Types of structure

Structure supports the user as they search for information. Use the type of structure that suits the content and how people will need to consume it.

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

User needs:

  • I can change the content's presentation without losing information or structure.
  • I can find and navigate the content and determine where I am on the webpage.

Fundamentals:

  • Write clear page titles. The title is the first thing a screen reader user will hear and is the first item to appear in search results.
  • Organise content in a clear order using section headings. Describe the topics or the following section in the headings.
  • Make sure all users can navigate through all content in the intended order, regardless of the technology they're using. Use the same navigation elements across services.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines success criteria:

Pick the type of structure that works for the user

Use a structure that matches expectations for the type of content you're creating:

  • To group content into topics or connected ideas, prioritised by level of importance, use a hierarchical structure. People will scan content for relevance to them. Some will use screen readers to list headings in order to understand the content at a high level. Hierarchical structure is economical for people with low attention span, who are time-poor or need to use assistive technologies.
  • To present a sequence of steps or events, use a sequential structure. People will need to know or do something with the content that is presented as instructional and ordered. Sequential structure helps people know where they are in a process towards a given result.
  • To guide people from beginning to end, use a narrative structure. People will be interested in knowing the entire story. They will expect signposts that suggest where they are in the journey for ease of reference.

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

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Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘Content structure’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 30 May 2020.

This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.

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