Readers want to compare and contrast information easily. They face information overload: seeing too many items that talk about similar things. If comparing things is too taxing, they may give up. Adopting a modular approach to content eliminates this friction.
Michael AndrewsJun 18, 2020
Poorly structured content makes comparisons difficult. Readers need to jump between different pages of information and remember details they looked at previously. Some readers resort to opening up many tabs in their browser—though that’s not an option if they are using a smartphone.
Consider what information readers will want to compare. By structuring the content, you’ll be sure to provide the most important information that readers will be looking for.
How readers compare information
Readers consult content online to explore what options are available and figure out which one is best for them. Their exact goal can vary somewhat, depending on how deeply they need to delve into the information.
|Reader’s objective||Role of content|
|Understand the range of differences between alternatives||Point out areas of difference between the alternatives and areas where they are comparable|
|Contrast two things that seem alike but aren’t||Show the degree of difference, often for only one or two aspects; point out the one key difference that makes a difference|
|Compare many alternatives according to specific criteria||Help readers focus on particular criteria and let them select items to compare according to that criteria|
|Make an informed choice between various options||Help readers find the best option based on multiple criteria, showing the best overall|
If presented poorly, important details can get lost amidst all the other information. The structuring of the content helps the reader focus on what’s important.
Applications of modular comparisons
Modular content items can be used to compare and contrast information about many kinds of topics. Each item that can be compared becomes an interchangeable module.
Two examples of comparisons that use modular content are:
- Pricing tables showing prices and benefits of different options
- Product pages showing features and specifications
Side-by-side comparisons are often presented in tables. But unlike “data tables” containing endless rows of data, comparison tables show information about a few aspects relating to only a few items. It curates the most important information for readers to know.
The information that’s presented is diverse too: facts, figures, a bulleted list of statements, and sometimes graphics or video. Scores or ratings may also be included.
Comparisons can also be presented in parallel columns with headings separating the sections of text discussing aspects of the topic. If a narrative text approach is used, the length of each section should be roughly equal to allow readers to see the parallels. For example, a narrative comparison can be used for items that have sections discussing their respective advantages and disadvantages. It could also be used to compare the responsibilities of different job roles to see the differences between junior and senior levels.
How it’s done
Comparisons are possible when two or more content items based on the same content type are placed together. The content type provides a consistent structure for the content. All items based on this structure will have the same elements, which allows items to be compared easily.
When structuring the content, you can include links to related content or show more detailed information on demand. For example, you can link other items, such as definitions of terms, if you’d like to provide more explanation.
If you want to provide a dynamic table where readers can select criteria and items, you’ll want to work with a front-end developer to enable that functionality. They will be able to use the structured content models to fetch the details that readers request.