B5 Alphabetical Organization

B5 Alphabetical Organization

graphics/common.jpg Background

Used as part of MULTIPLE WAYS TO NAVIGATE (B1) and BROWSABLE CONTENT (B2), this pattern provides a way to organize a relatively small amount of content when the content is unrelated or is made up of items with well-known names.

graphics/common.jpg Problem

Alphabetizing a list seems like an obvious way to organize content. Long alphabetical lists on a site, however, are cumbersome to use.

Alphabetical organization is ingrained in the way people remember things. It is effective when the individual pieces of information are known by name more than by what they represent.

When Does an Alphabetical List Work?

As long as customers know the precise word or phrase they are seeking, they can quickly find the items they want in an alphabetical list. Alphabetical lists can be useful for organizing information such as the following:

  • Desired items, if known by name

  • All documents on a Web site, if the document names are well known

  • All of a company's customers

  • All products that a company offers

Try to Keep the List on One Page

If an alphabetical list is split into multiple Web pages, customers must click on the first letter of the first word and wait for that letter's page to download. Long waits like this can be frustrating when the desired link is not guaranteed to be on the next page. Imagine looking for a video. Is it listed under T for The Last Tango in Paris or under L for just Last Tango in Paris? Neither order is right or wrong, but if the entire movie list appears on one page, it is easy to find it in either place. You can create an index at the top of the page that links to each letter group, as illustrated in Figure B5.1. You can also use a TAB ROW (K3) to do the same thing. This will let your customers find the section they want without their having to make a lengthy scroll.

Figure B5.1. An alphabetically organized list works well when the list is fairly short and the pieces of information are unrelated to each other, or when their names are well known.

(www.sun.com, April 13, 2001)


Alphabetical organization may not work well for people who grew up with nonalphabetical languages, such as Japanese and Chinese.

graphics/common.jpg Solution

Provide links to each letter group at the top of your single alphabetical list page of well-known items.

Figure B5.2. A page with the entire alphabetical list works best when it has links at the top to jump to each individual letter group.


graphics/common.jpg Consider These Other Patterns

Create an alphabetical TAB ROW (K3) at the top of your page that links to each letter's group farther down on the page.

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