Robohelp: Why Short Topic Names Improve Navigation

The length of the topic title, i.e. the number of characters, needs to be considered when creating topics for online help.

fuel-signLet’s say you’re creating different topics in RoboHelp. Procedures, reference, and conceptual materials. Each of these needs an intuitive and meaningful name. That makes sense.

However, you also need to consider the length of the topic title (i.e. the number of characters) when it appears in the side Navigation.

The side Navigation appears on the left of the Help system when viewed online.

Topic Title: Name Length

The problem with the length of the topic title is that, depending on the user’s settings, they may only see the first two or three words.

So, if I wrote:

the length of the topic title

they’d only see

the length of [and the rest would be hidden behind the frame]

which isn’t much use.

One way to fix this is to frontload – put the most important word or phrase first – and then add the rest. For example:

  • [6 words] Topic Title: Length of the Name or
  • [5 words] Topic Title: Length of Name or
  • [4 words] Topic Title: Name Length

Remember, users scan for information. If you frontload the critical word, term, phrase, or verb, the user is likely to find the relevant information faster. It also means they don’t have to drag the navigation pane to see the rest of the topic title.

This may not seem important – can’t they just drag it? – but with more of us reading content online, using different devices, different browsers, and on small screens, making the user have to work harder to find information is best avoided.

Remove clutter from headings

A second tactic is to delete filler text or phrases that add little value.

In the example above, we reduced the word count from six to five to four. Was anything lost in the process? Not much.

You can also delete filler phrases, such as Descriptions in Reference Descriptions of the XXX Window, as description is implied. In other words, the user knows they’ll be getting descriptions of the window, for example. Likewise, words such as Information can also be deleted.

A final suggestion is to remove definite articles.

This reduces:

Reference Descriptions of the XXX Window


Reference for XXX Window

These are different ways to reduce the length of the topic title and the number of characters when creating online help.

With that said, what’s more important is not to reduce or change the headings to make them shorter but understand why we need to do this. How can we improve the help system for the user?