Hierarchical structure

A hierarchy sorts content into categories and levels. This structure can give users a picture of how items or topics fit together.

Show how categories relate to one another

Hierarchies structure content by category. They show how different categories relate to each other, and how they relate to the main idea or theme.

This structure is the basis for the information architecture of many websites. It also suits organisational charts and other visual content that ranks items in a hierarchy of relationships.

To structure content hierarchically:

  • Plan the headings.
  • Decide what information fits under each heading.
  • Plan subheadings.
  • Keep the hierarchy shallow – use no more than 4 heading levels.
  • Check the headings for consistency and logic.

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.


  • 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:

Release notes

The digital edition is based on the sixth edition topic, but is more concise.

The Content Guide did not address the topic.


About this page


Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019) Report writing, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.

Lynch PJ and Horton S (2016) ‘Information architecture’, Web style guide, Web Style Guide website, accessed 30 May 2020.

Shibata H and Hori K (2005) ‘Cognitive support for the organization of writing’, New Generation Computing, 26(2):97–124, doi:10.1007/s00354-008-0037-9.

University of Washington (n.d.) Patterns of organization, University of Washington, assessed 30 May 2020.

Usability.gov (2020) Organization structures, Usability.gov, accessed 30 May 2020.

This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.