Design the content: Sections and Categories: Joomla! 1.5

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Note: I am going to put the menus - and something about Modules - in a separate background document

The design of a site should be based on the purpose and expected content of the site. You need a clear idea of what you are trying to communicate and plan the content accordingly. The visual design should also support the purpose of the site.

The aim of this document is:-

  • to explore how the content of Joomla! sites is organised in a heirachy, using Sections, Categories and Articles.
  • to explore how to design the content structure
  • to demonstrate how to decide which Sections and Categories are needed for a new site (easier said than done).

The menus and the graphic design are dealt with in other background documents in this series.

Who is it written for?

Everyone: who is going to create a Joomla! site.

It will also be useful to someone who is going to alter a Joomla! site.
It is written on the assumption that you do not have experience of the structure of a Joomla! site.
It assumes that you have explored adding and altering Articles


Joomla! has a fairly rigid structure for the content of the site. You need to know about this because it is better to plan ahead and exploit the content structure than set off in a random direction. This equally true whether you are creating a new site or altering an existing one. There are three levels in the content heirachy:-

  1. Section: the top level.
  2. Category: the second level.
  3. Articles: which are in Categories.

And, outside the heirachy but closely associated with it:-

  • Menus: used for site navigation and not part of the content heirachy itself.

You should already be aware of the vocabulary of Sections, Categories, Articles and Menus from other documents in this series.

Exploring the hierachy of Sections, Categories, Articles

These can best be explored by looking at the Administrator pages of an existing site.

  • Login to the Back-end of a web site with content. The localhost site with the sample content is an ideal example. (cross ref to Back-end and to localhost doc)
  • Explore the Categories, Sections and Articles and note how they relate to one another.


Sections are the top-level of organization. They should reflect the purpose of a site.

Explore the Section Manager

  • Click on the Section Manager icon in the Control Panel.

The sample data on localhost has three sections, About Joomla!, News and FAQs. These are enough for this small site to divide the content in a logical way and support the piurpose of the site, which is to give helpful advice about Joomla!.

  • Click on the name of the Section to view details - and to edit them.

This displays the Workspace page which consists of Details and Description parts, as well as the usual Toolbar icons. The data in the Details and Description parts can be altered here. The Description appears on the Site when a Menu is created to list the contents of the Category. (Cross ref below for detail). This too can be altered using the same editor as that used for Articles on the site.

Workspace page for the FAQs Section.


Help GSiconHelp.png For a lot more detailed information about what you can do using the Section Workspace page - click the Icon at the top of the screen.


  • Categories are the second level of organization and every Section contains one or more Categories.
  • There is a special Section, built into Joomla!, called 'Uncategorized'. This is outside the content hierachy but can be displayed through a menu item.

Explore the Category Manager

  • Click on the Category Manager icon in the Control Panel.

The sample data has nine categories. A larger site - or one that exploits Categories for displaying Articles - can have a lot more.

  • Click on the title to open a Category for editing. This will show the Workspace page which is similar to that for Sections, except that it allows the Section to be chosen or displayed. Note that the Category Manager lists which Section the Category is in. Explore this as needed - it is where you can publish/unpublish Categories or alter the order in which they are displayed in pull-down lists.

Screen of Workspace page for Category.


Help - a lot more detailed information about what you can do using Category Management - click the Icon GSiconHelp.png


Link to Articles docs! and show an article management page perhaps - but there is one in another doc

Most articles are assigned to a Category.


  • Sections, Categories and Articles work together to create a hierachy of items.
  • Sections and Categories group articles in a logical structure that makes the site easier to use, manage and understand.
  • Articles are organised inside Categories, which are themselves organised within Sections. This is the organisation of the Articles in the Back-end.
  • This structure is used by the Menu system. But the menus are not necessarily the same as the back-end content structure.
  • There are built-in layouts in Joomla! that take advantage of this organization and make it possible to list articles that belong to Sections or Categories.

Exploring Menus

Menus are used to create the main navigational links on the pages of the web site. They are not part of the content heirachy in the background. The Menus are themselves a hierachy and there can be confusions between the underlying content organisation of Sections/Categories and Articles and the hierachy of the Menus. Sometimes the Menus reflect the Sections and Categories closely. On other sites the Menus do not exactly match the content structure, so a bit of care is needed here to think about the right things.

Menu Manager

The Menus normally reflect the content structure, although there may be occasions when they do not. The key is to avoid muddling Categories and Menus. The Sample data is not helpful here as the list of Menu Items under the Main Menu is the same as the list of Categories. You will find sites where there are Menus that do not relate to a Category. (cross ref if I use the example of Links in the U3A site)

Joomla! adds the Main menu to your site automatically. It already contains a Section for the Front page, so the Main Menu displays the Home page.

Some sites stick to the Main Menu and add a heirachy of Menu Items beneath the Main Menu. Other sites, such as the Sample site, use 6 Menus, each with a few Items (or sub-menus) under them. Examples show a difference.

I need to redo pics as they don't show it as I want. But this shows it for the moment

Menu in sample data. Here there are several menus

and fewer Menu Items.

