A-Z indexes: A painful exercise in mindreading
Brian Donahue has written an article that suggests that we do away with A-Z indexes as they are too painful to maintain and provide marginal benefits, if any.
My experience has been a little different. In a recent project for a university website, we found out that prospective students go from website to website comparing subjects offered, curriculum, financial assistance, calendar, etc. Now although they may start the search period without any expected vocabulary, they slowly gain a sense of vocabulary used after visiting a few websites. And they begin to depend on this new vocabulary for subsequent searches. In this case, they use the A-Z index to find out alternate terms that a particular website may be using. A university website thus can help these prospective students by not only giving them a sense of their university offerings, but also by helping them compare and contrast offerings across different universities.
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