Structure options

There are many ways to structure print and web content. There is no single ‘right’ way, and it may take several iterations to get an effective structure that suits your audience, your information and your context.

This section presents several options for structure:

Overarching sections

In longer documents and for online content, a useful structure is to group chapters together in larger, overarching sections so that readers can quickly grasp the navigation.

These sections can be based on the types of information, the process or the audience.

For example, in a computer manual, you might have larger sections such as ‘Getting started’, ‘Entering data’, ‘Troubleshooting’, ‘Finalising your report’, and then smaller step-by-step subsections within the larger structure. In presenting health information, you might divide it into large sections for different audiences – ‘Patients’, ‘Healthcare practitioners’, ‘Managers’, ‘Researchers’ – and then have smaller subsections within those areas.

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Parallel structure

See whether each section or online category can be structured in the same way. This makes it very easy for the audience to find their way. For example, in a report discussing how different groups (government, manufacturers, office-based companies, community groups, educational institutions) might approach recycling, each group could be a section heading, and then the same structure would be used in each section for subsections: ‘General principles’, ‘Getting started’, ‘Personnel involved’, ‘Actions for management’, ‘Actions for individuals’, ‘Potential impact’, ‘Monitoring’.

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Purpose–way–impact structure

Projects or activities can often be structured in a similar way:

  • purpose – the aim, challenge, problem or opportunity, and why it is important
  • way – what was actually done (or will be done), how the problem was solved
  • impact – what difference the project will make, how many people it affects.

This structure can be useful for fact sheets and report summaries.

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Content often has many audiences. For example, the national state of the environment report is used by researchers, academics, environmental managers, policy makers, teachers and students, and the general public. All of these have different interests and levels of understanding.

‘Layering’ can help to make sure complex material reaches all its intended audiences. Layering means presenting the information in several different ways in the same document – for example:

  • overall summaries to present the overall messages of the report
  • section summaries to highlight key messages for each topic
  • detailed text that presents and discusses the report findings
  • flowcharts and infographics to explain complex ideas in an accessible visual format
  • downloadable fact sheets for particular audiences
  • scientific graphs and tables to present specific data
  • appendixes to provide lists and supporting materials.
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Using appendixes or links

Thinking about what your audience wants to know will provide a guide to what needs to be included and in what order. Material that is not directly related to the key messages can be moved to an appendix, or a link if you are writing online content.

For example, some reports (especially government or scientific reports) can get bogged down with details of what was done, rather than what was discovered, because the author is too close to the subject. Unless the process itself is a key part of the message, it can be moved to an appendix and summarised in 1 or 2 paragraphs in the body of the report.

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