How to Make and Use Topics


Using eXie helps you to create a “frame of reference” to the online content that you have decided to save and revisit in your collection.

The first step is to decide what subject matter your collection of content is about. Then, themes are differing ways of identifying the same subject, and they do the main work of matching content with what kind of interest the content user has in the subject.

For any theme, there are likely different points of view that bring out the distinctive ideas making the theme important to someone. The points of view are topics.

In summary, the themes refer to the subject, and the topics refer to the themes.

If you have read How to Make and Use Themes, you’re ready to look at what usually helps to define useful topics.

Keep the following in mind: in a frame of reference, your chosen themes will all be columns. However, the various themes in the frame are all of the same type. Because of that, you will later be able to point out ways of considering the themes, and each of those ways – Topics – will be useful for every theme in your frame. The rows in your frame will all be topics.


Topics show what is important about a theme, this time…

For the content user, Themes identify the ways that the collection of content describes the subject. There is no “correct” or “incorrect” number of themes. But usually, a limited group of themes provides the breadth of coverage that you want to apply to a subject in a particular occasion.

SImilarly, Topics point out what it is about each theme that should get priority in the content user’s attention.

There are many different possible topics about a theme. As soon as you think about prioritizing attention, you start considering why the user of your content collection should visit your collection instead of going somewhere else.

You can decide to standardize a set of topics for the most frequent use, but you can also make frames for special purposes that focus on only a few particular topics. Your special purpose might be, for example, a particular group of users or a particular kind of occasion.

We call those special purposes Use Cases.

Topics relate to what kind of thing the content user wants to get from considering the theme. Their gain could be know-how, proof, entertainment, or other impacts that the content can make.


Relevant Topics

Let’s say that the expect (or desired) use of the content is educational or instructional. In that case, your topics are likely geared towards definitions, explanations and demonstrations.

But what if the expected use is mainly about discovery and recognition? Then the topics might lean more towards histories, comparisons, and examples.

Those two cases are very similar, aren’t they? We might even say that they overlap. Yet we can still also pose questions that make more sense in one case than in another. This points out that topics can also be general or specific.

A good way to generate topics is to ask what kind of questions are sensible to ask about all of the themes you have chosen, if you want the content to provide “good answers” for the user who wants to make something, or learn something, or shop for something?

Picking topics is what makes you a curator of the content in your collection. Topics point directly at what you think are the most important ideas to express about the themes you used to represent your subject. The best topics relate to what the user of the content wants the content to do for them.

In How to Make and Use Themes, we saw the following:


Going from there, you could make a frame about the subject “Houses” and start assigning Topics to go with the “Styles” Theme:


The list of Topics in that frame – design, maintenance, and so on – are aimed at someone who may be trying to buy or sell a house. The topics are certain points-of-view on the house styles, and they allow relevant content to show both what makes the styles similar and what makes them different.

If you wanted, instead, to provide content to someone who wanted to build a house, that use of the content suggests a somewhat different set of topics. For example, histories, materials, costs, risks, and procedures could be on the person’s mind. And before they actually started doing anything, they might want to get definitions, requirements, instructions, and models.

As you can see, topics that provide understanding apply logically to all of the styles; likewise the topics that provide guidance apply logically to all of the styles. Topics represent how someone cares about the themes.

Each row of the frame is about something that makes sense to consider about every column.



A good frame of reference has a set of themes that are related to each other by type, and a set of topics that are related to each other by a perspective of a content user. A given collection of content usually forms because some properties of a subject make the subject important to you more than other properties do.

As a standard, the frame you make with eXie uses those properties to point out how the content refers to the subject. Within the frame of reference, Themes represent a certain range of the subject matter to cover with the content. Topics represent what kind of interest the user of the content has in the content itself.