Site organization

Organizing material for multiple navigation methods appeals to a variety of learning styles.


You need to organize the content of your web site.


Design the site so it can be navigated several different ways, but choose an overall organizational model that fits the subject. There are several approaches from which to choose:

  1. Organize by conceptual topic. For example, examine various aspects of a painting, such as perspective, color, and motion. Examine van Gogh’s life in terms of his family, painting, and illness.
  2. Organize by chronology. Use a timeline as the primary navigation tool. Web sites generally have a wide timeline on the bottom of the screen that extends beyond the boundaries of the screen. A timeline may be used, for example, to explain the stages of embryonic development, the maturation of a caterpillar, or the evolution of the earth.
  3. Organize by structure. Explain the workings of the New York subway, for example, by examining all the pipes and tunnels beneath the streets of the city.
  4. Organize by first-person account. For example, tell the story of the discovery of DNA from the point of view of Watson, Crick, and contemporary scientists. If possible, augment the narrative with audio clips.
  5. Organize hierarchically. Start simply and increase the complexity of the site. For example, if you are explaining how a complex device works, start by explaining the basic principles and theory that govern the workings of the device. Give examples of similar, but simpler devices.
  6. Organize by pigeon hole. Present numerous little facts, and let the visitor synthesize them in his or her own mind. In effect, the entire site is a collection of small sidebars. This works well with a set of disparate objects, such as information about the planets and moons.
  7. Organize by question/answer. This is a style of pigeon holing. This is the common “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” format. Focus on narrow questions, such as “Why are days longer in the summer?” Note, that you should not ask mandatory questions that require a correct answer, like a quiz. Visitors prefer to browse your site and pose their own questions.


Maintain a narrative thread in your web site to help the visitor grasp the big picture. Make your interactive site an experience, rather than an encyclopedia. The difference is that an experience has a flow. An encyclopedia is merely cross-referenced information.

Consider more than one navigational scheme. For example, an archive of Charles Darwin’s observations could be organized by subject in a hierarchical table of contents, or in forward or reverse chronological order.

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