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Tutorial: Fruit cocktail

August 5th, 2010      

Once you’ve gotten a taste of writing nodemaps, you’ll find it’s fun any easy. In this post, we’ll guide you through the steps of writing a straightforward nodemap about fruit that follows a “table of contents” style. (Also, check out our author’s tutorial.)

Step 1: Organize Your Information

In writing a nodemap about fruit, our goal might be to enable visitors to quickly find a particular fruit, to find eclectic information about fruit, such as recipes, stories, and photos, or both. For the purposes of illustration, we’ll first develop a directory of fruit. Later, we’ll discuss the ways in which we could incorporate content nodes in order to create a more exploratory journey for our reader.

“Fruit” would be our central or “home” node. Our first decision is how best to categorize fruits. We could categorize them based on where they were originally grown, in which case our preliminary outline might look something like this:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • Temperate fruits
    • Asian fruits
    • North American fruits
    • Mediterranean fruits
    • Tropical fruits

We could also categorize them alphabetically, in which case our preliminary outline might look something like this:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • Fruits from A-E
    • Fruits from F-J
    • Fruits from K-O
    • Fruits from P-T
    • Fruits from U-Z

In this example, we’ve used the most basic approach to categorization, but there are many other ways to categorize fruit, such as by color, by sweetness, by size, by the number of calories per serving, and so forth. With SpicyNodes, the possibilities are limitless.

Quick Tip: When categorizing topics, always think about how your reader will look for the information. If we decide to use categories based on where fruits originated, will that be a source of frustration to the reader? Will he or she know where apples originated, or where pomegranates originated? Or would it be more helpful to simply categorize them alphabetically, as in A for Apples and P for Pomegranates? Keep in mind that, with SpicyNodes, you can have it all. You can give your reader the option of how to find information by titling the home node “Pick a Fruit” and the first two child nodes, “Choose by Location” and “Choose Alphabetically.”

Once we have our preliminary outline, the next step is to fill in the next generation of nodes. To do this, ask, “What options should my reader have at this point?”

In our nodemap of fruits from various geographic regions, we might decide to divide temperate fruits according to pome fruits, stone fruits, and berries. Or, we might want to first subdivide them into fruits that people can find in most grocery stores and fruits that are more regional in nature.

In the first instance, the first section of our nodemap might look like this:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • Temperate fruits
      • Pome fruits
      • Stone fruits
      • Berries
    • Asian fruits
    • North American fruits
    • Mediterranean fruits
    • Tropical fruits

We would then add the next level of nodes to the outline. For the purpose of this illustration, let’s consider the next level of nodes in the “Pome fruits” and “Stone fruits” sections of the “Temperate fruits” node:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • Temperate fruits
      • Pome fruits
        • a. Apple
        • b. Chokeberry
        • c. Loquat
        • d. Pear
        • e. Quince
        • f. Rose hip
        • g. Rowan
        • h. Service tree
      • Stone fruits
        • a. Apricot
        • b. Cherry
        • c. Chokecherry
        • d. Greengage
        • e. Peach
        • f. Plum
      • Berries

Now, we come to “Berries.” There are over two dozen different types of berries that originate in the temperate region. That would give us far too many children for the “berry” node, so we need to subdivide the berries. Again, we could categorize them by color, by taste, by size, or by any number of factors. For the purpose of this illustration, we’ll categorize them by genus, i.e., Rubus, Ericaceae, and “Other.” Thus, our outline for “Temperate fruits” looks like this:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • A. Temperate fruits
    • Pome fruits
      • a. Apple
      • b. Chokeberry
      • c. Loquat
      • d. Pear
      • e. Quince
      • f. Rose hip
      • g. Rowan
      • h. Service tree
    • Stone fruits
      • a. Apricot
      • b. Cherry
      • c. Chokecherry
      • d. Greengage
      • e. Peach
      • f. Plum
    • Berries
      • a. Rubus
        • i. Blackberry
        • ii. Cloudberry
        • iii. Loganberry
        • iv. Raspberry
        • v. Salmonberry
        • vi. Thimbleberry
        • vii. Wineberry
      • b. Ericaceae
        • i. Bearberry
        • ii. Bilberry
        • iii. Blueberry
        • iv. Crowberry
        • v. Cranberry
        • vi. Huckleberry
        • vii. Lingonberry
        • viii. Strawberry tree
      • c. Other berries
        • i. Acai
        • ii. Barberry
        • iii. Currant
        • iv. Elderberry
        • v. Gooseberry
        • vi. Hackberry
        • vii. Mulberry
        • vii. Mayapple
        • viii. Nannyberry
        • ix. Oregon grape
        • x. Sea grape
        • xi. Wolfberry

Quick Tip: The key to creating outlines for SpicyNodes is to find ways to break up information into logical nuggets.

Step 2: Writing Titles

Once you have a basic outline, you can begin writing. The key to creating a successful nodemap is to present the reader with tantalizing titles and intriguing information, along with attractive colors and graphics. If you’re both writing and designing your nodemap, consider the ways in which photos or illustrations can help illuminate your nodes. If you’re working with a graphic designer, consult the designer and determine what resources are available to illustrate your nodemap.

