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Table of Contents: Flat versus Deep Hierarchy

Let’s say you’re creating the structure for a coffeeshop’s employee manual.

You might think in big categories:

So you might structure your manual into large chunks, with lots of subdivisions:

Deep Hierarchy

  1. Customer Service
    1. Greetings
      • Facial Expressions
        • For repeat customers
      • Standard Phrases to Use
    2. Receiving customer money
      • Standard Phrases to Use
    3. Dealing with Complaints
      • Complaints about Product
        • Price
        • Quality
      • Complaints about Service

This is called a “deep” structure because there are subdivisions within subdivisions.

Flat Hierarchy

A deep structure is not your only option. Maybe you think in a task-based way:

In this case, your structure might be flatter, with only a few sub-points:

  1. Greeting customers
    • List of Standard greetings
    • Facial Expressions
  2. Follow-up questions to orders
  3. Brewing the coffee
  4. Pouring the coffee
  5. Entering the order into the register
  6. Delivering the coffee to the customer
  7. Processing payments
    • Cash
    • Credit
    • Gift Card
  8. Ending the transaction

Either approach is acceptable, though going too far in either direction is bad. A super deep hierarchy is going to be impossible to scan. A super flat hierarchy fails to categorize topics into groups.

You simply have to decide which is more appropriate for the type of information you are conveying.