Anonymous question re. hypertext structure

Subject: Anonymous question re. hypertext structure
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Thu, 1 May 1997 09:01:42 -0500

An anonymous poster asked for opinions on a hypertext
structure: <<I conceive the "extensive reference" section
as encyclopedic (that is, alphabetically organized). My
manager prefers a more task-oriented grouping there AS WELL
as in the tutorial section.>>

It occurs to me that you're both right, and you can both be
satisfied with a little fudging. Don't forget, even if most
users simply want to get at reference information, some
users (and some of the powers users, sometimes) will want
to get at task-based info. too. So you probably can't
dispense with task-based sections entirely.

The lovely thing about hypertext is that, unlike in a
printed manual, the physical structure of the information
is irrelevant: readers access it entirely through whatever
hyperlinks, TOCs, browse sequences, or indexes you provide
for them. Thus, the most likely solution is to prepare the
information in a task-based format based on a clear,
sequential browse sequence; this will satisfy your manager
and the users who need task info. But also provide (as the
first screen the user sees when they enter the
hyperdocument) a list of options: 1 = jump to the
alphabetic listing, 2 = jump to the tasks. (That's highly
simplified... you'll want more detail at this stage to
flatten the menu hierarchy.)

The worst likely result will be a kludge in which the users
must first jump to an alphabetic index, then jump to the
desired topic, then return to the index to access the next
topic. It does add a step, but it's not onerous. The best
result (depending on how your software works) is that
they'll never know the physical structure follows any
browse sequence, and can use the alphabetic reference as if
the task-reference never existed.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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