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Let's say you have a gigantic article (up to 30 pages) with lots of chapters and you want to display on your website and let's say you have created a page just for this particular article.

Should you have a fixed Table of Contents on it's side? Does this maximize the user experience?

  • just for the love of humanity, don't make the content a million pages with just one small paragraph each and lots of PREVIOUS<>NEXT buttons! – Baronz Jul 18 '16 at 15:32
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Your question highlights the problem of the long scroll. First of all, it's a myth that people don't scroll. Everybody Scrolls.

There are so many articles present supporting this fact like this one and this one.

But the real problem is with the text-based articles where you are least communicating with the user or the user is looking for a particular option.

The Web has a beautiful solution for this kind of problems by providing the side navigation. Bootstrap also uses this.

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If you can segment your article by making its headings, subheadings, sub-subheadings then it will be easier for the user to navigate through the whole page and it'll save the time even.

So yes go with the table of contents for the larger screens.

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  • "below the fold" is, I agree, a near-obsolete concept, but other than that point I really don't agree with the one-size-fits-all nature of this answer: a sidebar navigation is sometimes the best approach, but by no means is it always the best approach. – Daniel Beck Jul 18 '16 at 15:20
  • @DanielBeck thanks for the kind feedback. You are absolutely correct. One size can never fit everywhere and UX is all about making better designs. But as I said in the last line, "if you can" then I think it is a better approach and it is a good solution for only web and especially for the large and medium sized screens not for the small and extra small screens. Rest you are more experienced, you must be knowing better than me. – Sanshizm Jul 18 '16 at 15:31
  • The size of the screen is only one factor -- an important one to be sure -- but I believe the content and context are equally (or more) important considerations. – Daniel Beck Jul 18 '16 at 15:35
  • @DanielBeck absolutely. Content and context are always important. But providing expand-collapse section or changing the position of the TOC is also not a good way to proceed. If you have a better suggestion in mind then do suggest. I'll use that in my later projects with similar context. Thanks Daniel – Sanshizm Jul 18 '16 at 15:40
  • "If you have a better suggestion in mind then do suggest." I've done so; see my answer to this question. – Daniel Beck Jul 18 '16 at 15:43
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This is very much an "it depends" kind of question; as posed there's no single "correct" answer.

Is the lengthy article something that users are likely to read continuously, from beginning to end? If so, intra-article navigation may not be necessary at all, and if included should be backgrounded rather than made persistently available so it doesn't interfere with that reading. Leading with a table of contents provides the user with an indication of the length and overall structure of what they're about to dive into, but there's no need in this case to constantly take up screen real estate with a lot of links the user is unlikely to follow mid-read.

Is it more of a reference-type article, which users are likely to select and read only the specific portions which interest them? If so, intra-article navigation is of paramount importance, but should probably be up front rather than paired with the text, and the article itself should probably be split into multiple literal pages rather than a single long scroll, to facilitate linking to / bookmarking of its individual components.

Is it something for which the full context of the article is necessary to understand any given portion, and users are likely to read in its entirety, but within which they are likely to want to skip around, comparing back to earlier sections as they go, skipping ahead to a glossary or data table, etc? In this case you may be best off with a single long-scroll page or separate pages with easily-available navigation, or even a nonlinear navigation structure based on sidebars, "footnote" popups, and so forth.

(Be wary of "fixed" navigation kept onscreen at all times, however: it can be a distraction to those who don't wish to use it, and when used carelessly can make portions of the navigation unreachable to some users (it's unfortunately common for fixed, unscrollable navigation to extend past the end of a small screen, for example.) Any navigation, whether intra- or inter-page, needs to be equally accessible on a small as on a large screen.)

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I remember seeing a dribbble where someone had redesigned a medium.com page. One of the things they had done was a small TOC anchored to the left, I really liked the idea. But the only way you will ever know is to try it, put a quick wireframe together and if it still makes sense then go from there.

I actually love the idea of a TOC on smaller screens that you show/hide, to help navigate through content.

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