistent structures. They make people work harder to find and understand content. Do user research to understand who will be using the content and their level of literacy.
Design headings and other elements to help the user scan the page
Once you have decided on the type of structure you need to use, plan the structural elements.
- Use a logical hierarchy or sequential steps for headings.
- Write a topic sentence for each paragraph.
- Display important information in lists, callout boxes, tables and illustrations.
Structure your content by writing about one idea at a time:
The digital edition canvasses types of structure. It focuses on the inverted pyramid, and narrative structure is new.
The sixth edition and the Content Guide were silent on the inverted pyramid and narrative structure.
The sixth edition had advice on inductive and deductive patterns of writing, and on linear and non-linear structures. These are not covered in the digital edition.
The digital edition builds on a short paragraph from the sixth edition about sequential structure. It also has more concise information on hierarchical structure.
The Content Guide did not have advice on these topics.
About this page
Andrews M (7 November 2014) ‘Types of content structure’, Story Needle, accessed 30 May 2020.
Andrews M (11 October 2017) ‘Structural metadata: key to structured content’, Story Needle, accessed 30 May 2020.
Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019) Report writing, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.
General Services Administration (n.d) ‘Structure the content’, 18F Content Guide, 18F Content Guide website, accessed 30 May 2020.
GOV.UK (2019) ‘Writing for GOV.UK’, Content design: planning, writing and managing content, GOV.UK, accessed 30 May 2020.
Jenkins S (31 October 2019) ‘New data analysis product could help agencies design better services’, The Mandarin, accessed 30 May 2020.
Khalifa A (2017) 10 content structures that you can use on any platform today, Ahmed Khalifa website, accessed 30 May 2020.
Lynch PJ and Horton S (2016) Web style guide, Web Style Guide website, accessed 30 May 2020.
Mckenzie J (2011) The editor’s companion, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
Moran K (20 March 2016) ‘How chunking helps content processing’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.
Moran K (5 April 2016) ‘How people read online: new and old findings’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.
Perelman LC Barrett E and Paradis J (n.d.) ‘Topic sentences’, in Mayfield electronic handbook of technical & scientific writing, Mayfield Publishing Company, accessed 30 May 2020.
Rushkin A, Thompson N and Murray D (2017) ‘Towards cultural translation of websites: a large-scale study of Australian, Chinese, and Saudi Arabian design preferences’, Behaviour & Information Technology, 36(4):351–63, doi:10.1080/0144929X.2016.1234646.
Search Engine Land (2019) ‘Site architecture and search engine success factors’, Essential guide to SEO: how to master the science of SEO, Search Engine Land website, accessed 30 May 2020.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘Content structure’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 30 May 2020.
This page was updated Monday 21 September 2020.