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HomeGuidelines > 6. Make  Meaningful Menus. > 6a. Think of a heading as an object you reuse many times.          





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6a. Think of a heading as an object you reuse many times.

  • Write each heading so it works as a description of the content it precedes, and as a menu item.
  • Write so the heading acts as the beginning of the section, and as an isolated advertisement for the contents of that section (in a menu, for instance).
  • If possible, reuse the heading itself in every menu rather than rewriting it, shortening it, or generalizing it. Avoid cognitive dissonance (Is this the same section I visited before, or is it subtly different?)
  • Make each topic on a menu distinct.
  • Bring the keyword to the left of the heading.
  • Make the heading stand on its own, without depending on an earlier, or higher-level heading.
  • For similar topics, use the same grammatical form, so users can spot the differences.
  • Articulate the actual content of the target page, even if that takes a few more words.
  • Answer the question: "What is this section about?"

  • Make the heading fully expressive of the content, so users can distinguish this section from others like it.
  • Make the menu item (or title) distinctive, specific, consistent, and long enough to be clear, but not any longer.















Menu terminology can cause user confusion, regardless of how well structured and laid out the menus may be. At times, there are commands that seem very similar and yet have very different meanings. —Mandel (1997)

Just because a system has menu choices written with English words, phrases, or sentences, it is not guaranteed to be comprehensible. Individual words may not be familiar to some users, and often two menu items may appear to satisfy the users’ needs, whereas only one does.
Ensure that items are distinct from one another. Each item should be distinguished clearly from other items. For example,
Slow tours of the countryside, Journeys with visits to parks, and Leisurely voyages are less distinctive than Bike tours, Train tours to national parks, and Cruise ship tours.
Bring the keyword to the left: Try to write menu items so that the first word aids the user in recognizing and discriminating among items. Users scan menu items from left to right; if the first word indicates that this item is not relevant, they can begin scanning the next item. —
Shneiderman (1992)

Use consistent and concise phrasing. The collection of items should be reviewed to ensure consistency and conciseness. Users are likely to feel more comfortable and be more successful with Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral than with Information about animals, Vegetable choices you can make, and Viewing mineral categories. —Shneiderman (1992)

If the main purpose of menus were to execute commands, terseness would be a virtue. But because the main justification of their existence is to teach us about what is available, how to get it and what shortcuts are available, terseness is really the exact opposite of what we need. Our menus have to explain what a given function does, not just where to invoke it. Because of this, it behooves us to be more verbose in our menu item text. We shouldn’t say Open… but rather Open the Report. We shouldn’t say Auto-arrange but rather Auto-arrange the icons. We should stay far away from jargon as our menu’s users won’t be acquainted with it. —Cooper (1995)

Provide a list of shortcut links to your best-selling items and/or those that users most frequently navigate to. Shortcuts minimize the time and effort users spend navigating, allowing users to bypass the site’s hierarchy. —IBM (1999)

Allow branches of a hierarchy to converge on a single node when the node fits logically under two (or more) branches and you anticipate that large numbers of users will look for it in both places. … Write nodes in converging branches in a modular style so that they fit the context of both branches….

Often designers must provide multiple views of the same content to support different user tasks. —Farkas and Farkas (2000)

Promote topics, articles, guests, or features specifically and dynamically (for example, "This week, Jon Stamos on Freudianism in TVTalk") as opposed to generically promoting a section of content (for example "See stars in TVTalk"). … Use distinguishing adjectives to label special versions of common Internet activities (for example, Kids Chat or News Chat). —Keeker (1997)

See bibliography: Conklin (1987a), Cooper (1995), Farkas and Farkas (2000), Keeker (1997), Mandel (1997), Shneiderman (1992), Shneiderman and Kearsley (1989)


Menu Items




Background Info



Who the Ainu are

Where the Ainu come from

How the Ainu were attacked

How the Ainu became a tourist attraction



A delicacy for some— fish, raw, in slices

Swallowing the eyes of fish

Another special dish: eggs of codfish, broiled


Sliced raw fish

Fish eyes

Broiled codfish eggs



Menu item: Form letters

Title on target page: Mail merge


Menu item: Creating form letters

Title: Creating form letters

Other ways to make your menus meaningful:

6b. Write each menu so it offers a meaningful structure.

6c. Offer multiple routes to the same information.

6d. Write and display several levels at once.

6e. When users arrive at the target, make it obvious.

6f. Confirm the location by showing its position in the hierarchy.

Resources on menus

Taking a Position on Menus

Heuristic Online Text (H. O. T.) Evaluation of Menus



Audience Fit
If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun When people want to be entertained with double meanings, "punny" headings may amuse.  But remember that many guests use search engines to discover your page, and a terse, joking, or abstract heading may repel.
To learn No jokes, please.  We're in school.  Flat-footed titles and headings work best.
To act Make the heading indicate that you are going to tell people how to do something.  Use an infinitive, or gerund--To do, or Doing.
To be aware You can't avoid multiple overtones, and deliberate ambiguity, so you may have to ignore the guideline at times.
To get close to people Straightforward, consistent headings and titles reassure your readers.

Ready for a challenge?


Don't make me take an ax to your menu!

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