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Style Manual

Types of structure

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.

Accessibility requirements

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:

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.

Your organisation might have templates for content such as reports, letters and emails. Structural elements are built into those templates.

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.

Structure your content by writing about one idea at a time:

  • Start with the most important idea first.
  • Group related ideas under headings.
  • Organise ideas into short paragraphs.
  • Make sure ideas flow from one paragraph to the next.
  • Use a logical order for sentences.

Release notes

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

References

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.

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