Web Writing That Works!

           A Project of
           The Communication Circle

Guidelines Rants Patterns Poems Services Classes Press Blog Resources About Us Site Map

HomeRants > Goodbye documents, hello objects! > Modeling informative objects > Define each object



Name that object

Define the function or responsibility of the object

Define the components of the object

Define the objects this one is a component of

Define the attributes of the object

Plan links

How many objects?

Define each object

When defining each object, we answer questions such as:

  • What is the object's name?
  • What is the purpose, or responsibility of this object?
  • What are its attributes?
  • What other objects are its components?
  • What other objects is this one a component of?
  • What other objects does this object link to, exchanging messages?
  • How many objects should we create?

Name that object

When we recognize that we are using an element over and over, such as a step, we are generalizing from our experience with dozens of steps. We are recognizing a category of information, a class.

Your job now is to name those classes. Later, when you start writing, you will generate instances of that class-actual objects with real content, each unique.

An object starts life as an abstract idea, so we give it a generic name. Not "How to install the frames," but "Procedure."

The name should express the meaning of the element, the point-not its format. For instance, Boldface is not a good name for an object. Emphasized Term might be OK. But we leave the actual formatting up to the template or stylesheet.

Examples of element names:

  • Product
  • Vendor
  • Page_count
  • Bio
  • Author_name

Related articles:

Form for Modeling an Object (PDF)

A rhetoric of objects

Complexity theory as a way of understanding the Web

Structuring complex interactive information

Define the function or responsibility of the object

Every object has a purpose: to answer a common question from your customers.

  • How do I do this?   Procedure
  • What does this term mean?   Definition
  • How much does this cost?   Price
  • Who wrote this?   Author_Name

The function of each object is to respond to a need on the part of one of your audiences, a longing for that type of information, a request. If you wonder whether something or other is an object, ask yourself: what type of question does this object answer?

If you can figure that out, you may have stumbled on an object.

Define the components of the object

Objects can nest within objects. Your object may be a component of another object, and, in turn, your object may contain other objects.


A procedure belongs to at least one process. Inside the procedure we find objects such as an introduction, instructions, and explanations.

Here we focus on the relationship of the internal components. When describing one of these low-life objects, you need to answer questions like these:

  • Is this object empty? (An element may simply contain a pointer to an image in another file, or give instructions to a program).
  • Does anything go? (An unwise choice, but possible. If you allow anything to be a component of your object, you lose control over its internal structure).
  • Does this object contain only text? (In other words, there is content, but the object contains no other objects. You have hit the bottom of the hierarchy).
  • Is this object a mixture of text and objects? (This mixed category is also not a good idea, because it leaves a lot up to chance, and the whim of authors).
  • If other objects form components of this object, which ones should appear?
  • What sequence should the component objects appear in?
  • Or is there no sequence, and we just pick some out of the list, in any order?

When describing each component object, you also need to answer questions like these:

  • Is it optional?
  • Is it required?
  • How many instances are involved? (0 or 1, 0 or more, 1 or more?)

Define the objects this one is a component of

In your formal definition of objects (such as a Document Type Definition or schema) you do not generally say what other objects this one might be a component of. Once you have defined this object, you can reuse it anywhere.

On the other hand, you may find it useful to keep track of the other, larger objects that incorporate this one, because authors often like to know all the contexts in which their work may appear. For instance, it may be helpful to know that a product description appears in these larger objects:

  • Paper_catalog
  • Product_brochure
  • Product_page
  • Product_comparison_table

Define the attributes of the object

Each class has its own set of attributes. For instance, the class Book might have attributes such as Printing, Average_Unit_Cost, Trim_Size, Printer, carrying details that the publisher wants to maintain, without showing them to the public.

You use attributes to process objects in your workflow, then, when published, to sort objects, find them, assign them to groups or individuals.

At the very least, an object must have a unique ID, in an attribute with a name such as Identifier, or Object_Number. You probably want software to assign these values automatically, so you do not accidentally give the same ID to two objects, confusing the content management system.

Plan links (Messages to other objects)

An informative object does not send very interesting messages. Here is a typical request from one content object to another:

To the attention of Object ID # 2231: Please display in a separate window. Thanks…Yours sincerely, Object ID 445.

Basically, objects can link to other objects, bringing them into view. In order to make your linking consistent across the site, you may want to plan linking ahead of time.

Ask questions like:

  • What objects does this one link to? (If so, your object must have an ID attribute to identify it).
  • Is this object linked to, from some other object? (If so, this object needs an attribute in which you can store the IDs of the other objects you want to reference, ie, IDREFs).

Each object should have an attribute containing a unique identifier. But if you are creating an object that links outward to other objects, you will need an additional attribute, whose value will be IDREF or IDREFs.

You may want to make up a table with all these standard linkages, just to keep track of them all.

How many objects?

You need enough objects to answer all your users' questions, including those from your audience. You may add a few for the convenience of your staff, and your authors. But generally, objects are content that gets displayed to the audiences.

  • Do not add an object just because it exists in current documents. It may be totally irrelevant today.
  • Do not make up a dozen objects that are almost the same. Use attributes to differentiate these.
  • After you have created a basic set of objects, be hesitant to add more. If someone pleads for you to add a new object, make sure it is different from anything now existing.
  • Do not make objects out of formats, such as Arial 14. But you may need some ambiguous objects such as Paragraph, List, and Headings.
  • Some objects are very small. That is OK. Your Social Security Number is not very big, but it is a key to all your personal information. It is an important and very informative object.
  • If some people need to find this object, and the name of the object makes sense to them, you probably should create the object.
  • If your authors will need to reuse this content, you should create the object.

If you'd like to use a form to collect information about an object, turn to our Visio Form for Modeling an Object (PDF).

Next: Define entities and other alien creatures























Home | Guidelines | Rants | Patterns | Poems | Services | Classes | Press | Blog |
Resources | About Us | Site Map

Web Writing that Works!
 © 2002, 2004 Jonathan and Lisa Price
The Communication Circle
Discuss at HotText@yahoogroups.com
Email us directly at ThePrices@ThePrices.com
Order Hot Text (the book) from Amazon