The navigation pane is a key part of structured documents. The techniques and strategies for implementing effective navigation in lengthy documents can vary based on authoring tools, publishing channels, and the length of the document.
Navigation in documents ensures that the reader saves time and instantly finds what is important for him/her. This helps in improving the user experience for the document. Therefore, navigation plays a crucial role in defining the user experience of structured documentation.
The navigation pane encourages efficiency of the documents; hence it is imperative to leverage cutting-edge techniques to ensure efficient navigation. For this purpose, technical writers and documentation service providers keep themselves updated with the latest trends and techniques. Metapercept’s team has been into structured documentation for a decade. It has witnessed the evolution of navigation techniques over time. Based on the rich experience, it can be said that the changing navigation techniques also play a key role in increasing the effectiveness of the documentation process.
The information in a document can be classified across three categories: Cover Page, Navigation Pane, and the Body of the Content.
The navigation pane includes Table of Contents (ToC), tables of figures & tables, and index
The table of content offers a quick glimpse into the outline of the information included in the document. It covers the topics and sub-topics. Similarly, table of tables and table of figures lists down the name and page number for the different illustrations added to amplify the impact of the content. In online publications, these listings can act as cross-references for the mentioned topics and sub-topics.
Every section or part included in the ToC is further broken down into tasks, procedures, etc. As a quick guide to this information, an index is included for the topics not covered in the ToC. It contains these topics arranged in a systematic order along with the page numbers.
DOs of navigation
Firstly, use different heading levels for easy navigation. You shouldn’t stick to just one heading level if the document is lengthy and includes multiple levels of headings.
Secondly, maintain consistency in indentation, spacing, and cases for different heading levels. To illustrate, if the title of the first chapter is written in upper case and the following sub-headings are in sentence case, it should be the same for the rest of the chapters.
Thirdly, vertical spacing should be taken care of when there is more than one heading level listed in the ToC. The sub-headings should be shown as a part of the heading under which it is included in the document. This will help in distinguishing the heading levels. The page numbers should be aligned towards the right end.
Lastly, based on the possibility and publishing channel, link the listed topics to the content where it is placed to act as cross-references.
DON’Ts of navigation
The following isn’t an exhaustive list of things not to do when preparing a navigation pane. However, the below-mentioned pointers should be avoided for improving the navigation across your document:
If you are using multiple heading levels, make sure you don’t go beyond the fourth level. If your document requires you to go beyond heading level 4 then you should re-check the architecture of your document.
Do not forget to update the tables of content, figures, and tables after every time you edit the document.
Tables of tables and figures, coupled with indexes, are equally important for enhancing navigation of the document. Therefore, don’t avoid the addition of these pieces to your document. For index, ensure that effective audience analysis is done to identify the topics that would require to be added.
The user experience of structured documentation is the defining factor for product usability and adoption. It is the medium of communication between the product and users. Therefore, the navigation pane should be planned well in advance.
Metapercept has a dedicated team for navigation techniques, structured documentation, and content strategies. For any requirement, contact us!