The Art of Chunking: An Online Writing Essential

iStock_000003104079XSmall.jpgWhen people read on paper, they usually start at the beginning and work their way through in a linear fashion from page one to page two to page three, etc. When people read on the Web, however, they start where Google sent them, and that could be anywhere on your website. Once they get there, your website visitors will quickly skim the page, looking for chunks of text and keywords that tell them they are in the right spot.

What is Chunking?

When you chunk text, you break down what may have started as one really long article into smaller, manageable, more easily understood blocks of text.  Your goal should be to create chunks of information that can stand on their own, but that also fit within the larger context of your website.

How Big is the Ideal Chunk?

So how big or small is the perfect chunk of text on a website? You need to find the sweet spot between too little and too much text. If you put too little information on a page, you force your reader to click around for the details, which is annoying. But if your chunks are too big, you make it difficult for your readers to immediately find the key points they are seeking.

For example, you might break down a 2,000 guide into three web pages of 600-700 words each. On each of the web pages, you could then break those 600 words into three blocks of 200 words each, complete with their own subheadings. Many professional online writers would advocate even shorter pages (no more than 500 words) and paragraphs (no more than 100 words).

Adding bulleted lists, writing in short sentences, highlighting keywords, and linking to related articles and details also contribute to successful chunking.

Which Page Has Better Chunking?

What questions would you have if you were interested in adopting a pet? Take a look at these two pages from two humane societies in Colorado and see who answers your questions more quickly.
Adoption Process Page at Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region

Adoption Process Page at the Dumb Friends League/Denver Humane Society

Both pages discuss the pet adoption process, but one does a much better job at chunking the information.

The Pikes Peak page contains over 1,500 words and only seven subheadings. There are no bulleted lists, highlighted keywords, or links to more details to help visitors skim through the page to find the specific answers they are seeking.

In contrast, the Denver Dumb Friends League page contains about 1,000 words and has ten subheadings. The paragraphs are much shorter and you’ll find several bulleted lists and links to details. Think back to those questions you had about adopting a pet and I bet this page answers them more quickly.

The Pikes Peak page also contains the same kind of information, but in buried form that requires actual reading, rather than skimming.

This article written for teachers at Dartmouth who are putting course materials online provides some additional perspectives on chunking.