how to list items

Subject: how to list items
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 08:28:06 -0800 (PST)

Hi all.

I feel silly for asking this question, but since it came up a couple of times where I work, and will probably come up again, I figured I'd run it by you guys.

Here's the first situation.
There's a popup that lists the properties of Web form controls. The properties are grouped into a core set of 8 categories. Depending on the control you're looking at, the popup displays any combination of these categories, but they're always in the same order (at least from what I can tell). Because each property has bubble help, I opted to create a topic that explained each category, explaining the kind of properties you can expect to see there. I listed these categories in alphabetical order, thinking that it would be easier to find a specific category by name. I also put it in alphabetical order in case development, at some future point, decided to change the order in which these categories appear. Someone else thinks that these categories should be listed in the order that they appear in the popup. I initially nixed this idea because there are many instances where not all categories appear, and so the order that is being used to list these items, in my opinion, will not be readily apparent. For example, a control might have category 1, category 4, and category 8, while another might have category 3, category 5, category 7, and category 8. So, if a user is looking for category 5, they may not know that categories 1 and 4 even exist.

Here's the second situation:
Again, this has to do with a popup. When you click the popup, it lists several controls you can add to a Web page. The list of controls isn't alphabatized, and I can't really tell what criteria was used to list them out (chances are that there wasn't any). I have a series of how-tos that describe how to create each control, and I listed the how-tos in alphabetical order by control name. The suggestion was made that the how-tos should appear in the order that the controls appear in the popup. In this case, the list that appears in the popup is the same every time, but since dev started creating this application, the order of those items has changed twice, and I'm figuring that it will change again.

I choose to alphabetize because it's a way to order things that everyone should be familiar with and it avoids any changes that may occur as the application continues to develop. The suggestions to list them in the order that they appear in the interface was made because users will see the order in the interface and then expect those items to appear in that order in the reference material.

So, which is the better way to list this kind of information? Which is generally better to list reference information in general?

Can anyone point to any research on listing information?

Thanks in advance! :-)

Sean Hower - tech writer

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