When you do information architecture work you’ll realize that most sets of content can be organized in more than one way. One of the challenges for an IA project is figuring out what way works best for your audience, your content and your project’s goals.
In this article I’ll talk about a few different classification schemes you can use to organize your content, and offer tips on when and how to use each.
Alphabetic schemes can be used for practicallyany type of information—as long as you can give an item a name, you can include it in an A-Z scheme. But that doesn’t mean alphabetic schemes are necessarily good for all content. Alphabetic schemes work best when people knowwhat they’re looking for, know how to describe it, and the item labeling matches the words that they’re looking for. An alphabetic scheme is perfect for this type of task as people can simply scan a list of words and spot the one they’re looking for.
There are only a couple of situations where you’d use alphabetic as the main way of organizing your content—dictionaries and glossaries come to mind. But they’re great secondary schemes to a main scheme. Even as a secondary scheme they can be valuable—I’ve worked on intranets where people said “Do whatever you like, just don’t take away the A-Z.”
When people ask me about using A-Z indexes, three questions always come up. I’m not a professional indexer (indexing is an entire profession in itself) so my answers just skim the surface: