The first challenge in topic-based authoring is chunking your content into discrete topics. It can be hard to determine the ideal length of a topic: it should be short enough to answer a single question yet still include enough information to stand on its own. Additionally, you should also keep in mind Miller’s law when chunking your content.
Each topic should answer a single question. If you cannot grasp the content of a particular topic with a single question, you should split it into two or more smaller topics.
Which kind of question a particular topic answers, helps you to determine the information type of that topic:
|How do I insert batteries in my camera?||Task topic|
|What is white balance?||Concept topic|
|What do these battery icons means?||Reference topic|
Although a topic should only answer a single question, it should still contain enough information to make sense on its own. Which info the topic has to contain depends on the information type:
|Information type||Has to include enough info to|
|Task topic||Begin and complete a particular task|
|Concept topic||Grasp a particular concept|
|Reference topic||Look up and understand particular information|
Topics often include related content. A particular task topic can, for example, use concepts that are described in separate concept topics. As a result, it is impossible to make each topic completely autonomous. You can solve that problem by adding related links to your topic: the body part of your topic remains discrete, while you still guide the user to the related information.
According to Miller’s law, an average person can only hold 7±2 objects in working memory. You should keep in mind this law when chunking content into topics. For instance, if you are writing a task topic and notice that it contains over ten steps, try to reduce the number of steps. You can do this by:
The same goes for other lists. If you have a list of twenty safety instructions, for example, you can group the related instructions in separate sections. You can then also include a specific title for each group of safety instructions, to better guide the users.