Components defined

When an article is broken apart, the reader can move around at will within the text, choosing an order for reading that suits her or him.

Two key aspects of these separate components:

  1. Each component is tightly focused on a single idea, event, description, or problem.
  2. No component of an article substantially repeats anything stated in another component in the same article.

Each piece of an article will average about 250 words. Some pieces, or components, will be longer (up to about 350 words at most) and some will be shorter (usually no less than 150 words). These lengths are not arbitrary; an examination of most newspaper writing, and many other nonfiction texts, reveals that journalists (and others) already write naturally in blocks of similar size.

(In seminars and courses on writing for the Web, we have given participants a printed copy of a traditional long-form news story or essay and asked them to mark the "break points" where the time, place, or subject changes significantly. Participants largely agreed on all the break points, most of which fall at the intervals noted above.)

Creating an online text made up of separated components has been called "chunking" or "nonlinear narrative" (Nelson, 1990; Murray, 1997; Nielsen, 2000, esp. pp. 112-15).

"Broken apart" is perhaps a poor metaphor; it implies a whole that has been damaged. We assert that components ideally are written discretely as components from the beginning of the process. Extracting components from a pre-existing unilinear text not only proves to be equally (or more) difficult but also appears to produce inferior components.