Using our previous example, titles can be written from the top down or from the bottom up – whichever is easiest. Let’s start from the top down. Titling our central node “Fruit” would be a little unappetizing, so we may want to call it “Fruit Cocktail” or “Juicy Fruit.” We may want to prompt the reader with a title question, such as “Where Does Your Favorite Fruit Originate?” or “Where in the World Does Fruit Come From?”

The first set of children also need titles. Because we’re talking about locations, our titles could be straightforward, and might look something like this:

  • Central node: Where in the World Does Fruit Come From?
    • Temperate regions
    • Asia
    • North America
    • The Mediterranean
    • The Tropics

What other method could we use to engage the reader? In this example, world maps might be helpful. So, for example, along with the title “Temperate regions” a world map with shaded temperate regions can help explain the concept we’re communicating.

We can also spice up the next level of titles. Pome fruits are characterized by a central core that contains seeds, so we might use the title, “The core of the pome.” Stone fruits have a pit, so we could use the title, “Leave no stone unturned.” Berries are warm and juicy, so we could use the title, “Berried treasures.”

With our titles, our outline would now look like this:

  • Central node: Where in the World Does Fruit Come From?
    • Temperate regions
      • The core of the pome
      • Leave no stone unturned
      • Berried treasures
    • Asia
    • North America
    • The Mediterranean
    • The Tropics

Quick Tip: When writing titles, keep in mind that you should draw in your reader, whether through interesting text, prompts, or questions.

Step 3: From Titles to Text

A node is more than a title; it’s a nugget of information. More often than not (although it depends upon the type of nodemap you’re writing), you’ll need to write expository text for each node. Depending upon the purpose of your nodemap, the expository text can be a phrase, a sentence, or several sentences. You can even include simple HTML, graphics, and a hyperlink.

A node’s text can provide information, give the reader a choice, or both. In our fruit cocktail example, we might use the following text for the home node and the first child and grandchildren:

  • Central node: Where in the World Does Fruit Come From?
    Text: Thanks to the global marketplace, our selection of fruit goes beyond that which is grown locally. We can now enjoy fresh fruit year round, but do you know where different fruits originated? Click a region to find out.

    • Temperate regions — Text: The temperate regions of the world are between the tropics and the Earth’s poles. Most of our fruit comes from these areas, since the trees and shrubs need changing seasons and cold weather in order to flower and grow their delicious treats. Choose the type of fruit you’d like to know more about.
      • The core of the pome — Text: Pome fruits are characterized by a fleshy outer area surrounding a central core containing seeds. Click on a fruit to learn more about the pome.
      • Leave no stone unturned — Text: As their name implies, stone fruits have flesh or pulp that surrounds an inner pit, or stone.
      • Berried treasures — Text: Berries are small delights packed with flavor. They can have a few or many small, edible seeds. True berries are part of the Ericaceae family, but most people also consider bramble fruits like the blackberry and raspberry part of the berry family.
    • Asia
    • North America
    • The Mediterranean
    • The Tropics

Quick Tip: Whether you’re creating brand new content or adapting existing content into your nodemap, it’s helpful to first create a style guide. A style guide is a master document that outlines the writing “rules” for your content. It may include punctuation and capitalization conventions, when to use abbreviations and acronyms, which verb tense to use, and much more. Having a style guide will ensure that your text is consistent across your nodemap.

When writing node copy, a common dilemma is what to do when there is too much text for a single node. Let’s go back to our fruit cocktail outline and the text we could write for the “Apple” node in Fruit > Temperate > Pome > Apple.

We could write a short general blurb about apples and truncate the node at that point. We could also create additional children for “Apple” and subdivide apples into, for example, red apples, green apples, and other apples. This would be in keeping with the “directory” nodemap approach we have taken thus far.

But what if we wanted to take the reader on a more exploratory journey? In our “Apple” node, we could mention that there are over 7,000 varieties of apples, we could talk about heirloom apples, we could provide a recipe for apple pie, we could note the health benefits of eating apples, and we could discuss apple folklore.

If we were to include information about all five topics in the text for the “Apple” node, it would overwhelm the reader. Instead, we could provide the same information in several “node-friendly” ways. First, we could create children for the “Apple” parent:

  • Central node: Fruit
    • Temperate fruits
      • Pome fruits
        • Apple
          • Varieties
          • Heirloom apples
          • Apple pie recipe
          • Health benefits
          • Folklore

If necessary, we could then create additional subcategories under one or more topics.

Linking to Web Pages

Topics that need deep narrative are best suited for web pages, so another option for dealing with a large quantity of information is to embed an external link. If we wanted to recount the life and times of Johnny Appleseed, for example, we could mention it in the “Folklore” text (or in a child of the “Folklore” node), and then write, “Read more about Johnny Appleseed” and incorporate a link to another web page. Nodes work best when the reader only wants or needs specific nuggets of information.

Quick Tip: Writing an effective nodemap involves learning to think in “morsels.” Break down the information into bite-size nuggets by incorporating sub-headings, use embedded links to guide readers to lengthy documents, and use graphics and images instead of words.

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