Menu on another site. Here the content is all
under the Main menu in Menu Items.
The exception is the short User Menu
File:GSMenuSample.png GSMenu.png

Using the Sample web site - if you move away from the Home page, the Login Menu no longer displays. (Mildly irritating - but this can be altered).

Exploiting the Menu layouts for Blogs and Lists

This is worth knowing about before you think about a site.

There are built-in layouts in Joomla! that take advantage of the organization of content in Sections and Categories. These make it possible to list articles that belong to Sections or Categories. When a new article is created and assigned to a Section and Category, it is automatically placed under a menu.

There are:-

  • Section Blog
  • Section List
  • Category Blog
  • Category List

Example - sample data - blog mode for the Home page. Also uses the facility to use the whole width of the screen for the first entry. (cross ref to Help screen under - - )

screen of a U3A list - here is makes good use in organising a varied site. Sometimes there are a lot of articles for one menu - others have only a few. the list handles this well.

When you add a new Article to a Section or Category (depending on which one you have chosen), it will automatically show on the page so you do not have to do anything other than add the Article and assign it to the appropriate Section or Category. This also means that you can create Categories specifically for displaying in List or Blog mode.

How to design a content heirachy for a new Web site

For a New web site you need to:-

  • design a suitable hierachy for new content
  • design the menus to display the content

There is no automatic way to do this - you have to think about it and whether you are going to want to exploit blog and list layouts.

Note that the sample site - and many others - use a variety of techniues. They do not limit themselves to one level in the heirachy but set up the design to allow for multiple levels of content and also some blog and list layouts.

Looking at what information you are going to have on your site

This is like Entity/Relationship modelling for database design.

Every web site has a purpose and to get a good content structure, you need to understand what you are going to try communicate. This is not entirely straight forward. When it has all been done and in retrospect, it looks easy. But it is actually challenging to identify the main Sections / Categories and translate these into likely content. And then deal with Menus to present the content in the most helpful way.

Back to paper and pencil as a starting point!

Things to think about:-

  • How clear are you as to what the content will be exactly?
It may help if there is an existing site, or a similar one which will give hints about likely topics.
  • What are the main topics to be covered?
Some sites lend themselves to being thought of as heirachies and others do not fall so easily into place. There may be a number of separate topics, for example.
  • How much content you expect
  • Does the content change a lot
  • How dynamic or interactive is the Site intended to be?
  • Are there to be a lot of visitors adding their own content?

The final design depends a lot on the range of content and whether you can think of it in a Section/Category heirachy.

If you are not in a hurry and not very experienced, there is a lot to be said for:-

  • Serendipity: you can alter things as you go along and as you get more experience? You do not have to stick rigidly to your thoughts. But it worth having an inital plan, even if you change it in the light of experience.

A pencil and paper iterative process

The advantage of thinking it out is that you do not get distracted by how you are going to implement the design - you just focus on the content.

  • A list: Make an initial list of the content you know is going to be displayed on the web site. Then add a note as to whether the items can be grouped in any way.
  • Write it out: Take some slips of paper and on each one write the name of an item of content.
  • Add other information: to help you group things together. Consider things like whether there will be a lot of content changes - who might update it.
  • Organise the slips to make a heirachy. They can be moved around and as you do this - you will notice things you have not included.

List the Sections and Categories out clearly ready to create them on the web site.

Design of the Menus

Note that the position and layouts of Menus can be very varied. This deals with the structure of the Menus. Their appearance is dealt with in the part about the appearance of the whole web site. (Cross-ref.)

  • Look at the likely Articles and Categories that the site will have
  • Decide on the Menu items you want at the Top level. It is imortant to give them sensible and meaningful names.
  • Decide what sort of menu item it can be (will it be a Blog or a List or an Article for example).
  • Decide on any other menu items below the main items. Again they should have sensible names to indicate what is there.
You can have quite deep structures, but users find two layers easiest to use to find things.

It is not difficult to alter the Menus after the site is established so this list can be seen as a starting point. No-one gets it right first time.

Write them down and indicate what sort of Menu, for this will be needed when you create them.

Example Perhaps

Top level of U3A menu closely reflects the Categories to give a variety of listings and articles about this organisation.


Sample makes greater use of Menus and less of menu items

Name the menus

Use names that makes sense to anyone visiting the site - obvious but not always done.


Not sure about this - but it is intended to show that it handles things more complicated than catds and dogs and animals - the usual simplistic examples.

The key is a good understanding of the purpose of the site and what features will be dislayed.

Clubs: These can be very varied as a sailing club one illustrates: the content is quite complex because such clubs have a lot of activities, they have boats and they usually have a property of some sort. They also aim at different people - sailors, social members, young people and learners. It is not a business but it does want to encourage people to join and wants to give a lot of on-going information about club activites and local sailing conditions. There are about 1500 sailing clubs and associations in Great Britain alone and the web sites are all slightly different. There may be people who want to enter their own content, so you could have a number of Authors or Publishers responsible for adding detail about events or reports on events or descriptions of boats and much else. So such a site could be very varied and quite dynamic.

Associations: there are many organisations who want to keep their members in touch with one another and also provide information about activities.

Orgnisations who want to disseminate informatation: here

Personal sites:

Where next

Design the menus

Further information

--Lorna Scammell January 2011