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Guidelines for chunking content

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.

Answer a single question

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:

QuestionInformation type
How do I insert batteries in my camera?Task topic
What is white balance?Concept topic
What do these battery icons means?Reference topic

Include enough information

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.

Mind Miller's law (7±2)

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:

  • Grouping short steps: The steps “Choose File”, “Choose New”, and “Choose Topic” can be grouped into “Choose File > New > Topic”.
  • Splitting your task into two or more subtasks. You can then include an overview topic that describes the entire process and refers to the different steps (subtasks) of that process.

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.

dita/guidelines_for_chunking_content.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/02 11:12 by bavo